With cabin fever and frustration over the economic crisis increasing, protests have broken out in a number of states against extended stay-at-home orders. One of the Governors facing the most push-back over Coronavirus restrictions is Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer.
Michigan is one of the states hit hardest by the coronavirus, with 31,000 confirmed cases and 2,400 deaths. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s restrictions are some of the most strict in the country. Her new order extends through April and allows residents to leave their homes only for grocery shopping, to seek medical care, or for outdoor physical activity. The order also bans interstate travel to vacation homes, as well as boating excursions.
In response, last week the Michigan Conservative Coalition (formally the Michigan Trump Republicans) organized a protest that gathered outside of the capitol building to demand the state be reopened. The protests also attracked members from far-right protest groups, like the Michigan Liberty Militia, that have previously come out for pro-Trump and gun rallies and are know for White Nationalist messaging.
Protestors parked their vehicles to create gridlock while not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing rules. They handed out candy to children without wearing gloves, all while waving blue Trump flags and chanting “lock her up” in reference to the governor. Protestors claimed that the restrictions were draconian and infringed on their right to assemble and that the closing of gun shops violated the Second Amendment. The Governor is now facing multiple civilian filed lawsuits on these grounds.
Governor Whitmer may be especially targetted because President Trump has recently called her out, demeaningly referring to her as “that woman in Michigan.” Her critics have taken to the internet, with conservative websites spreading rumors and conspiracy theories that the new order will place fines of $1,000 for breaking social distancing rules, and even that the governor banned the sale of American flags.
These protests are an example of how political the response to the coronavirus has become. Two minutes after a Fox News report began covering the event, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, suggesting that governers were unnecessarily holding residents hostage. All of this coming after Trump wrongfully claimed that as President he has the power to override restrictions put in place by state governors. He later backed away from this stance, saying last week that it would be up to governers to take the appropriate actions in their respective states.
Despite the outrage from conservatives, a new poll that surveyed 600 Michiganders shows that 57% of the state agrees with Governor Whitmer’s handling of the outbreak, with only 37% disapproval. Predictably the numbers are different when looking at party divides, with 89% disapproval from self-identified Republicans. On the other side of the aisle, Joe Biden has mentioned that Governor Whitmer is being considered as a potential running mate. Governor Whitmer referred to the protests as a “political rally,” and those protesting her orders “have the right” to do so. She went on, “The sad part is, though, that the more that they’re out and about, the more likely they are to spread COVID-19 and the more likely we’re going to have to take this posture for a longer period of time.”
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