It’s the guns, COVID-19

A protester screams in a cops faceGuns aren’t the only way to threaten public safety, as open up protesters screaming into the faces of masked police officers surely know.

The police are wearing masks to avoid the possibility of infecting other people. Those medical masks are much less effective in protecting the wearer from the saturated screams of a protester who may be spewing virus as well as venom.

A protest of several hundred people who wanted to end Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s strict stay at home orders assembled outside the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and a contingent spilled in to try to enter the legislative chamber in deliberations.

That’s illegal.

Openly carrying loaded weapons is not.

Inside and outside the capitol, some of the protesters carried guns, includingView image on Twitter assault rifles. As gun rights groups have done some of the organizing, it’s not all that surprising that activists would link issues.

The accessory was a way to emphasize their commitment, as well as their willingness and capacity to do more than march. Commitment and capacity to escalate is an important component of protest politics, particularly for a minority. Presently, polls show that large majorities of Americans and Michiganders support the lockdown.

The images evoked memories of a similar, legal, armed protest at the California capitol in 1967. Armed members of the Black Panther Party descended on Sacramento to protest against proposed restrictions on firearms. The Panthers depended on armaments, they said, to protect their community from the police, and made a practice of following police patrols in Oakland while carrying weapons. Huey P. Newton, a co-founder of the Black Panthers and their Minister of Defense called the practice, “armed love.”

The armed protest backfired. In short order, the legislature passed the Mulford Act, which prohibited open carry of loaded weapons. Sponsored by a Republican legislator, it was signed and supported by then-Governor Ronald Reagan. The National Rifle Association supported the bill as well.

Different protesters, different NRA.

Protest is a critical element in American politics, and is Constitutionally protected. The first amendment to the constitution enshrines the right of the people “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But protest doesn’t work by itself, only in conjunction with other political efforts. A demonstration is a signal of commitment and always at least an implicit threat to do more: to vote, to contribute to candidates, to disobey the law, and to keep protesting.

Resort to physical violence, even the threat of political violence, is a high risk strategy in the United States. Once “peaceably” is no longer operative, government is likely to crack down rather than open up.

The Panthers lost on the gun rights issue; more significantly, they suffered surveillance, infiltration, and brutal repression from the federal government. (So did the Ku Klux Klan.)

While electoral intimidation can be a very effective political strategy in the United States, physical intimidation isn’t likely to work so well.

Back in Lansing, at least one state senator explained that she viewed the arms as a threat, and reported that some of her colleagues were wearing bullet-proof vests. The images circulated across the nation.

A majority of the Republican-led legislature voted to end the lockdown, but Gov. Whitmer extended the state of emergency anyway; legislative leaders promised to take the issue to the courts. Trump, characteristically unhelpful, tweeted that the protesters were “very good people,” and urged Whitmer to meet with them and “make a deal.”

This is, by the way, terrible advice. Politically, Whitmer now enjoys majority support in Michigan. More importantly, she should execute policies that are most effective at protecting Michiganders, popular or not. She should certainly work to explain those policies to people who don’t like them, and be prepared for her opponents not to listen.

But public safety in the advent of a global pandemic is not amenable to split the difference deal-making. If 6 feet, for example, makes for safe social distance, but opponents want no distance, 3 feet doesn’t help anyone. Whitmer’s job is to protect the people in her state, listen to people who know more about public health than she or the protesters do, and be prepared to face the health and political consequences of her decisions.

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Protest is contagious; where we are….

The first picture is of a open up protest at the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison, on August 24, featuring a turnout estimated at a couple of thousand people, certainly one of People protested Gov. Tony Evers’s extended stay-at-home order at the Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Friday.the largest turnouts at these protests so far. The protesters are challenging a Democratic governor ordering policies they despise.

Below are other images of protest in Madison, taken from large demonstrations directed against a Republican governor implementing policies activists found abhorrent.

Frustration, desperation, anger, and optimism sometimes lead people to take to the streets in protest.

Saints and psychopaths will turn out to protest without apparent prospects for influence, but most of us won’t. Most of us will engage in protest action only when we think it might work, and we take up tactics that seem familiar enough, safe enough, and potentially effective.

Angry public workers, facing cuts, crowded into the Capitol on Wednesday in Madison, Wis.We don’t make any of these decisions in a vacuum, and the efforts of others matter. When people with grievances learn that others with a cause have staged drive-by protests in the COVID moment, they can pick up the approach and apply it to other causes. Open up protesters grabbed a tactic used by immigration rights activists. The tactic isn’t limited to a particular cause.

