Protesters were back at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday to voice their displeasure with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders. After armed protesters entered the State Senate Gallery during a protest two weeks ago, some in Lansing began calling for a ban on guns inside the statehouse. That debate picked up steam after reports that people in anti-quarantine Facebook groups were calling for violent action against the governor.
State Representative Sarah Anthony, a Democrat from Lansing, made national headlines when a video of her being escorted by armed constituents went viral on social media. Anthony describes working at the Capitol during the April 30 protests as “terrifying,” not only because of the presence of firearms, but also the display of racist symbols such as nooses, swastikas, and Confederate flags.
“The presence of those hateful symbols like Confederate flags and nooses, I think, they are quite triggering to someone like me. I’m a black woman, and those send a very clear message of intimidation for an individual like me, who is really just there to do the job and the work of my constituents,” Anthony told Stateside.
After seeing the armed protesters in the news, a group of Anthony’s constituents reached out and asked if they could escort her into the Capitol building. Other constituents have called to ask if they can gift her their bulletproof vests. Anthony says it's unfortunate that safety concerns have become a priority in a time when resources and attention should be focused on COVID-19 relief.
“That is not the conversation I want to be having with my constituents, particularly during a public health crisis,” Anthony said. “I want to be making sure I’m doing the best I can do to help folks navigate the unemployment system, right? Helping small businesses reopen. Not worrying about whether I’m going to get home alive.”
Michigan is facing a projected $2.6 billion budget deficit in the current fiscal year largely because of COVID-19 crisis. Money is being rerouted to deal with the crisis, which means other initiatives have been put on hold. That includes a program Anthony championed called Reconnect, which would provide adults 25 and older with a tuition-free path to an associate's degree or certificate. Anthony said all of the financial resources that were dedicated to the program have been redistributed to the COVID-19 crisis.
Anthony said the prospect of Reconnect has been a “bright spot for individuals” who are working on the front-line and may be rethinking their career paths after COVID-19. She said she will be having conversations on the federal level in order to try to get the program funded.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.