Reason to protest

Columns

The protests at the state capitol in Lansing, intended as a call to ease the negative economic and social impact of the stay-at-home orders, business closures and restricted personal movement and association, has been touted as a stand against government overreach and a call to return to normal.

The stay-at-home order, which has been in place since March 24, has done more than test the patience of Michigan residents. Hospitals and healthcare workers are working far beyond normal capacity, the lack of business has hurt the particularly small and vulnerable ones across the state due to closures and the ineffective response of the state government toward the extension of unemployment benefits have left many to suffer.

In response to this, the largest of the “re-open” protests were organized, with 3,000 people arriving in Lansing on April 15 and a much smaller one on April 30. The first protest was described by police as respectful, with most protestors saying in their vehicles and respecting social distancing. Though the gridlocking of city traffic caused significant delays during a shift-change at Sparrow Hospital, police described the protesters as respectful, with most trying to maintain social distancing.

With the later protests, however, the toxic and often violent rhetoric of some of the protestors have made this cause nearly impossible to defend. Even when placed alongside legitimate grievances of government overreach, rallying around the Confederate flag to symbolize such rebellion, using Nazi and Communist imagery for depictions of Governor Whitmer, calls for lynching and even carrying firearms within the state capitol have cost the protestors much of the support they previously enjoyed.

Most of the protestors focused on their stance against the stay-at-home order. They communicated a message of the governor superseding the authority of the Legislature, testifying to the livelihoods lost and lack of access to healthcare in areas such as cancer treatments due to the prioritization of hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.

With the actions of some protestors, however, the movement has not only lost much credibility, but the gatherings of more people who don’t respect social distancing will inevitably lead to further extensions of the lockdown and longer closures of vulnerable businesses.