COVID-19 Protests Are Not All They Seem to Be

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By Drew Sutherland ’21

The Highlander has been posting a great deal about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel Coronavirus because it is an important current event that is affecting Gunnery students, families, friends, and the entire world. 

This topic is too important and notable not to write about. Ever since social distancing and quarantine began globally, there have been people who have not taken it seriously, and those who have downright protested against these necessary safety measures. 

“Now did you read the news today/They say the danger’s gone away….

Can’t you see this is a land of confusion?” 

These ancient lyrics from Genesis’ album “Invisible Touch” are hitting closer to home the more I read about the anti-quarantine rallies around the country, and to be fair, the world. However, since we have a President who tweets angrily into the early hours of the morning telling the American people to “Liberate” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia, then perhaps focusing on our own great nation is best. 

At this time, thousands of protestors have turned out across the nation at these rallies, saying that they are more fearful of their own futures than their own health and the health of those around them. The worry is that people will take the President’s words as encouragement to ignore the significant measures which are put in place to stop the spread of this elusive virus which has killed more than 63,000 Americans. The question is, do these rallies actually have anything to do with COVID-19?

We begin with the concept of social distancing. While hosts and anchors from news outlets such as Fox News praised and encouraged these marches (from the safety of their home studios), their own executives were coming on the air to encourage social distancing. The Center for Disease Control defines social distancing or physical distancing as keeping a minimum of six feet away from any and all people outside of your home. The CDC also recommends not to gather in groups, to stay out of crowded places, to avoid massed gatherings, and to continue to stay six feet away even if you are wearing a face mask or covering. 

In the past few weeks, thousands of people in cities around the country joined together to protest the social distancing guidelines which are hopefully going to slow down the spread of the virus. According to Fox News, a week after a protest in Kentucky, there was the largest spike in reported COVID-19 cases up to that point.  This is something that could certainly be seen shortly in other locations. We need to remember that in comparison to most Americans who are working hard to support social distancing, the number of protesters is small. In addition, the protestors are speaking of socialism, abortion, the Constitution, gun rights, and immigration, all alongside marchers waving Confederate flags. 

In the state of Michigan, lawmakers wore bullet-proof vests onto the floor of the State House to protect themselves from those carrying guns onto the Gallery of the State House. 

Speaking of the state of Michigan and the vast amount of money being spent by the uber-wealthy and conservative factions there, the DeVos family cannot be ignored. They have played a major role in politically organizing the state for many years before Betsy DeVos was made a part of Trump’s cabinet, bringing us to the concept of Astroturfing.  

Astroturfing is the practice of concealing the actual sponsors of an organization or campaign to make it seem as if it both started from and is completely supported by a grassroots uprising.  The word seems to have been started by Lloyd Bentsen in response to insurance complaints, but it takes us right up to the era of President Obama and the beginning of the Tea Party movement. In fact, the comparisons with the Tea Party movement and these current COVID-19/social distancing protests are quite striking. The current group of demonstrators is protesting what they feel is too much government interference in their lives, particularly having to do with the economy and their rights, as did the Tea Party. These current protests are supported by many groups including the conservative FreedomWorks, which also financially assisted the Tea Party. 

The Tea Party was nominally formed to protest problems in health care in the country, but really to protest the Affordable Care Act, which is now helping millions of Americans have proper health care. One of the founders of the Tea Party movement, Mark Meckler, is using the same strategies to encourage his own supporters to protest against those governors who are imposing the guidelines to close businesses and not to allow large public gatherings. The campaign to re-open America emanates from these super-rich groups and extremely wealthy individuals who are fomenting the frustrations of the people choosing to protest and eschew the rules on public gatherings. Some have been stating publicly that wealthy donors have agreed to cover the bail and legal fees for protestors who get arrested, specifically in Wisconsin.  

This public anger we are seeing certainly has a base in reality. People are frustrated about the impact on their small business, possible unemployment, and have the underlying fear of getting sick. However this anger is both real and manipulated, similarly to the 2009 Tea Party attacks on health care, fueled primarily by the fortune of the Koch brothers.

To bring things back around to the classic rock motif, we have to hope that in the inimitable words of  The Who….  “We won’t get fooled again.”  


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