‘The Wonderful American Tradition’: Inside the US Protests Against Coronavirus Lockdown

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As people across the world contend with social distancing rules, the lives of many have changed. Most have welcomed the rules, understanding the need to close non-essential businesses. But in the US, protests have recently flared up directly against lockdown rules issued by local governments after a demonstration staged outside the Michigan State Capitol. On the protest, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer reportedly said that the protesters wanted to: ‘do the wonderful American tradition of dissent and demonstration … it’s just so dangerous to do that’.

Since this first anti-lockdown protest, more and more have popped across more than a dozen states, a recipe for potential disaster. Videos and photos of protests show hundreds of people flouting social distancing rules, standing in close proximity to one another.

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But why, when people in other countries accepted the social distancing rules issued by their government, are some in the US so opposed to them and attend protests that could prove fatal not only to themselves but a loved one, or so many others? This question is especially pertinent when one notes that the US is quickly becoming the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic with 870,000 cases and around 50,000 COVID-19-related deaths so far.

Those that are protesting the lockdown measures claim that the strict measures restricting businesses and travel are unnecessarily hurting citizens. They also say the new rules are an overreaction and that the restrictions will cause long term and negative effects on local economies.

An extra 4.4 million Americans have recently for unemployment applications, bringing the total to 26 million as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the US economy. But whilst stimulus cheques have started to be sent to citizens to help them purchase themselves and their families necessary essentials, these are hardly stable times for those whose job is threatened or has already been destroyed, by the coronavirus.

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This was reflected by one protester, Christian Yingling, a former commanding officer of the Pennsylvania Light Foot militia who said ‘I’m gonna do what I got to do to feed my family,’

If it means I got to risk my health then so be it… and yes even potentially the health of others. My mortgage payments are late, my truck payment is late and if I lose either of those I’m dead in the water.

Not all protesters are out on the streets simply because social distancing rules are having an impact on their ability to make a living, however. Yingling’s further comments perfectly capture the concern and anxiety of many protesters in various US states, adding that quarantining healthy people is ‘tyranny’; ‘Our constitutional rights are getting viciously trampled right now. And people aren’t going to put up with that for long’.

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Signs calling for freedom against tyranny have also been a common sight so far. Governors and Democrats are typically likened to tyrannical kings and dictators of history. Signs adorned with ‘Give me liberty or give me death’, a call back to the American Revolution, where the ‘great American tradition of dissent’ began.

Most protesters are conservative, pro-Trump and pro-gun, with US media describing the demonstrations as reminiscent of Trump rallies. MAGA hats and Trump 2020 signs are a common sight, as well as a mass of American flags, as well as the occasional confederate one. Many protesters have also turned up heavily armed. The protests have also been a hot spot for anti-vaxxers, with one young girl in Texas photographed carrying a sign reading ‘Bill Gates can keep his poison… I’m Homeschooled! NO MANDATORY Vaccines!!’.

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The anti-lockdown protests have been ill-received by many others in America however, with counterprotesters dressed in scrubs standing in front of traffic in Colorado to block people from attending a so-called ‘Liberate’ protest. Most Americans also appear to be in favour of lockdown measures, with 66% saying they are worried they will be lifted too quickly, as opposed to 32% who say they fear they won’t be lifted quick enough in one poll by the Pew Research Center.

Criticisms of hypocrisy have also been levelled at protesters, with many being spotted wearing face masks despite standing against social distancing rules. People have also criticised the fact that these dangerous protests have been allowed to go ahead largely undisturbed, unlike other protests in the past against issues like police brutality.

President Trump seems to be sympathetic towards the protesting crowds, suggesting that ‘some governors have gone too far’, later specifically calling out Michigan and Virginia. Donald Trump Jr. meanwhile tweeted that when the pandemic passes, the administration can ‘fire up’ the ‘economic engine’ to ‘Make America Great Again’, prompting comments that the administration has the wrong priorities and is handling the situation with a lack of compassion.

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