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Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Making Sense of Anti-Stay-At-Home Protests

The indiscriminate spread of coronavirus is revealing inequalities in our society that have held Americans back since long before quarantine began. 

Protesters are taking to the streets and storming their state capitals. But they’re not protesting for universal healthcare, sick pay, better unemployment benefits, more federal funds to buy PPE. No, they’re demanding an end to stay-at-home. 

Governors of at least 42 states have put in place stay-at-home orders in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus and avoid a complete collapse of our healthcare system. For some non-essential workers, this has meant learning to work from home and cope with cabin fever; for roughly 25 million others, however, the blow to the economy has left them unemployed. 

Whether it’s to get back to work or simply to escape boredom, everyone is looking forward to rejoining public life. But in a rare bit of good news, most people are heeding experts’ warnings that a premature end to stay-at-home would have disastrous effects. It’s a relatively small group that is breaking the orders, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see them touting MAGA hats, Confederate flags, and signs printed with hate-speech at their protests. That’s because “stay-at-home” is no longer just a public health measure—it’s a political issue. 

Trump has alleged for weeks that he alone has the power to reopen the country. But that’s just not true; it’s up to each individual governor to declare an end to stay-at-home in their state. In his ill-informed press conferences and inflammatory tweets, Trump has ironically encouraged his supporters to challenge the very same states’ rights they are usually so quick to defend. 

The strategy used by Trump and right-wing news sources has been to spread misinformation about the coronavirus, leading people to dismiss the crisis as a hoax and label the government’s response as an infringement on their rights as Americans. Conspiracy theories about the coronavirus—that it was designed as a bioweapon or is caused by 5G, for instance—have begun circulating on the internet, stirring up long-held feelings of distrust toward the federal government. The result: people risking their lives and the lives of others to protest the great injustice of a government mandating that people stay at home in the midst of a pandemic.

While the misinformation itself is laughable, people are susceptible to believing even the most absurd theories when their lives are suddenly filled with uncertainty. Whether it be financial hardships, a lack of health insurance, or lack of proper medical care, Americans all across the political spectrum are experiencing elevated levels of anxiety and depression as they face these challenges. But instead of rallying people around long-term solutions to such problems, Trump and his allies are exploiting them for a short-term boost in his approval rating; how could we not reelect the hero who saved our economy by getting people back to work? 

But what’s waiting for many Americans back at work? 

A minimum wage that barely pays a living, much less enough to save for when the next disaster strikes. No guarantee of sick pay. Healthcare? Maybe.

Going back to work right now is incredibly unwise, for reasons scientists like Dr. Fauci have tirelessly tried to explain, and doing so won’t fix these problems; they were there all along. They’ve become so normalized that it’s easy for Trump to focus people’s frustration and anger at a different target entirely, one that will eventually resolve and leave him looking like a hero. Then, he’ll be free to continue enacting policies that perpetuate inequality and keep the power in the hands of the wealthy at the expense of his own supporters.

It’s the American Dream: work hard enough, and you can have it all. But the reality is that for the majority of Americans, this will never be true, and not because the government is keeping us away from our jobs right now. It’ll still be a dream even when we wake up from this nightmare.

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