After weeks of very little traffic, rush hour came roaring back to downtown Annapolis on Saturday as hundreds of drivers in their cars, SUVs, pick-ups and motor bikes clogged the city’s small streets to protest Governor Larry Hogan’s restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
“ReOpen Maryland” protesters called for Hogan to lift his March 30 shelter-in-place order as well as other measures, including the mandated closure of thousands of small “non-essential” businesses statewide.
“I’m here today because I believe we need common sense back,” said Natalie Brown, a Frederick resident who was one of the dozens occupying the sidewalks as the cars, many flying American flags and bearing Donald Trump stickers, crept by.
“I understand that elected officials saw the original numbers and were totally scared,” Brown said.
“But the new stats that they are receiving from Dr. [Anthony] Fauci are proving that was all false about how deadly this disease was. We now need a common sense approach to solving it.”
Brown, like the other protesters on foot, was drowned out by honking vehicles and drivers cheering at signs like hers.
Rising above the din could be heard snatches of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American” anthem.
Similar demonstrations took place elsewhere in the country today, though national polling suggests the protesters’ message was in the minority.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that, by a 2-1 margin, Americans are more worried that social distancing restrictions will be rescinded too quickly than too slowly.
“Our constitutional right”
While police tried to direct traffic around Church Circle, a protester named Evie looked out over the crowd.
It was a chaotic scene.
A man, whose car sported a “Blue Lives Matter” bumper sticker (a bastardized American flag with a single blue stripe), was yelling at a cop who wouldn’t let him make a turn.
Despite being a healthcare worker, a group that has been on the frontlines of the war against the pandemic, which has so far claimed 463 lives in Maryland, Evie said she’s ready for things to get back to normal.
“This [protest] is important because it’s our constitutional right,” she said, declining to give her last name.
“We have millions across the country who are out of work [for] 30 days. That is unsustainable,” she said. “People can walk and chew gum at the same time. We’re Americans. We can take care of our vulnerable and go to work. If you’re sick, stay home.”
“There’s going to be carriers of a lot of things. We’re just going to have to protect ourselves” – A protestor.
The social distancing restrictions imposed in Maryland (and elsewhere in the country and around the world) are widely regarded by public health experts as the most effective way to prevent the spread of Covid-19, especially in light of the shortage of available tests for the virus.
Evie acknowledged that there may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, but argued that doesn’t justify the shutdown.
“There’s going to be carriers of a lot of things. We’re just going to have to protect ourselves,” she said.
Annapolis joined cities like Austin, Texas, and states like Michigan where similar rallies were held. (In Michigan, protesters came armed thanks to its lenient weapons laws.)
While there didn’t seem to be any Second Amendment gun advocates in the crowd, there were some, like Glen Davis, who came in support of boaters’ rights.
“This is ridiculous,” Davis said about restrictions on recreational boating. “It is a very individual hobby and sport. Plus they closed down the marinas. They’re all small businesses, and it’s difficult for them to survive with their profit margins. Hogan is out of it.”
As the parade of SUVs and pickups make their final turn onto West Street, some drivers slowed while their passengers yelled out.
The target of their ire: A lone supporter of the governor’s order who held a sign that simply read, “Go Home.”