(The Center Square) – Thousands of people gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s mandated restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hours before the event started, bumper-to-bumper traffic backed up West Allegan Street for blocks, with vehicles blaring their horns.
About 2 p.m., traffic backed up the I-496 interstate for at least six miles, ranging from trucks pulling fishing boats to HVAC utility vehicles.
Erik Lane, an Amway employee, said Whitmer overstepped her bounds and locked down the state when she should have quarantined the sick.
“There're almost 10 million people in Michigan, and six counties have 85 percent of the sick,” he said. “There’s no reason that the whole state has to be locked down.”
Tom Hughey owns Tom’s Tree Service based in Carleton, which Whitmer’s order shut down. He says he can work safely in the country as he and his son are the company's only employees.
Hughey said he was threatened with a fine for fishing on Lake Erie, “but I can go stand in line at Walmart, right next to people.”
Rich Karwowski runs Integrity Demo and Construction Inc. in Maybee. The executive order shut down four out of five of his projects.
“I have a business. I have employees. She’s killing me," Karwowski said of Whitmer. "I’m losing everything.”
“I’ve got a week’s worth of work, and then I’m done,” he said. “I can’t get the [$10,000 small business] loan. It’s too backed up.”
Matt Seely is the spokesperson for the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which co-hosted the event aimed to nudge Whitmer to reduce her restrictions.
He said it’s working.
“I just saw the governor on TV live, and she’s already talking about coming up with a plan to reopen the state of Michigan,” Seely said. “So the fact that she’s already backpedaling shows that this pressure we’re applying is making a difference.”
Seely stressed that this was a nonpartisan, safe and peaceful event.
“We’d be here whether the governor was a Republican or Independent,” he said.
Cristian Bartolo was counter-protesting near the Capitol. He says a lockdown is a better long-term strategy than reopening businesses.
“If we reopen the government, [COVID-19] is just going to spread,” Bartolo said, comparing the sickness to the Spanish Flu in 1918.
The majority of protestors, however, were there to oppose Whitmer's executive orders.
Wendy Darling, for example, said her breaking point was when Whitmer ordered nonessential driving to be a misdemeanor. She said her friends have autistic children who need sensory stimulation, often achieved by going for a drive.
“They’ve been saying that their children’s worlds are turned upside down,” she said. “They need to go for a drive, but are we going to get a misdemeanor, up to 90 days in jail, and a $1,000 fine like the order said?”
Doug DuRussel cruised the sidewalk in a wheelchair, smoking a cigar. He said there’s a middle ground between shutting down businesses and reopening the economy with no precautions.
“People can still wear masks if they’re going to be in the vicinity of other people,” DeRussel said. "We don’t want anybody to get sick or die.”
He said they want the right to work in a safe manner before it’s too late for some businesses.
“I’m up near Frankenmuth, and I already know some of the restaurants up there may not reopen,” he said. “Please allow us to work.”