As the country continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, citizens have begun staging demonstrations calling for an end to state-mandated lockdowns. Many of these protesters have taken to state capitals to express their frustration over the stay-at-home orders, which experts say are necessary to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Videos and photos of the demonstrations show participants holding pro-Donald Trump banners as well as signs that echo the President's previous remarks about the widespread social isolation tactics. One of the most common phrases displayed at these protests is "the cure cannot be worse than the disease"—an argument that suggests a recession could cause more harm than strict distancing and quarantining measures.
What are the demonstrators demanding?
The anti-lockdown protests have been compared to the Tea Party rallies that began popping up over a decade ago, with many dismissing the movement as "astroturf activism" organized not through grassroots efforts, but by influential conservative groups. This explains why right-wing rhetoric has dominated and propelled these demonstrations. Protestors showed up wielding firearms and pro-Second Amendment picket signs, some calling for the resignation of elected Democratic leaders, many more criticizing the stay-at-home orders as an infringement on civil liberties. Others have deemed the lockdowns a violation of their religious freedom.
But the main concern among these protestors appears to be the economy. As part of the stay-at-home orders, state officials have forced "nonessential" businesses to close down in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These closures have left countless Americans in precarious positions, with some populations going more than a month without any sort of income. Some demonstrators have acknowledged the importance of social distancing, but claim the lockdown measures are too severe and, perhaps, more harmful than coronavirus.
Former police officer Eric Moutsos helped organize a lockdown protest over the weekend in Utah. The Utah resident told NPR an economic crisis was his biggest concern and suggested the lockdowns were tyrannical.
"All of those jobs have completely stopped business to where we can't be paid now. ... In my opinion, not being able to provide for your family is a hundred times bigger health crisis than any virus," Moutsos said. "Quarantine is for sick people; you lock sick people away," Moutsos says. "But when you lock healthy people away, that's tyranny."
What states have been involved?
The first major anti-lockdown protest occurred in Michigan's capital, Lansing, last week. Dubbed "Operation Gridlock," this demonstration reportedly drew thousands of people from across the state—most of whom remained in their vehicles, waving signs and honking their horns, while others defied the social-distancing orders and gathered in front of the Capitol building.
Protests have also been seen in red, blue, and swing states, such as Texas, Washington state, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Idaho, Maryland, Wisconsin, Oregon, Arizona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and more.
How have Trump and his administration responded?
Trump has been very vocal about his desire to restart the economy amid the global health crisis. On Friday, April 17, he fired off a series of tweets that fueled the anti-lockdown protests and called on his followers to "save your great 2nd Amendment!"
A number of lawmakers criticized Trump over the "dangerous" tweets, as he appeared to encourage the violation of state orders that were put in place to save lives. Vice President Mike Pence insisted Trump was not encouraging Americans to violate social distancing guidelines but wants the reopen the country "in a safe and responsible way."
"We have to make sure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease," Pence said during an appearance on Meet the Press. "The truth is that there are real costs, including the health and well-being of the American people, to continue to go through the shutdown that we are in today."
Pence continued: "In the President's tweets and public statements, I can assure you he’s going to continue to encourage governors to find ways to safely and responsibly let Americans go back to work. And the guidelines for opening up America give a road map for doing just that."
Trump addressed the anti-lockdown demonstrations during a press briefing on Sunday, April 19, calling the protestors "great people" who were suffering from "cabin fever."
"As far as protesters, you know, I see protesters for all sorts of things. And I’m with everybody. I’m with everybody," he told reporters. "I’ve seen the people. I’ve seen interviews with the people. These are great people. ... They have got cabin fever. Their life was taken away from them." He added, "These people love our country, they want to get back to work."
What are the experts saying?
Though U.S. officials have significantly cut the projected coronavirus death toll, medical experts are still cautioning against lifting the stay-at-home orders too early. Dr. Anthony Fauci—a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force—reiterated his concerns on Good Morning America Monday, shortly after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced the state would begin easing stay-at-home restrictions this Friday.
"It’s going to backfire. That's the problem," Fauci said. "The message is that clearly this is something that is hurting, from the standpoint of economics and the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus. But, unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery, economically, is not gonna happen."
Fauci and other health experts say that increased testing capacity and extensive contract tracing is needed before the economy begins to reopen. And in order for the economy to be fully operational, a vaccine or an effective therapy must be available.
"I’ll guarantee you, once you start pulling back there will be infections," Fauci said earlier this month, referring to the nationwide lockdowns. "It’s how you deal with the infections that are going to count. ... [The key is] getting people out of circulation if they get infected, because once you start getting clusters, then you’re really in trouble."