Protests have been sweeping across America in defiance of lockdown restrictions put in place due to the outbreak of COVID-19. They have ranged in size, but in states such as Colorado, thousands of people have left home to park along roads and gather in streets. Signs reading “give me liberty or give me death” and “set us free” have made many headlines.
Whilst most European countries and certainly Asia have followed lockdown rules, the same cannot be said for parts of America. For centuries America has upheld a liberal democratic order and the population prides itself on being “free citizens”. Hence the harsh restrictions in place under lockdown are resented by many Americans, who feel their constitutional rights are being breached. In the viral photograph of a woman in Denver shouting from her car at a healthcare worker, the photographer, Alyson McClaren, quoted her as saying “This is the land of the free. Go to China!”. It appears some would rather uphold US ideology than stop the spread of COVID-19. These actions are likely to have huge public health consequences in America, which has already seen over 55,000 deaths. However, it appears there is a core of US citizens who simply don’t care. They have been fuelled by President Trump’s stance, who hasn’t denounced them, but called them “very responsible”.
Trump’s approach is clearly driven by the upcoming presidential election. He tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA”, which are crucial for his re-election success. If we were to stereotype all the protestors, the majority seem to be conservative, pro-Trump supporters, with Trump propaganda heavily present at the protests. As well as protests against the economic cost and infringements on their liberty due to lockdown, right-wing grievances such as anti-abortion, immigration, and pro-gun rights have been present.
However, it is important to acknowledge that many of these protestors are from low-income backgrounds. Lockdown measures have put many people’s livelihoods at risk as they are unable to go to work. Unlike the UK Government, the US Government has not implemented a strong support scheme to sustain incomes. Last week, unemployment applications reached twenty-six million in the US. However, for many people, these benefits will be a fraction of what they previously earnt and the severe backlog has meant that states such as Florida, with an already weak benefits system, have only seen fourteen per cent of the 668,000 claims filed since the 15th of March paid, as reported by The Guardian.
Joseph Stiglitz, a top economist, has predicted that in the coming months, the unemployment rate could rise to thirty per cent. There isn’t the public safety net in place to deal with this, with food banks already becoming overwhelmed. Therefore, protestors are eager to lift the lockdown to return to work. BBC News interviewed a man who stated “I’m gonna do what I got to do to feed my family. My mortgage payments are late, my truck payment is late and if I lose either of those I’m dead in the water.”
Although American protests have been making headlines in the UK, this does not reflect overall public opinion. According to a Pew Research Centre, sixty-six per cent of Americans are concerned the lockdown restrictions will be lifted too early. However, with Trump and his Republican government in power, this is already happening with states such as Georgia, Alaska and Oklahoma loosening lockdown. Trump appears to be using COVID-19 to gain political advantage, moving the focus from public health to the economy. The coming months will reveal the success of this and the possibly disastrous consequences.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.