As infection rates have begun to decline, protests and rallies have started popping up across America over the course of the past weeks. These gatherings of a hundred or more people are fighting for the reopening of states and businesses and overall lifting of stay-at-home orders. The string of reopening protests took place in California, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
For the most part, these rallies are true to their purpose, protesting the shutdown of their state and expressing concerns over the fate of their small businesses. But many of the protest signs show that they are also being conflated with other political debates and icons, such as the political right, the Second Amendment and even swastikas.
It’s dangerous to portray breaking social isolation as some form of social justice. By refusing to stay home, you’re not simply exercising your own freedom to get COVID-19 and arguing for a course of action that puts the people around you at risk. You’re arguing for the chance to endanger others and a second wave of this virus with no consideration for healthcare workers and essential workers on the frontlines.
It’s also counterintuitive from an economic perspective, despite purporting to be an economic solution. If you go outside and become infected, you’ll land yourself in even more financial ruin from the weight of hospital bills. Then, you’ll infect others, leading to a resurgence of the virus that will only cause heightened or prolonged regulations. Already, spikes in coronavirus cases have appeared after protests took place, possibly because of the mentality behind them.
These loud protests may represent a minority of our population as hundreds in states of millions, but their ideals are shared by a quiet, struggling populace — admittedly, with a real reason for outcry. While it’s easy to look down upon these rallies as inconsiderate and selfish — certainly, the protests could have followed the health warnings to heed social distancing guidelines and wear masks — the reality remains that quarantine is much more difficult when you are struggling to make a living.
This virus is endangering our lives — by infiltrating not only our immune systems but also our economy and social structure. These protests are a predictable but highly misguided response to the endangerment of people’s right to support themselves.
It’s clear that tensions are coming to a breaking point, even as the threat of a second wave looms over us. We have a genuine divide in our country because we have different needs and are each differently affected by this pandemic.
Our problems are only magnified by how this confusion is mirrored in our government’s decision making; from week to week, we see President Donald Trump wavering back and forth between stances on the pandemic. His response to these protests has been, at best, contradictory and misleading.
At first, he indicated support — throwing his support behind protests, tweeting about states’ liberation, endorsing Governor Brian Kemp’s premature plan to reopen Georgia. Yet, not a day later, he publicly denounced the plan while essentially giving Kemp the go-ahead.
Trump’s decision to criticize Kemp’s efforts came too late, especially after his initial public endorsement. Just like with many of his responses, the damage was already done. The protestors, who toted Trump’s name alongside their rifles, got the validation they wanted.
Furthermore, the three-step plan, released by the White House for states reopening, is still standing. Now that Georgia is on track to reopen, other states that have also been considering reopening will soon follow suit. Our president’s inconsistent leadership has only exacerbated divides and weakened efforts to maintain established precautions.
Georgia hasn’t met the White House’s 14-day guideline of continuous decline in cases. And if more states follow in Georgia’s footsteps, health officials warn us of coronavirus’ ominous rebound — both in terms of our physical health and economic health.
As time goes on, we should keep in mind the historical tendency for a second wave rather than abandon all precautionary measures. And despite our varying needs and backgrounds, this shouldn’t be yet another dividing force between Republicans and Democrats, or Trump supporters and liberals. When it comes down to it, this is not a cultural war nor a political debate: reopening businesses or states this early is a risk we cannot take, no matter how much we want to.