LANSING, Mich. — Several hundred protestors gathered outside the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing on April 30 to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders. As rain drizzled, shouts of “USA” and “Lock her up!” erupted from crowd members, many of whom carried firearms openly. Most were not wearing masks.
The protest started with an invocation, in which Bernadette Smith, a pastor at Holy Word Church in Grandville, Michigan, asked for God’s forgiveness on those who passed the ordinances. Then, the crowd sang the national anthem before saying the Pledge of Allegiance. A slate of speakers, including doctors and activists, followed. They condemned the recent orders from Whitmer and asked for the state to be re-opened.
Protestors later entered the capitol and gathered outside the chamber chanting, “Let us in” and singing the national anthem. On Thursday, Whitmer signed three State of Emergency orders to extend the quarantine until May 28 under several legal authorities. The legislature voted not to extend the State of Emergency and to sue Whitmer, bringing on a legal confrontation.
Organizer Ryan Kelley said Whitmer has put the state into a downward economic spiral.
“More than one million have filed for unemployment,” Kelley said. “We come here to encourage the Michigan Senate to vote ‘no’ to extend the state of emergency.
Donna Kuhr, who owns a metal stamping supplier in St. Claire County, said the order did not include enough leeway for responsible citizens.
“We are essential workers and understand the importance of safety protocols,” Kuhr said. “If you don’t feel comfortable running your business, don’t open. But there’s many of us who do feel comfortable.”
Kuhr expressed sympathy for those at risk from COVID-19.
“If you have a compromised immune system and shouldn’t be in public, stay home,” Kuhr said. “But those of us who are healthy should be able to go to work.”
Jon Smith from Somerset Township, and a candidate for Hillsdale County Commissioner, connected the issue to personal responsibility.
“They’re responsible for their health and I’m responsible for mine,” Smith said. “Conservatives want to be independent.”
Some protestors had already decided to defy the stay-at-home orders. Gabriel Lossing of Lapeer County, Michigan, said the order shut down his landscaping business for three weeks.
“After that, I went back to work for those that would allow me to,” Lossing said. “I have many customers that would like to work but can’t, so that’s hurt my income.”
On a more personal level, Lossing explained that he also can’t accompany his pregnant wife on her hospital visits anymore.
Barbara Martin, of west Michigan, said she decided to join the protest when she heard about the father of a 12 year old getting brain surgery, whose father couldn’t be present because of visiting restrictions in Michigan hospitals.
“I just want to see the science,” Martin said. “I don’t see how it’s safer to go into a liquor store or buy lottery tickets than to buy potting soil.”
Chiropractor and ’03 Hillsdale College graduate Kyle Denholm said he’s seen an increase in patients suffering from anxiety and depression. The lockdown has also hurt his practice.
“I’m down about 50% of my normal patients,” Denholm said. “I’ve had to lay off four employees.”
Shelby, a tenth-grade student from Lowell, Michigan, said the lockdown is affecting the mental health of herself and her peers.
“She needs to let us free. I don’t do well with social distancing. I’m a social person, so it kinda sucks,” Shelby said. “A couple of my friends went into treatment because of their depression because people were worried they were gonna hurt themselves. Before the lockdown, they were out having fun.”
While Shelby said the grade protection — a measure by schools which said primary and secondary students’ grades couldn’t decrease from their pre-quarantine state — means her grades can only go up. But other students weren’t so lucky.
Olivia, a freshman at Grand Rapids Community College, said the lockdown hurt her academics.
“I don’t have face-to-face with my teachers, so I can’t talk to them as easily,” Olivia said. “I’m a hands-on learner. It throws off my study habits.”
Olivia, who was at the protest with two of her siblings, said her family also felt economic hardship from the lockdown, because her father had seen a 20% pay cut.
Jon Rutan from Hillsdale Township, who is running for Hillsdale County Sheriff, said the protest was about natural rights.
“Whitmer has to realize rights can’t be suspended. They are inalienable,” Rutan said. “That’s the crux of the issue.”