COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown to contain its spread have taken a devastating toll upon the American economy. According to Kevin Hasset, President Trump’s current economic advisor, the jobless rate could reach numbers comparable to the Great Depression. With many businesses having closed in order to comply with stay-at-home orders, millions of Americans have found themselves without work and are understandably upset about being out of a job. Unfortunately, some of those people are now partaking in dangerous and misguided protests in order to end the lockdown before the outbreak has subsided.
“Operation Gridlock” is a right wing conservative protest movement which has spread to the capitals of over a dozen states. The imperative of those participating in Operation Gridlock is to force their governors to lift COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, even as the disease continues to claim lives across the country. Operation Gridlock protests have played out in different ways. In Colorado, the protest took the form of a legion of cars. In other state capitals, many of the protestors arrived wearing no masks and stood shoulder to shoulder at statehouses in blatant disregard of social distancing guidelines.
What is alarming about the protests, besides the large groups of people standing in close proximity to each other, many of which include protestors who are not wearing protective equipment, is that some of the protestors have shown up in the name of haircuts and golfing. The abortion-rights slogan of “My body. My choice” has been appropriated as an excuse to not wear a mask, a preventative measure suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to help contain the spread of the disease. Protestors demanding that people return to dangerous working conditions in the name of their frosted tips and their manicures come off as downright selfish, as if the health of those individuals who would be serving them does not matter at all. Even setting aside the more ridiculous demands, the entire movement reveals a startling lack of seriousness when it comes to this virus.
As of May 3, the novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of over 240,000 people worldwide, and the American death toll accounts for over 67,000 of those deaths. Medical workers still lack proper protective equipment, testing levels are not close to the recommended amount and the federal government has been laughably inept when it comes to handling this pandemic. From the steps Trump failed to take during the earliest days of this pandemic’s detection to the White House saying that the federal government is more of a last resort and that states need to be responsible for funding and conducting their own testing, the current administration has greatly exacerbated an already dire situation. The President has only further endangered American lives by calling on states to “liberate,” which goes against his own guidelines.
Perhaps it is not a surprise that a disease which has disproportionately affected African Americans, the elderly and the poor is being underestimated, if not completely disregarded by a protest that is composed almost entirely of white conservatives and Trump supporters. However, if one disregards the petty cries for golfing season to be back on and for haircuts to be readily available, there is a message of legitimate concern. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed with the COVID-19 lockdown. However, the financial situation does not mean that now is the time to risk American lives with flagrant disregard for stay-at-home orders. More importantly, the energy of these protestors is going entirely in the wrong direction.
America has no law which protects one’s livelihood in the face of an emergency. Paid time off is often unavailable or does not allow for people to miss work for months at a time. Healthcare is not universal — the Trump administration saw to that — and Americans find themselves in a position where they cannot afford to get sick and miss work. However, COVID-19 has Americans both getting sick and missing work at alarming rates.
Devastating as the blow to the American economy has been, states are far from ready to lift restrictions. The CDC is already worried that a second wave of this pandemic could be coming, and the last thing America needs is for disgruntled conservatives to gather in large crowds, insisting that the virus is fake and refusing to wear protective gear in public. The problem is not the lockdown, the problem is that there needs to be a system in place which protects the livelihoods of Americans in times of crisis. Operation Gridlock protestors are only endangering themselves and the general public as they gather en masse to demand a premature reopening of state economies and underestimate a virus which continues to see people die by the hundreds every day.