When people who are frustrated by the quarantines imposed across most of the nation see others standing up against those quarantines by marching on state capitols, they can find both encouragement and a model. When people see others who are similarly situated take action, they can find inspiration.

And when health care workers see nurses and doctors standing up to bear witness against the open up protests, they can pick up the tactic and the cause. Their shared identity makes it easier to sign onto the cause.

The story of a protest event makes for a demonstration (!) effect that a cause is important and urgent enough and/or that a tactic might work.

The flow of ideas and tactics doesn’t take place on a level field. Sometimes, the news spreads along the lines of mainstream media networks. In ancient times, activists tried to get their events and sometimes even their ideas into the newspaper or on broadcast television. Support from a visible politician with ready access to audiences can amplify those efforts.

But you can’t depend upon news outlets or politicians to carry your message your way loudly enough.

Organizers work to amplify and interpret activist efforts in one place to broader audiences. By publicizing events that have taken place, and announcing planned events in advance to receptive audiences, well-established conservative groups have encourage frustrated people to take to their cars–or to the streets. Publicizing images of protesters with guns and without masks suggests a model, and abundant social media networks promote alternative interpretations and alternative facts about the causes of the pandemic, its severity, and appropriate remedies. Organizers try to use the protests to promote their own version of important grievances and their proposed solutions, changing public opinion and broad notions of what’s possible.

So, protests about opening up the economy also became protests about gun rights and support for the Trump presidency. The broader agenda likely turns off many people who might agree on the initial issues, but it intensifies the commitment of those engaged, and increases the space between them and a larger public.

At the moment, we really don’t know how far any of this will spread.

The 2011 protests in Madison were much larger than this week’s protest, so far, and they extended over weeks. But demonstrators were risking the cold, not a deadly virus. Those 2011 protests didn’t stop the anti-labor legislation Governor Scott Walker championed. They were, however, an early blast in a much larger  that generated Occupy later in the year. The protests helped focus public attention on growing inequality, and it mattered.

It’s unclear whether the movements of the moment will do the same.

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Counterprotests for health make strong images

Intensive care nurse Lauren Leander got a respectful hearing on CNN Thursday night, as she explained to Chris Cuomo why she decided to spend her day off staring down open up Banner University Medical Center ICU nurse Lauren Leander stands in counter-protest as people march toward the Arizona State Capitol in protest of Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order to combat the coronavirus April 20, 2020.protesters in Phoenix.

A few nurses dressed in clean scrubs, donned masks, and stood silently as they suffered ridicule and abuse from a few of the reported 1,000 protesters violating the stay at home orders of Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey.

Leander explained, “my message being a nurse is just to speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves and to speak for the people in our hospital that are suffering in ways that the general public cannot see….I know those people would be urging the general public to continue to stay home for them.”

Asked about the unmasked protesters who reject government restrictions on their movement or commerce, Leander responded, “You know, I would just love to be able to take them into the hospital with me and to, you know, put them in a pair of scrubs and to get them to see just the suffering that’s going on in the hospital with these covid patients that are isolated from their families and that are dying alone.”

Effective protest politics plays with symbols and creates images. Open up protesters in Phoenix carried placards about liberty, waved flags, wore Trump t-shirts, and carried weapons. They clearly meant to send a message that they were patriotic, powerful, and political. In addition to the shouts, there was an implicit threat that they were willing to break more than a quarantine.

Leander and her colleagues countered with professionalism. They were few and they were silent and still. Images of the confrontation spread around the web, and surely, anyone can see what they wish in the picture. But in telling her story, and essentially welcoming all the backlash that will follow online and beyond, the nurse explained that she saw the consequences of a global pandemic in her patients, while the marchers saw only the costs of the quarantine that was a response.

I don’t know where the nurses’ courage and commitment came from.

But Lauren Leander explained where they got the idea for uniformed silent protest. She explained that they were inspired by others who had already confronted open up protesters:

You know, we were really inspired by the other viral photos from the health care workers in Denver, you know, that were going around the internet, and we just were so impressed by their action and just the power in their silence and what they did. And we said yes, like, that’s the kind of action that we can take for something like this. That’s what we can do.

View image on TwitterThe few protesters who blocked the traffic of a drive-in protest in Denver’s downtown didn’t release their names or tell their stories, but the powerful photos by freelancer Alyson McClaran, circulated everywhere.

