Seeing both sides

It's easy to ridicule those who protest COVID-19 restrictions, but is there some merit?

Protest
This was the scene in Harrisburg on April 20. While it’d be easy to write of this protest as extreme, is there a method to this madness? Our editor opines. | Image: Robert Costa/Twitter

On Monday, I could feel my blood boil as I watched Americans gather in mass groups with little to no protective gear, holding up signs protesting the state’s decision to continue with stay-at-home orders. 

Initially, the thoughts in my head went to the sinister, staring at people holding signs and shouting chants like, “Land of the Free,” and “The Strongest Will Survive,” a tell-tale sign that empathy for the nearly half a million people around the world who have died from COVID-19 has officially left the building. 

There’s something to be said for someone who can disavow the notion that this is a worldwide pandemic and that being able to get a haircut or your nails done is more important than your own safety and the safety of those you come in contact with. 

This is an indisputable fact. There’s no cure for this and people are still dying by the hundreds – daily. Survival of the fittest isn’t the notion here because any of us could be next to join the statistic. 

While that is my stance in this fight to eradicate or at least control the spread of this virus, I do see the other side for the workers and owners of businesses that may not ever be able to recover from this. The small businesses that fuel our economic engine are forced to close until further notice. I understand that while appreciated, some people don’t want a handout. I read a story about a factory worker who was laid off and said that he was “embarrassed” to be forced to collect unemployment. 

“There’s the right way to go about these changes. I’m not sure if standing on the steps of a state capitol with an AR-15 in tow is the right way to prove your point.”

Embarrassed, through no fault of his own, is the definition of someone with drive and work ethic. There’s nothing wrong or “embarrassing” about accepting a handout when you really need it. It’s why we pay taxes, to ensure support is made available to those who need them in critical times. 

There’s a need for things to return to normal, primarily for an economic resurgence, sure, but also from a mental health standpoint. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, which if you read PW’s recent 420 Issue, you’ll see have been fantastic for the cannabis industry, which has been a welcomed addition for thousands of new medicinal cardholders looking for something to take their mind off of rising debt and uncertainty. 

However, there’s the right way to go about these changes and I’m not sure if standing on the steps of a state capitol with an AR-15 in tow is the right way to prove your point. In fact, it’s not since everyone in these protests, while well-intentioned, just looked like a collection of right-wing dumbasses, which, I know, isn’t a far reach.

I could only shake my head at what I was looking at as I wondered what was going through their minds when they thought to bring assault rifles was going to sway the notions of the politicians they were trying to get across to. 

Also as an aside, I couldn’t help but notice how passive police were during these series of protests and I ask for them to have that same type of passive attitude toward people of color exercising their right to protest as well. I don’t even want to imagine what would happen to me if I showed up with a gun on my hip and a rifle slung over my shoulder screaming out “Black Lives Matter!” The privilege was on full tilt in these protests. 

Be that as it may, I understood. I’d like to think that for every protester pissed that they can’t sit outside and get a margarita anymore or visit a Supercuts, there were twice as many who were workers supporting families, and their loss of steady income is a terrifying reality they want their government to know about.

If I could steal a repeated line from Mayor Jim Kenney, COVID-19 is an “unprecedented situation.” I hear that and what soaks in is that decisions are being made on the fly, but in the best interests of the general public. 

There are only a handful of us who have experienced an event like this, one that has not only crippled our fair city but a nation full of states all with some very tough decisions to make. Close the economy in the name of safety or open it and risk more lives lost. We are fortunate that this isn’t a decision we have to make because when you look at it as it stands today, there’s no real winner in either scenario.

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. Journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.