Exercising the right to protest, COVID-19

“Government won’t do squat.”*

That’s the slogan I imagine for the open up protesters in Clearwater, Florida exercising VIDEO: Protesters calling for gyms to reopen do squats, push-ups ...their right to protest against the closure of their gyms. Frustrated that they can’t get to the weight stack or the cardio machines, a couple of dozen took an elliptical route to the streets, where they protested by engaging in the collective action of calisthenics.

Local television news was on the story with helicopters right away; the responses on social media were merciless: protesters, who demonstrate they can exercise without a gym, demand access to the gym. They can’t weight to get to the gym. Call it a dead lift.

Puyallup gym protests stay-home order, invites members to work out ...

Exercise machines lay fallow

But the aerobic workout looked pretty sloppy. It’s hard to do a push-up while trying to keep the flag or sign you’re holding in one hand from touching the ground. Still, they may be making progress. Florida governor Ron DeSantis who, since Spring Break, has been determined to open as much of the state as quickly as possible.

The gyms are tough. Owners maintain expensive equipment and depend upon members (who may or may not come to work out) paying monthly dues. It’s hard to charge and unappealing to pay when attendance becomes really impossible–rather than just inconvenient. More than that, exercise is good. It helps you stay healthy, think clearly, and aspire to sanity.

The protesters NEED to get to the gym.

In Puyallup, Washington, a gym owner resisted the state-imposed shutdown by declaring the gym workout to be a free speech event.  A sign on the door welcomed participants: “Protest Here. Enter at Own Risk. Our freedoms and our livelihood are essential.” The owner asked attendees to sign a waiver, freeing him of any liability from injuries or illness.

It’s the same liberty problem as with all the open up protests. You may have the right to risk your own health, but not to become a vector infecting others.

Here in California, I miss the gym, the pool, the locker room, and showers. I miss pushing to raise my heart rate and break a good sweat, breathing deeply in the air conditioned room where other people are doing the same thing.

The experience of a bubbly feeling of connection with others and with the world  is the  closest I’ve come to the “collective effervescence” Emile Durkheim described.

It’s also likely the closest I’ve ever come to living in a petri dish.

Maybe things will just work out.

*h/t to my older daughter.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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