The images appeared on Twitter and Facebook well before they were taken up in more conventional media. The debates on social media were at least as heated and partisan as what took place in the streets.

Videos of confrontations where passengers leaned out of car windows to scream at those Health care workers stand in the street in counter-protest to hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, Colorado, on April 19, 2020.blocking traffic, demonstrating the volume of their commitment circulated too. One passenger screamed that the man blocking traffic loved communism and should go to China.

The dueling protests make conflicting claims about expertise, status, and information. Health care workers, who normally enjoy public esteem, and now are ritually cheered in communities around the country each evening, are deploying their status and their experience to serve as a counterweight to the passions of people who proclaim they want to make their own decisions about work and risk and community.

And the conflict won’t get resolved in front of Arizona’s state capitol or the streets of Denver. The debate about ending a public health lockdown has become even more heated and partisan in the streets. More important is how the images from those protests carry to a larger audience. The rest of us are invited from a distance to take sides.

In a different political moment, leaders would encourage us to remember that everyone wants to protect public health AND resurrect as much of the life we had before as possible as soon as possible. The politics could be about figuring out how to do so, gathering information and managing risks.

That’s not the moment we’re in.

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Generational Divides, Student Activism, and the Youth Vote

Moblizing Ideas, a blog that Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Social Movements maintains, commissioned a series on youth activism–way before most of us were tuned into the way the #coronacrisis would take over our politics and lives.

I’ve posted my entry below, but please read the thoughtful entries by Nicolás M. Somma and Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur.

Emma Gonzalez tweeted out a picture of herself after she voted in Florida’s primary election. Along with 1.5 million other followers, I saw Emma smiling, displaying the “I voted” sticker that came with her first in-person vote. Emma started on Twitter when she and some of her classmates organized March for Our Lives in response to the horrific mass shooting at their high school. The Parkland kids brought a new energy and visibility to a growing movement for gun safety regulation, running through a full range of social movement tactics: a local demonstration where Emma gave a stirring “We Call BS” speech; a bus trip to lobby Florida legislators in Tallahassee; a national demonstration in Washington, DC, that drew more than one million people — and featured no speaker over the age of 19; a coordinated series of school walk-outs across the country; and a speaking tour in the summer of 2018 to encourage young people to vote.

I was fortunate to catch the Parkland kids when they visited Irvine, California in November 2018, for a rally on the campus where I teach about social movements. They distributed stickers and t-shirts, gave brief speeches, provided a platform for local young activists and candidates for office, and then ran a bus to City Hall where residents could register to vote. Activist actors Chelsea Handler and Natalie Morales were there as well; Chandler spoke. But the young people were the stars. After the event, they stayed for more than an hour, talking with students and others, and posing for pictures with anyone willing to wait. I still wear the t-shirt I got, which features a QR code that links to a voter registration site. Since then, some of the Parkland kids have endorsed particular Democratic candidates, but even when they differed, all have encouraged other young people to vote.

The Parkland kids were great: smart, committed, and disciplined, but hardly unique. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I saw other young people equally committed in my social movements course. Before class, almost every session, one student or another would ask for a minute to announce an organizing event: on guns or climate change or unionization or tuition. There were meetings, canvassing sessions, speakers, and demonstrations. Every student, even those who just needed credits offered at this time of the day, was invited to attend a new set of events, and sometimes conversations extended beyond the classroom to the walk out or a snack at the student center. A few students were visibly exhausted on the Thursday after the election. But their efforts paid off. Orange County, political home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — to say nothing of the local airport’s namesake, John Wayne, saw record high voter turnout for a midterm election, and flipped every House of Representatives seat to the Democratic Party for the first time since the Pleistocene era. (My very clever attempt at a hashtag, #Orangeisthenewblue, almost caught on, I think.)

So, does the dramatic social movement activism of young people in the Trump era affect American elections and more conventional political participation? Sure. In lots of ways, activism promotes activism. Commanding public attention for yourself and your issues encourages others with concerns to try to enter into public life as well — even on different issues. Greta Thunberg, who started a weekly climate strike outside the Swedish parliament, cited the Parkland kids, who she had never met, as inspiration.

