News-Record & Sentinel, May 2020

My favoritesign from the “reopen” protests is one held by a boy with bangs down in his eyes: “Open the barbershop.”  Otherwise there isn’t much humor in the sign offerings. 

Unless, of course, you’re into irony: “Give me liberty or give me covid-19.”  Or word puzzles: “Rights aren’t a form of business.”

The overall mood at the protests isn’t jolly, either.  There’s the man in tactical vest, cradling his AR-15 and quoting Thomas Jefferson on his sign: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”  Hold your fire, dude.  I’ll give you dangerous freedom.     

There’s also the mother of three stair-step children under 10.  The youngest, maybe three years old, has a sign three-fourths her size that reads: “Live free or die.”  Brrr, cold.  The oldest, looking very solemn, holds up: “God makes the rules.”   

The protests are about ending lockdowns, of course, so many in the orchard of signs say exactly that.  But there’s more going on.  Protest gatherings are like Tea Party reunions.  Yellow flags with coiled rattlers are dusted off.  You almost expect to see “Stop Obama.”  

The participants are middle-aged.  One rare college-age group mocked the proceedings with: “God hates signs.”

Opinion page letters have been calling for a “Damn the torpedoes” attitude, and this same theme is in the protest signs.  It’s a point of view I can understand.  Many people feel that backing down from a fight shows intolerable weakness.  One sign read: “My rights don’t end where your fear begins.”  Another: “Fear is the real virus.” 

A related idea is also reasonable – that people should be allowed to choose their own fate, like the guy who held up: “Save my right to die.”    One lady’s sign, “My body, my choice,” interesting in this crowd, is another.

As understandable as these ideas may be, they’re terrible public policy in a contagion.

A familiar word bounces around among the signs:  freedom.   Ah yes, the old Tea Party watchword that’s become enshrined in the Freedom Caucus and in Freedomworks, the Tea Party-aligned outfit who backs these protests with organization and mailing lists.

I’m guessing that the iconic photo from this protest season will be the one of a woman leaning her full torso out the passenger-side window, waving her fist at a masked healthcare worker standing silently with arms crossed.  A door-size sign is below her: “Land of the Free.”