Losing consent of the governed

The Detroit News:

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.

Several physicians also came to Whitmer’s defense in a Wednesday statement, including Michigan State Medical Society President Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala who said physicians “are still in the middle of the battle.”

“This cannot and will not go on forever,” Arsiwala said. “We continue to work to put the needs of patients first while supporting physicians in protecting their personal health and the financial health of the many medical practices that have been shuttered during this time.”

Denny Bradley, 33, of Jackson carried a yellow sign that read, “I want to work.”

The auto supplier that employs him has been shut down since March 24, Bradley said. And he is the lone source of income for his family.

On whether he was concerned about catching the virus during the event, he responded, “I think that the curve has turned and I am just not afraid.”

As of Wednesday, Michigan had more than 29,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with over 1,900 deaths. The state ranks among the top four nationally for both cases and deaths and has been labeled a “hot spot” by federal health officials.

In contrast, Wisconsin as of yesterday has 3,721 cases and 182 deaths.

The Wednesday protest is organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which told supporters to “come ready for a potentially major traffic jam around the (taxpayer-funded) Michigan Capitol Building.”

A press release from the group warned attendees to “display signs, make noise and be disruptive, but stay in your vehicle so that the ‘Whitmer police’ cannot say you are ignoring the ‘social distancing’ order.”

Dozens of people milled about with signs and flags on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol despite the directive.

One person wearing a medical mask stood on Allegan Street and waved a Confederate flag early on in the protest.

A sign on a vehicle said, “Free us from tyranny.” Two men carried another sign in the street that read, “Recall Whitmer.” And writing on the back of a white Suburban said, “essential home school field trip on freedom/liberty.”

The rally is occurring nearly a week after Whitmer issued an extended and more restrictive stay-home executive order that required stores to cordon off areas deemed non-essential — such as garden and home improvement zones — and banned people from traveling between vacation homes. The order also prohibited motorized boating.

Her order also does not include updated guidance from the federal government that would have allowed more people in certain professions to work during the crisis.

Another participant in Wednesday’s protest, Erik Lane of Grand Rapids, argued that Whitmer should be quarantining the sick instead of forcing the majority of people to stay inside their homes.

“Quarantine the high risk and let the low-risk people work,” Lane said.

But health officials have supported Whitmer’s restrictions.

Last week, Stephen Hawes, an epidemiology professor at the University of Washington, cautioned that lifting population-based interventions, such as the stay-at-home order, too early may result “in future upticks” in COVID-19 cases.

Also not asked of health officials is how they feel right now about having this much power over our lives and when they intend to give it back. For people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and (unqualified) state Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm, they’ve never had this much power in their lives, and you can bet your next stimulus check they won’t give it back without force.

Apparently there are plans for a similar protest at the State Capitol in Madison Friday, April 24 at 1 p.m. Check the Facebook group.

 

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