But it’s more than this demonstration effect as well. Organizers and activists set examples, to be sure, but they also set up communication channels for wholesale dissemination of information about issues and activities. In ancient times there were leaflets, then telephone trees, but social media allow a much faster, and largely unmediated, spread of information than ever before. Occupy media teams livestreamed meetings, working on laptops, sometimes with portable generators. Shortly after Trump’s election, Indivisible posted a manual for action quickly downloaded thousands of times (Brooker 2018). The Parkland kids sat on a living room floor, working on a range of platforms through their phones. It’s easier than ever for someone with an interest to find support and encouragement online, as well as directions for next steps to social and political engagement.

Social movement activism promotes politicized education. Young people who engage in activism come into contact, online and in person, with other committed people, and they talk about the things they care about. A tentative interest can deepen into a set of political commitments (Munson 2009).

Importantly, those intellectual and political commitments are solidified through personal commitment. Activism creates social ties that help young people develop a sense of self that those around them reinforce. The resulting solidarity makes it a little bit easier for someone to find out about an issue or event, and to find a way to engage with others. Over time, young activists develop broader social networks that afford them access to a widening range of issues to care about, and tactics for promoting influence. Connections create nearby opportunities for activism, ranging from working for a candidate to showing up at a demonstration.

Contemporary democracies are structured to promote and channel political engagement in ways that stabilize, rather than undermine, the political system. This makes for a familiar story in American politics, where social movements, sometimes in short order, move from activism at the grassroots and in the streets, to creating caucuses in state legislatures and in the Congress. These days, however, protest and politics operate in concert, not opposition or strict sequence. Demonstrators show up at the polls, and people who vote are far more likely to do more than those who don’t.

For young people today, who share concerns about their future and that of the earth, there is an ongoing search for ways to protect themselves and their interests. First steps may be at a demonstration or a climate change protest or at the polls, but it’s quite likely that the path will go through many forms of participation and a range of issues. Even in these moments of desperation, these are the signs of hope for the future.

References

Brooker, Megan E. 2018. “Indivisible: Invigorating and Redirecting the Grassroots.” Pp. 162-184 in The Resistance: The Dawn of the Anti-Trump Opposition Movement, edited by David S. Meyer and Sidney Tarrow. Oxford University Press.

Munson, Ziad. 2009. The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Organizing or Astroturf?

Protesters demonstrate at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, April 20, 2020, demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf reopen Pennsylvania's economy even as new social-distancing mandates took effect at stores and other commercial buildings. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)Critics of the scattered “Open Up” protests were quick to circulate a fine article from the Washington Post describing how three brothers committed to gun rights had launched Facebook accounts to promote the protests.

The story, told by Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm, highlights the efforts of Ben, Christopher, and Aaron Dorr, who “manage a slew of pro-gun groups” across the country. The Dorrs are critics of the National Rifle Association for taking too accommodating a stance toward mainstream politics and the majority of Americans who support some restrictions on firearms.

As the backlash to state-based restrictions on social and economic activity across the states first appeared, the Dorr boys quickly started “<State Residents> Against Excessive Quarantine Groups.” Creating virtual groups for Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York must have taken minutes of work.

Critics jumped on the Dorrs’ gun politics and financial interests in organizing to dismiss the protests as “Astroturf,” that is, fake grassroots, and noted other conservative groups in more or less direct support of the protests, charges that appear inaccurate and unfair.

We like to think the movements we like are true expressions of the grassroots, while we want to dismiss those of our opponents are inauthentic fronts for nefarious interests. [Think for a second of how supporters of racial segregation attacked the committed white college students descending upon Mississippi to organize as outside agitators.]

In real life, America is big and diverse enough to support substantial numbers of people willing to employ movement tactics for an exceptionally broad range of causes.

Organizers, sometimes professional and sometimes funded, work to mobilize people on behalf of the causes they care about. They plan events, set dates, sketch out plans, make placards, and sometimes arrange permits, speakers, publicity, and sound systems.

In ancient times, mobilization entailed talking to people–in churches and kitchens, in front of supermarkets and factory entrances. It meant using the phone, showing up a meetings, and knocking on doors.

These days, social media promise a quicker path to an interested audience. Starting a Facebook group is really the least you can do. There is ample evidence that a host of conservative groups publicized the open up demonstrations; indeed, some groups have clamored for credit.

But for any kind of movement, people still have to show up. Real people feeling real grievances. Of course, real doesn’t mean right.

