Protestors Clog Streets in Michigan, Symbolizing Growing Partisan Divide in Coronavirus Response
“It was a political rally that is going to endanger peoples’ lives, because this is precisely how COVID-19 spreads.”
On Wednesday, thousands of protestors rallied on foot and by car in Lansing, Michigan’s capital to express their discontent with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to extend the state’s stay-at-home order to help fight the spread of coronavirus. Michigan is one of the hardest-hit states by the coronavirus in the United States with the fifth-highest death rate per capita.
Protestors could be seen flying American flags and many donned ‘Make America Great Again’ hats. A group of armed protestors also demonstrated on the steps of the capitol building. Protestors also repeated common Trump refrains including “lock her up” chants directed at Whitmer and opening up the economy.
“It was a political rally that is going to endanger peoples’ lives, because this is precisely how COVID-19 spreads,” said Governor Whitmer on the protests. “This is the kind of behavior that extends the needs for stay-at-home orders.”
As of April 15, Michigan has 28,059 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,921 deaths, although the numbers are likely much higher due to a lack of testing.
The demonstration was dubbed Operation Gridlock on Facebook as motorists clogged the streets surrounding the capitol building. The Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund played a large role in the organization of the protest. The Michigan Freedom Fund is fronted by an employee of Dick Devos, husband of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.
The protests come as tensions between the federal and state governments are heating up with President Trump claiming “total authority” to reopen the economy while state governors begin to collaborate on an ‘exit strategy’ coronavirus policy.
Trump has been increasingly hostile to Democratic governors who he views as bucking his rhetoric and advice. On Tuesday, he tweeted, “tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!”
Protestors in Michigan mimicked many of Trump’s concerns and made requests for the state to open back up. Videos of protestors’ demands ranged from being able to get a haircut to facing unemployment with bills to pay. One demonstrator nearly broke into tears explaining that he could no longer buy paint or lawn fertilizer.
While the demonstrations in Lansing are a manifestation of political squabbles and hardening rhetoric form national and local officials, it also points to another divide the coronavirus could worsen.
Who is Falling Ill?
The coronavirus is impartial to who it infects, with high-profile celebrities and politicians amongst the growing number of confirmed cases. But some groups are overrepresented in those who fall ill.
Early reporting showed black Americans are disproportionately coming down with the coronavirus and dying to due complications from contracting it. And this trend holds in Michigan where 40% of the state’s coronavirus deaths have been African-American when only 14% of the state is African-American.
The startling numbers were not a concern for the mostly white crowd which took to the streets in Lansing. With pictures of a man flying a Confederate flag at Wednesday’s event and organizing groups sharing racist photos, the protests point to racial divides in Michigan and the country.
Many pointed to the irony of demonstrations about the state reopening non-essential business during a public health crisis in the same state as Flint where residents have been subject to a 6-year water crisis. Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad tweeted, “I wish that the same energy in Lansing to protest @GovWhitmer would have been garnered to stop Flint from being poisoned.”
Much like the Flint water crisis, coronavirus is currently impacting minority communities much harder than white Americans. Despite that fact, Michigan’s protests show that the United States is in for difficult times ahead as lockdowns and a disrupted public life are likely long-term features rather than a small blip.