Hundreds of demonstrators lined the streets around the Michigan Capitol Wednesday for a rally to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which aims to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Several of the vehicles participating in “Operation Gridlock” sported American flags and MAGA (Make America Great Again) banners. A banner across the Capitol lawn read “Security without liberty is called prison.”
Drivers laid on their horns repeatedly for hours ahead of the event, and others had megaphones. About 400 vehicles filled Allegan Street, which runs along the Capitol, for at least four blocks. Hundreds of other vehicles crowded other Lansing streets.
Michigan State Police troopers will only take enforcement action, traffic or otherwise, in the case of vandalism or if there is a threat to human life, said Lt. Brian Oleksyk, public information officer for the State Police’s First District.
“Our goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for visitors to the Capitol while also protecting the Capitol complex as well as the governor’s residence,” Oleksyk said. “We’re trying to do that while protecting the First Amendment rights of people attending the event.”
Shortly after 3 p.m., Michigan State Police responded to an altercation among protesters at Michigan and Capitol avenues but it was quickly dispersed, said State Police Lt. Darren Green. An individual was led away from the scene, and there was one arrest, Green said.
Around that same time, police began to create makeshift barricades with their bicycles at crosswalks in front of the Capitol to discourage individuals from blocking traffic.
Mike Vennix, 58, of Kalamazoo was among dozens of protesters who got out of their vehicles and gathered in front of the Capitol.
Asked if he had ever seen anything like the demonstration, he said no.
“Not like this,” he said. “This is great stuff.”
Like others, Vennix argued that Whitmer should let more people return to work and lift restrictions on public outings. But many health officials have backed Whitmer’s policies, arguing they will prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“People can make up their own minds and play it smart as far as what we’re faced with,” Vennix said.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, joined protesters by waving American flags from the first floor windows of his Capitol office. He argued the governor should be allowing reasonable changes to the stay-home order to allow people to start returning safely to work.
“My only goal is hopefully to ensure that government does hear them,” Chatfield said. “I know I’ve heard them. I have their back and I want to do all I can to ensure their constitutional rights are protected and they can get their livelihoods back and take care of their families.”
Todd Harden of Flushing was one of a few counter protesters at the rally, carrying a neon sign that said “We back ‘that woman,’” a reference to a remark by President Donald Trump in which he referred to Whitmer as “the woman in Michigan.”
Whitmer is a “smart lady,” Harden said, but he predicted she would likely “come down a notch” on some restrictions associated with the stay-home order.
“I always thought she was top notch and I believe in her decisions,” he said. “I just want a little more quiet quarantine time.”
It would be interesting to know if Harden is presently employed or not.