Protesters demanding Florida businesses and government reopen, march in downtown Orlando, Fla., Friday, April 17, 2020. Small-government groups, supporters of President Donald Trump, anti-vaccine advocates, gun rights backers and supporters of right-wing causes have united behind a deep suspicion of efforts to shut down daily life to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Raoux)The impulse to dismiss the protests as inauthentic explicitly echoes the recurrent denigrating descriptions of the Tea Party movement as a front of conservative interests, most notably, the Koch brothers. But for a while, thousands of people showed up at town hall meetings and anti-tax demonstrations, organizing their own meetings around kitchen tables. Many of them voted as well.

Effective politics means taking these movements, even if so far small and unpopular, seriously.

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Cabin fever versus Covid fever, COVID-19, 6/x

The public reactions to the sprinkle of open up protests has been, like virtually everything else these days, heavily partisan and polemical.

The picture at left, from Huntington Beach, is one of the scattered protests to end–or loosen–restrictions on commerce and public assembly. It differs from most of the other protests reported only in that the weather is milder.

Waving American flags, along with other sorts of flags, protesters have been touted as American heroes and derided as deluded American idiots. (Always appalling, the reliably dishonest conservative flack, Stephen Moore, compared the protesters to Rosa Parks.) It’s a drastic mistake to sign onto either of these views, but there’s plenty of frustration.

Frankfort, KY

Frankfort, Kentucky

Almost everyone wants the restrictions to end, but the overwhelming majority of  Americans, Republicans and Democrats, believe the public health experts who say that isolation/quarantine/social distance is the best way to manage strain on the health care system and minimize damage from the virus. A very recent poll reports that only 10 percent of Americans believe we “should stop social distancing to stimulate the economy, even if it means increasing the spread of coronavirus.”

But you don’t need majorities to stage protests or make movements. Reports on the demonstrations describe relatively small turnouts of 100-200 people, save for Boise, Idaho where there were about 1,000 people, some armed, and mostly without masks or social distance.

And there are LOTS of reports. Vigorous protest that seems personally risks makes for a good story, particularly when the president of the United States is calling them out. Americans are tired of being confined, blocked from jobs and gyms, barbers and beaches, most shopping, and social life generally. And they are understandably anxious about what happens next as the economy collapses. For most of us, who accept the collective wisdom of public health officials, the lock down is awful; for those who don’t believe the scientists, it’s worse.

Image: Demonstrators Protests At Texas State Capitol Against Governor's Stay At Home Order

Austin, Texas

If you haven’t thoroughly studied public health, infectious diseases, or epidemiology (I haven’t!), the details of the restrictions won’t make intuitive sense. Responsible public servants will work hard to explain the details of their decisions, but it’s hard to think that most people are willing to listen right now.

Really, you want elected officials taking advice from people who know how epidemics work rather than those speaking only from personal frustration.

And there are paradoxes: On one hand, I should have the right to calibrate the risks I take with my life, suffering the consequences, including ridicule if things go wrong. (Like the motorcyclist who died in an accident while demonstrating against mandatory helmet laws.) On the other hand, there is no Constitutional right to infect. Public health officials are rightly more concerned about vectors than the risks individuals might choose.

Several hundred people attend a "Stand for Freedom" rally at the Capitol, protesting — and in violation of — Idaho Gov. Brad Little's stand-home order during the coronavirus pandemic in Boise, Idaho, Friday, April 17, 2020.

Boise, Idaho

The notion that we restrict ourselves or wear masks to protect others hasn’t been explained well enough or frequently enough, and it chafes at some versions of conservative belief anyway. Some conservative groups and politicians–who should know better–are working hard to ignore the social implications of individual choices.

People are turning up to protest because they’re angry, distrustful, and eager to change the world…back. But recognizing that their concerns are genuinely felt doesn’t mean these demonstrations are spontaneous or independent.

Alex Jones and Infowars helped organize the demonstration in Austin, Texas; a foundation funded by the DeVos family publicized the drive-in at Lansing. Tea Party Patriots, one of the organizations organizing the, uh, Tea Party, organized the demonstration in Virginia, along with gun rights groups, and Trump campaign organizations were everywhere.  The result of this constellation of sponsors is that the profile of the demonstrations skewed partisan, with Trump placards and hats, along with symbols from still-fringe elements of the right.

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted calls to “liberate” Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota (states with restrictions and Democratic governors), even as none of those states came close to meeting the guidelines for lifting restrictions the Trump administration had announced a day earlier. The president made the difficult disputes about appropriate public safety measures much simpler, much more partisan, and far more distant from informed discussion.

