Protesters are disobeying civil order

Ideas about liberty should be informed first by the danger, and potential lethality, of assembly.

The recent rallies held across the U.S., including last Saturday’s outside Governor Tim Waltz’s residence, revealed a collective dissatisfaction with “stay at home” orders and a desire for things to “go back to normal.” Though many of the protester’s sentiments are valid, any form of assembly ultimately poses a public health hazard, even if it may be a “right.”

This trend of disregarding looming, yet unseen, viruses repeats itself through history. During the flu pandemic of 1918, a group of populists and civil libertarians in San Francisco protested the health order to wear surgical-type cloth masks to help stop the virus’ spread. The anti-mask group succeeded in removing the order, yet the city ultimately became the hardest hit in the United States: 45,000 people fell ill, and more than 3,000 died out of a population of 500,000. A public health expert at the time, Dr. William C. Hassler, remarked presciently after the defeat of the masking ordinance that “The dollar sign is exalted above the health sign.” Jumping to the present, job loss and the economy should rightly be a focus of attention for
Americans—surveys find that half of U.S. households have lost income due to the pandemic situation—yet it is unwise to downplay the science of the virus’ spread in the hope of regaining normalcy.

Protesters send the message that the right of assembly is paramount right, even in pandemic situations. However, these first-amendment arguments rest on the condition that such assembly can be made peaceably and without the physical harm to others. Covid-19 spreads through people that may not show obvious symptoms. Thus, any assembly, on top of disobeying the governor’s stay at home order, poses a physical threat to the public. In other words, ideas about liberty should be informed first by the danger, and potential lethality, of assembly.
While protesters gained a wide media following, their pushback represents a small minority of American attitudes towards the virus. According to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, 73% of voters say Americans should “continue social distancing for as long as it is needed, even if it means continued damage to the economy.” Only 15% of respondents held the opposing view: that Americans should “stop social distancing to stimulate the economy, even if it means increasing the spread of coronavirus.” Another survey, conducted between April 17 and April 19, found that 60 percent of the public opposes anti-lockdown protests, while 22 percent support them.

Any assembly, on top of disobeying the governor’s stay at home order, poses a physical threat to the public.”

Protesting is a democratic right, as all Americans can agree on, yet it has been encouraged by President Trump in an undemocratic way. One of the catalysts to the protest outside Gov. Waltz’s home was Trump’s tweet to “Liberate Minnesota.” This use of language allows Trump to scapegoat Waltz for being “too restrictive,” while disregarding the reality of the virus’ continued threat towards public health. Gov. Waltz is merely following Trump’s order to lead the local response, and Trump’s provocation of citizen dismay is only a tool to blame the local rather than the national response.

Ultimately, protesters cannot enact any real change—as the opening of Minnesota’s economy depends instead on projected models of the virus and data on deaths and ICU cases. In this case, public health takes priority over the dollar sign.