It was certainly nice to see a traffic jam in the state’s capital city at rush hour Monday. Just like it ought to be at 5 p.m. on a seasonably lovely spring day.
Oh, wait, that was a protest in Hartford by 1,000 anti-shutdown activists in more than 300 cars, driving around and around Bushnell Park with horns blaring nonstop, calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to open the state back up.
Well then, it was certainly nice to see people exercising their civil right to assembly and political speech. Damn the viruses, full speed ahead. This is Donald Trump’s America and these people don’t believe there’s a public health threat — and so, poof, there isn’t a public health threat.
What a country! Never mind the inconvenient fact that just as they gathered around the Eastlake-style Victorian landmark Capitol, Gov. Ned Lamont bunkered inside and announced another 204 deaths from COVID-19.
It’s tempting to say these protesters are wingnuts on the outer bolts of society, or maybe political extremists who actually believe there’s no role for government and no common cause worth sacrificing for; or angry people left out of the economic boom looking for someone to blame; or conspiracy theorists who think coronavirus was caused by 5G technology; or Trump loyalists taking their cues from a president who pretends to listen to science, then shows his true colors in a tweet.
Or it was neo-Nazis and Confederate flag-wavers looking to bring in a little hatred, because, you know, why not?
Or maybe this crowd was just a bunch of toddlers who can’t comprehend why they have to sit at the table and eat instead of throwing their food all over the kitchen. Or, it could be just a bunch of partiers, here for the social scene.
I met people at this protest who fit every one of those descriptions on Monday, all of them waving a flag of freedom.
And I talked with Lynn Cappa and Toniann Parisi, both from New Britain, hairdressers at Salon 91 in Newington, just trying to make an economic statement: They need to go back to work. “I got rejected from unemployment today because they used my 2019 filings,” said Parisi, a co-owner of the salon.
Her tally so far: No work for more than a month and she’s received $2,700 from the federal government, including the same $1,200 check everyone got and $500 for having a teenager at home.
“I have a daughter and I’m a single mom,” Parisi said. “It’s scary.”
Scary for lots of reasons. But rather than arguing for a limited reopening, Cappa and Parisi simply said they need to reopen, period, with no limitations.
Like so many in this crowd, they believe the virus threat can only hurt the old and the immune-compromised, so those people should stay quarantined. The whole thing is just no big deal.
So, in short, this event brought out a wide range of protesters with the one common theme that they’re convinced the protection is worse than the threat. Absent were any visible guns — unlike in some states, this was no Second Amendment Rally.
Also, no visible elected leaders whatsoever. Republicans in Connecticut do understand polls and most but not all of them understand science.
Reasonable people can debate when and how best to reopen and reasonable people can say the prevailing doctrine is too strict. But by calling, loudly, for reopening completely now, this parade gave up any credibility it might have had.
Still, as it turns out, these protesters don’t fit a mold. It takes all types at a rally like this, just like at left-wing protests, where tech millionaires, anarchists and anti-Israel supporters of terrorism mix with the kumbaya crowd.
They were willing to come on downtown, where I’m guessing not one of them lives. And they’re backed by sitting U.S. president who, less than a month ago, threatened to lock down all of metro New York City. At the time, it suit his whims to look like he was taking the coronavirus threat seriously.
Funny thing, on Monday in Hartford, all but a small handful of the Reopen Connecticut rally stayed in their cars. That, too stood in contrast to anti-lockdown gatherings in Michigan and elsewhere.
I asked three cops at the state Capitol, then at the governor’s mansion where the protesters ended up, and they all said no one would have been arrested for congregating as a traditional crowd. The few protesters out on the sidewalks did a fairly good job of staying apart from each other. I even saw a protester wearing a mask.
I approached a beer-bellied, middle-aged man with a sign that read, “My body, my choice,” and had a drawing of a mask crossed out. I tried to ask whether he favored abortion rights but unlike the hairdressers, there was no talking with this protester.
The two guys on the corner who both thought 5G causes coronavirus and that vaccines are a hoax were friendly and open with his beliefs.
Yes, it takes all types, and we continue on, each of us managing a difficult situation the way we see fit — somewhere on the spectrum of community values.