At very least, the demonstrations will turn up the political heat on governors who are enforcing restrictions on social and economic life in their states, no matter how well-advised they are. But it’s likely to have a greater impact on Republican governors, like Ron DeSantis (Florida) or Gregg Abbott (Texas), who haven’t been very strict to begin with, than Democrats who don’t depend on those Republican voters.

The photos and videos online show few demonstrators wearing masks or observing public health advisories about social distance. Maybe no one will get infected, nor infect others after returning home from the demonstration or stopping for groceries on the way. Certainly, we have to hope so. Infections, if there are any, won’t show up for a week or two. If that happens, we have to remember the protests and the president’s enthusiastic support.

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Drive by tooting; protest in cars, COVID-19 5/x

Honk if you hate government. A report from Lansing:

Activists are always looking for ways to demonstrate their concerns. A good tactic Protester Debra Cohen speaks into a megaphone at a demonstration against Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 2.energizes your supporters, discomforts your opponents, and engages bystanders. Despite the extraordinary range of imaginable activities out there, most movements across the political spectrum rely heavily on a pretty narrow repertoire, and mass demonstrations are a familiar ingredient.

COVID-19 changes all that, and organizers are looking for alternatives (discussed here). So, maybe in the era of Carpool Karaoke and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, the automobile is an answer.

People in cars can protest. A car offers the recommended social distance, some physical protection, and it takes up much more space than a body, amplifying the size of a  demonstration. It’s certainly not a routine part of American protests, but it’s also not completely new. [Please note, Catherine Shoichet wrote a good article about car protests, focusing on immigrant rights protesters honking for justice in Arizona.]

In Charlottesville in 2017, a white nationalist unhappy about the anti-white nationalist protest drove a car into demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer. The driver has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Years earlier, in 1964, a flank of civil rights protesters in New York City threatened to shut CORE Dump Garbage and Sit-indown the roads to the World’s Fair. (Because the world’s NOT fair.) But lots of demonstrators took mass transit and the threat turned out the generate more attention than than the action.

Ideas, tactics, and even rhetoric aren’t limited to particular groups or causes. Instead, organizers watch their other social movements–including their opponents–to prospect for new approaches that seem to work. So, White people opposed to desegregating public schools in Boston in the early 1970s deployed the whole arsenal of tactics (pickets, busing2_640demonstrations, sit-ins, and so on) that they’d learned from watching the civil rights movement.

We’re likely to see a wide array of groups try motorized events this year, until police develop effective ways of containing them.

Yesterday, a couple of thousand cars drove on the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s strict lockdown orders. At this writing, Michigan has recorded nearly 30,000 COVID diagnoses and nearly 2,000 deaths. The shutdown there, as everywhere, has created grievances large and small: no haircuts; no school; no jobs.

Conservative activists in Michigan want the economy to “open;” they want to go to the stores, to work, to restaurants, and bars, and they claim that Gov. Whitmer is overreacting to a global pandemic, creating a remedy that is worse than the disease.

“Operation Gridlock” demonstrated the call to open the economy by shutting down Lansing, including part of the highway and an entrance to an area hospital.

The Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund (a project of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s family) organized the event. The Freedom Fund explained that it hadn’t organized, but only publicized the event. C’mon, in real life, advance publicity is a large part of the organizing task.

The organizers urged the drive-by protesters to honk and chant and stall, but to stay in their cars and maintain social distance. But between the passions of the moment and the extraordinary skepticism about conventional medical wisdom on the new corona virus, a couple of hundred people left their cars and assembled in front of the Capitol.

A few protesters wore masks, but most did not. Lots of American flags were visible, and it’s also easy to spot a few Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flags, along with a couple of Confederate battle flags. (It’s hard to remember all of high school history, but my memory is that US-HEALTH-VIRUS-PROTESTMichigan fought for the Union during the Civil War.) There was visible support for Donald Trump, and a familiar recurrent chant about Gov. Whitmer: “Lock her up.”

And there were lots of guns, as in the picture at right. Whether or not the organizers wanted this look, when passionate people are mobilized, it’s very hard to maintain control of just what they say, what they carry, or even what they do.

Protesters discussed developing herd immunity instead of isolation, but were more interested in citizen expertise on the matter than  the advice of immunologists or epidemiologists on the matter.

Those who are listening to the medical experts, inside and outside the government, will find the herd in front of the Capitol alarming, and will worry about the transmission of the virus, then carried back to the families of the demonstrators. We may not know of any infections for a week or two, by which time demonstrators will have found an alternative cover story.

 

 

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