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Left Voice - April 19, 2020

"These protests are Trump mobilizing his base to tip the scales and open the economy, parroting the calls by politicians and capitalists for the working class to be sent to die for their profit. And it’s this base that will mobilize against any aid to working-class people and people of color. In this sense, these mobilizations are very dangerous."

In Michigan’s capital city of Lansing on April 15, 3,000 to 4,000 protesters joined “Operation Gridlock.” Led by groups backed by billionaires as well as by proto-fascist groups such as the Proud Boys, they gathered to demand an end to the emergency confinement measures ordered by Michigan’s governor. They want business and schools reopened. It is, they say, a matter of their freedom and liberty. At the same time, Michigan has the third highest death rate as a result of COVID-19 in the nation, with state officials reporting 30,023 confirmed cases of the virus, including 2,227 deaths.

The call went out from organizers to cause traffic jams and bring signs they could display from their cars. The Facebook invitation warned: “Do not park and walk — stay in your vehicles!” It seemed they were blissfully oblivious to the fact that the traffic jam prevented some health workers from arriving on time for their shifts at a downtown hospital. Or perhaps they didn’t care. Many of these people are coronavirus deniers. They parrot early Trump statements about it being “just the flu.” Or worse yet, they believe the conspiracy theory that coronavirus is a hoax being used so Bill Gates can implant chips in people at the hospital. 

But simple gridlock wasn’t enough. Many left their cars for a self-organized death march to the steps of Lansing’s town hall, where they unfurled American flags, “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, Trump campaign banners, and even some Confederate flags. Michigan is an “open carry” state, and many of those on the capitol steps were armed — including with assault rifles. In what screamed contradiction, some of the protesters wore N95 and other protective face masks, and not to hide their identity.

These protesters are almost exclusively white, in a state known for its deep racial inequities. Before the pandemic even began, unemployment of Black people was almost double that of white people in Michigan. These figures have only been exacerbated as the pandemic advances. In predominantly Black Flint, there is still no clean water. In Detroit, water shutoffs continue. And Black people are dying at a much higher rate than white people of the virus. Just a few days ago, Black people, who make up 14 percent of Michigan’s population, accounted for 33 percent of the confirmed virus cases and 40 percent of the deaths

This protest was a manifestation of Donald Trump’s murderous politics of reopening the economy, as well as his weeks of denial about the severity of the virus. To that end, he has fueled the fire of his ultra-reactionary base: science-deniers, xenophobes, and racists rallying around the call to “take our country back.” Although the protesters were ostensibly demonstrating to demand that the state be reopened, in this broader context a march of gun-carrying, Confederate flag-waving white people has clear racist implications.

Whatever else one might think of Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s governor, what she said in an interview on MSNBC the next day is true. The rally “wasn’t really about the stay-at-home order at all. It was essentially a political rally, a political statement that flies in the face of all of the science, all of the best practices in the stay-at-home order that was issued.” She also mentioned that “the cars were blocking one of our hospitals so an ambulance literally wasn’t able to get into the bay for ten minutes. This is the kind of behavior that extends the need for stay-at-home orders, that spreads COVID-19, that overruns communities, and this is precisely the worst thing that could have happened today.”

Donald Trump’s response to the actions in Lansing was exactly what you would expect. At his daily press briefing on April 16, he was asked what he would say to those protesters. He began by mentioning that it “isn’t wonderful to stay at home.” 

Asked by ABC news specifically about those who are not complying with instructions from local authorities, Trump couldn’t resist making it about himself saying, “I think they’re listening. I think they’re listening to me. They seem to be protesters that like me …” And in this, Donald Trump is right: these protests are being encouraged by the president. 

This was confirmed on April 17, when he tweeted his support, calling for Michigan and other states where similar protests have happened to be “liberated.” ...
See full commentary at Left Voice