Protestors of Governor Whitmer at Michigan’s state capitol.

On Silly Protests in a Time of Pandemic

Dr. Kelly James Clark

The announcement that a poor, black city in Michigan was being poisoned as a result of governmental carelessness and subterfuge elicited barely a peep on social media. But when Michigan’s Governor Whitmer, during a once-in-our-lifetime unprecedented pandemic, issued stricter but temporary (2-ish weeks) guidelines to prevent the spread of a deadly and highly infectious virus, anglers and gardeners rose up in protest to protect their rights to fish and plant as they please.

Governor Whitmer had gone too far, they said, depriving us of our basic rights to feed our families and to our own happiness.

To be clear: Whitmer did not ban fishing. Indeed, early on in the pandemic, Whitmer permitted fishing as long as people practiced proper social distancing. However, a few anglers abused the privilege by cramming into boats, standing should-to-shoulder in rivers, and crowding together at boat launches. Because of the threat the abusers posed to public health, Whitmer was forced to take more decisive action. She did not ban fishing and she did not ban fishing in boats. But she did ban fishing in motorboats and fishing with more than one person in a boat. Temporarily. In response to this once-in-our-lifetime unprecedented pandemic. For the good of everyone.

Again, to be clear: Whitmer did not ban gardening. Early on in the pandemic, Whitmer permitted people to purchase whatever they wished at essential businesses as long as people practiced proper social distancing. However, a few shoppers abused the privilege by standing too close to other shoppers and to workers. Because of the threat the abusers posed to public health, Whitmer was forced to take more decisive action. She required stores to admit no more than 4 customers per 1,000 square feet, and she banned the sale of all non-essentials from grass seed to paint. Temporarily. In response to this once-in-our-lifetime unprecedented pandemic. For the good of everyone.

To prevent the spread of the virus Whitmer also banned travel to vacation homes, from heavily infected areas (say, Detroit or Grand Rapids) to lightly infected, vacation areas. Temporarily. In response to this once-in-our-lifetime unprecedented pandemic. For the good of everyone.

For the common good and temporarily, the Governor has ordered what some have selfishly refused to do voluntarily — stay the heck away from one another so that more people don’t die! Our selfishness forced Whitmer to order actions where empathy and common sense failed.

The Governor’s orders are, for sure, severe and their consequences drastic. In ordinary times they would be vicious and tyrannical. But we are not living in ordinary times. We are living in a once-in-our-lifetime unprecedented pandemic. And pandemics call for sacrifice, either motivated by empathy or enforced by authority.

But empathy and good sense did not sufficiently prevent people from crowding in stores and on boats. So, we got enforcement by authority.

The response has been fast and furious. On April 15, a group of protesters created gridlock in Lansing, shouting, “LOCK HER UP!”

A brief perusal of their Facebook page would make you think that Comrade Whitmer is leading us into a Democratically-endorsed, communist dystopia:

“We must say no to socialism which these demoncrats are trying to impose on us”

“Our government is using this quarantine to take our freedoms away.”

“Unfortunate due to our Nazi governor and her socialist state!”

“I would rather live in dangerous freedom then die in safe slavery.”

“It’s not about paint, seeds, etc. Every aspect of my Civil Liberties are being taken away!!!”

“When are people going to realize what the Democrats of this generation want they don’t want you as Americans they want you as slaves”

“She’s campaigning, appealing to a liberal, socialistic, and communist base to be VP.”

“No. No. No. that is exactly how this starts. Please Read a history book.”

Without irony, grown men with expensive boats insist that without fishing they’d starve:

“So we cant fish to put food on out table when. You took our job away from us now theres people starving because they cant make money”.

Many invoke violence:

“Time to rebel!!!”

“Speak softly and carry a bigger stick than those who are enforcing”

“I will fight whoever decides to enforce unconstitutional mandates”

Start shooting them if they try to write tickets for that shit their the ones in the wrong .

“There’s going to be an uprising if they don’t get there act together and cut this stupid attack again citizens.”

so when do you think people should start to stand up? When we start getting shoved into f****** FEMA camps? Or how about when they come door-to-door to microchip our asses should we wait till then to stand up?when we’ve all lost our homes? When we all file bankruptcy? When we all lose our small businesses? Get a grip dude

Are we going to wait like the jews did in Nazi Germany??

Finally, though there is much more worthy of note, we read the personal and often astonishingly misogynistic attacks on Governor Whitmer.

“Heil Witler” [countless references to and photoshopped Whitmer photos of Hitler] sounds like shes on her period

“Put that bitch on a gallow”

“Someone should motorboat her fat boobs”

“She should crawl back under her rock”

And these are the posts that Facebook censors didn’t remove for violating social standards.

For perspective, after six years, the Keep Flint MI Lead Free Facebook page has 483 members, yet in about one week, the Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine Facebook page has 336,000 members.

Here’s the problem. When one dehumanizes and demonizes one’s enemy and simultaneously invokes violence, people are more inclined toward violence. Just one related example, blaming Covid-19 on “the Chinese” has dramatically increased violent attacks on Asian-Americans (aka, Americans).

And disgruntled white men prancing in military uniforms carrying AK47s and waving confederate flags is not a predictor of peace.

Most “Michiganders Who Oppose Excessive Quarantine” do not dehumanize Governor Whitmer or commend violence. Many speak clearly and forthrightly and without invective. And they endorse peaceful protest. More power to their peaceful expression of disapproval of the government.

Yet I think their protest misplaced.

During the Second World War, the US government conscripted fifty million men to fight the real Hitler who sought to impose real and lasting tyranny, not the imagined distress of temporary restrictions on fishing and gardening, on Europe. Each draftee was required to give up their individual search for happiness and possibly even life itself to repel the Nazis. Fighting evil, in extraordinary times, requires great sacrifices.

Fighting sickness and death, in these pandemic times, requires decidedly more ordinary sacrifices for a considerably shorter period of time — accepting restrictions on fishing and purchasing tomato plants and visiting cottages.

I concede that poor people who can’t work and shop owners who can’t sell are bearing an entirely different and more painful burden. And I think our government should be working to minimize your pain.

Of course, to do so, such redistribution of wealth would require it to be actually socialist, which these protestors adamantly reject.

But I am not talking to you. I am talking to the more privileged protestors, those who own motorboats and big trucks and vacation homes.

I am a fisherman myself. I regret that I can’t take my annual steelhead trip with my 80-year old uncle. And if pandemic conditions should continue into the summer, I will regret not taking our annual two-week trip to Canada to fish for walleye. But I would regret it even more if taking those trips were to cost him his life. And I would or should regret it if taking such trips were to spread Covid-19 to anyone and caused anyone to die. I am happy to live with Governor Whitmer’s extreme but sensible, and temporary, restrictions on my own happiness if they will prevent even one needless death. I am not willing to gamble my own happiness on someone else’s death.

In the meantime, I will walk to a nearby lake, pull out my old bamboo rod, put a worm on the hook, and sit on the shore with the sun warming my face. When I’m hungry, I’ll wear a mask and observe social distancing rules at a nearby grocery store; I’ll buy some fish and enjoy it with my wife at home. I’ll take whatever happiness is allowed me in these dire and distressing times.

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Senior research fellow Kaufman Interfaith Inst. Author of many books including Religion & the Sciences of Origins, Abraham’s Children & upcoming God & the Brain

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Kelly James Clark

Kelly James Clark

Senior research fellow Kaufman Interfaith Inst. Author of many books including Religion & the Sciences of Origins, Abraham’s Children & upcoming God & the Brain

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