Thousands of people protested Michigan’s stay-at-home order at the state capitol on Wednesday, with protesters chanting “Lock her up!” to show their displeasure with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the coronavirus outbreak.
Hundreds of flag-waving, honking demonstrators drove past the capitol. As snow fell, others got out of their vehicles and raised signs, one of which read, “Gov Whitmer We Are Not Prisoners”. Another said “Michigander Against Gretchens Abuses”.
The protest, in Lansing, was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, who have dubbed the effort “Operation gridlock”, with the slogan: “She’s driving us out of business. We’re driving to Lansing.”
Hours later, Whitmer shot back, telling reporters that the rally put health at risk.
“The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it,” Whitmer said.
The ripples of the protest were widely felt: traffic was barely moving for miles in some areas of Lansing.
“This arbitrary blanket spread of shutting down businesses, about putting all of these workers out of business, is just a disaster. It’s an economic disaster for Michigan,” a coalition member, Meshawn Maddock, said. “And people are sick and tired of it.”
Whitmer, a Democrat, extended a stay-at-home order through 30 April and has shut down schools and businesses deemed non-essential. The governor acknowledged the pain but said the restrictions were necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness that has killed more than 1,900 Michigan residents and overwhelmed hospitals in the Detroit area.
Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked Whitmer, a popular Democratic governor, in recent days as she has requested emergency medical supplies for Michigan. The “lock her up” chant echoes those leveled by Trump supporters against his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton.
The protesters appear to be a vocal minority; Whitmer’s handling of the crisis receives a favorable review from 71% of Michigan residents.
Whitmer expressed sadness that the thousands of people who attended the protest may have jeopardized their own health by participating in close proximity without masks.
“We know this demonstration is going to come at a cost to people’s health,” Whitmer said. “That’s how Covid-19 spreads.”
The Democratic governor added that ignoring the social distancing guidelines would probably only serve to extend the stay-at-home order.
“I saw someone handing out candy to little kids barehanded,” the governor told reporters. “People are flying the Confederate flag, and untold numbers who gassed up on the way here or grabbed a bite on the way home. We know that this rally endangered people. This kind of activity will put more people at risk and, sadly, it could prolong the amount of time we have to be in this posture.”
Four sheriffs in the north-western Lower Peninsula called Whitmer’s orders a “vague framework of emergency laws” that are frustrating citizens. The Leelanau county sheriff, Mike Borkovich, said people did not understand why they could not take a child fishing in a motorboat but they could use a kayak.
“We’re trying to keep the peace with people … The economy is coming apart in northern Michigan. People are upset,” Borkovich told the Associated Press. “People are frantic to get back to work. They have been very edgy.”