The Dumbest Protests
By Stephen Tuttle | April 25, 2020
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that Congress “ ... shall make no law abridging ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble ... ”
We've been exercising that right for a very long time. It could be reasonably argued such a peaceably assembled protest led to our Revolution, and the Constitution protecting it.
Those protests and marches with which we're most familiar did have significant impact and required incredible staying power.
The suffragette movement officially started in 1848 and required decades of relentless protesting before women were finally given the right to vote in 1920. When you add to that additional gender-specific issues generating protests — pay equity, choice/life, harassment and assault among others — women are still resolutely on the march.
Civil rights protest marches and the modern Civil Rights Movement started in 1954, both at great risk to any participants. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and dozens of other civil rights activists, some known, many just regular folks, were murdered for the cause.
One step in that protest journey was ascended when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and another with the Voting Rights Act in 1965. It had taken 100 years since slavery was constitutionally abolished to guarantee rights to many minorities. That struggle continues unabated, particularly with the current rise of extreme right, racist hate groups.
You could argue Vietnam War protest marches helped end that mistake, but it took six years from the biggest march in 1968 before we finally exited Southeast Asia. The front lines in those marches were often met with tear gas and clubs, and marchers often responded in kind. Protesting could be a full-contact exercise if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Modern protest marches have turned into something entirely different. Regardless of the ostensible cause, the march will be become an amalgam of the extreme.
Assume it's a pro-choice rally, an important single issue for many. But rally attendees will include protests from vegans, save-the-whale folks, climate change protesters, anti-GMO people, and those representing any other unrelated issue on the fringes. It is also likely the so-called Antifa thugs will show up in their cute little ninja costumes and throw rocks or set cars on fire.
Or assume it's a right-to-life rally, also an important single issue for many. Attendees will include anti-government sign-wavers, those believing it's a Trump event, climate-change deniers, and others seeking attention. Regrettably, it will also include neo-Nazis and other far-right extremist hate groups.
Both sides now like to show up at the others’ rallies in a counterprotest, which usually results in the Antifa ninjas fighting the swastika-wearing alt-right.
Despite that long history of protests, it's fair to say we've never seen any quite as foolish as what we're now seeing at various state capitols. These are protesters knowingly and willingly endangering the lives of people who aren't even there while extending the restrictions against which they protest.
They don't like the governor's emergency orders that closed much of the economy and created social distancing rules. They march in violation of those orders because, as a woman at the Lansing event said, “It's our God-given constitutional right to protest.”
Their theory is that Gov. Whitmer does not have the authority to shut down anything, especially their protests. Constitutional scholars all, they've decided their rights supersede the health of everyone else.
They are wrong.
Since we have no coherent national testing program — the states are now competing against each other for testing supplies — we don't know who is infected. And since at least 25 percent, and maybe as many as 50 percent, of those infected have no symptoms but can infect others, it's just plain stupid to be gathering in numbers for any reason.
They're also wrong about the governor's powers in a declared state of emergency.
Public Act 302 of 1945, titled Emergency Powers of Governor, specifically allows the governor to control occupancy and use of buildings and public spaces, control traffic, and even impose a curfew. That law has stood for 75 years without being overturned.
But if that's not quite enough, Public Act 390 of 1975, the Emergency Management Act, gives the governor additional codified powers — including that her orders in a state of emergency have the force of law, without legislation. And it specifically references epidemics as one of the events for which emergency powers can be used.
The protesters in Lansing and elsewhere have no constitutional right to endanger the rest of us. And Gov. Whitmer clearly has the statutory authority to do what she is doing.
Staying home shortens the lockdown and helps limit the contagion.
Gathering to protest extends the very restrictions being protested and spreads the contagion. It's dangerous and just dumb.