Several thousand cars surrounded the Michigan Capitol grounds for blocks as far as the eye could see Wednesday in a display so densely packed, one ambulance slowed to a crawl to get through. Some drivers laid on their horns, while some spilled out onto the sidewalks. At least 200 people left their cars and clustered at the front of the Capitol, not observing social distancing or wearing masks.
The protestors were there to voice their displeasure with Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay at home order, which is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. The protest, called "Operation Gridlock," was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition.
Shelly Vanderwerff was recently laid off from the greenhouse where she worked in Zeeland, Michigan. She says she’s not upset that the governor took action to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s not that. It’s the extremity that Governor Whitmer has gone to and I’m hoping that this will open her eyes and it will be heard that small businesses have got to be opened up after April 30 to an extent that is safe,” she says.
Protesters urged Whitmer to re-open parts of Michigan without high rates of infection.
Whitmer says demonstrators put their own health at risk and endangered public health. She says they have the right to protest. But she says too many people didn’t wear masks, practice social distancing, and brought children with them.
She also defended her executive order that’s among the strictest in the country.
“I know that there are people who are really hurting because of this. I also know that it was absolutely necessary with the path that we are on," she says. "Michigan had the third-highest number of COVID cases and deaths in the country and we are not the third-biggest state in the country.”
Whitmer says the pace of new cases is slowing, but she wants to see a steady decline in infections before lifting the order. The current order is set to expire on April 30.
Stateside spoke with Abigail Censky, a reporter for the public radio station WKAR in East Lansing, who was at the protest. Listen to that interview in the audio above.