Lansing operation haircut protest May 20

Hundreds of people gather to get haircuts and protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders shuttering some jobs on May 20.

(The Center Square) – More than 400 people flocked to the Lansing Capitol lawn Wednesday to get haircuts, massages, and protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders that have criminalized performing some tasks for the past two months.

Half an hour into “Operation Haircut," 145 people stood in one haircut line that stretched from the Capitol steps to North Capitol Avenue Road.

Owosso barber Karl Manke was one of 12 barbers who showed up to give free haircuts.

Manke’s license was suspended by state Attorney General Dana Nessel last week after he refused to close his shop in defiance of Whitmer’s executive orders.

Michigan Conservative Coalition Spokesperson Matt Seely said the event was a success.

“I just hope that the governor understands that this is about people who just want to make a living and pay their bills," Seely said. "This isn’t about anything else other than just saying, ‘please open the state back up.' ”

Many carried signs to support those working, reading “Cut my hair, not my freedom.”

“OK Karen,” one read, echoing the popular internet meme.

“I said so is not a plan,” another read.

Sheila Jipping of Allegan County stood away from the crowd, holding a sign that said “All Jobs matter.” Her Papillon dog stood a foot away, wearing a sign that said “open grooming.”

Jipping said Whitmer’s orders were arbitrary.

“I find it very ironic that the United Auto Workers get to go to work in the most deadliest area so far, and yet in Ionia County, dog groomers can’t go to work,” she said. “Let people decide. If you don’t want to go to a business, then don’t go.”

Sara Yacks from Hillsdale was performing massage therapy by a table lined with disinfectant wipes and a sign that read “Single Mom of 4, Small business owner, Not welfare.”

Whitmer’s order shut down her job, which Yacks said she was trained to do safely even before COVID-19 hit.

“I don’t want welfare. I wanted to be off of food stamps this year … I’d rather earn my own way and spend my money how I want to,” she said.

Arlene Thornton, one of the haircutters, was working behind a face shield when Michigan State Police warned her she could be fined for disorderly conduct.

Thornton said she’d already been out of work for two months and had driven an hour and a half to get to the Lansing protest and kept working.

“I did the best that I could,” she said.

State Police said they cited seven people cutting hair for disorderly conduct as of 3:30 p.m, a misdemeanor punishable up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500 if convicted.

Those cited were advised of the law, then warned they would be cited if they continued. They finally were cited.

Thornton was issued a warning while she was cutting Tom Houle’s hair, who drove an hour to Lansing.

“It’s not about the haircut; it’s about supporting the people in this industry who’ve been shut down, by no fault of their own,” Houle said. “The governor is picking and choosing who she wants to target, and this isn’t right.”

Brandi Bates, another haircutter, said previous hard times didn’t stop her from working 50 hours per week to put her husband through school and to feed her kids.

“I worked through a broken ankle and carpal tunnel surgery, and my job was very essential,” she said. “Every job is essential, and people need to feed their families.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on and Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.