Another way COVID sets the stage for government restrictions of rights.
On Monday, Providence Journal political reporter Katherine Gregg tweeted that people protesting in favor of vaccine freedom for healthcare workers were trying to “storm” the State House. Unfortunately, it appears that she has deleted that tweet, but this short video and a slightly longer one associated with her official report remain the only evidence that she provided for the claim. In the latter case (perhaps owing to the wisdom of editors), the verb is “confront,” rather than “storm.”
Either way, by “storm” and “confront,” she meant “tried to enter peacefully.”
It therefore struck me as quite a contrast when, last night, The Public’s Radio reporter Ian Donnis tweeted a picture with the caption “abortion-rights supporters occupy the @RISenate chamber.” Note, first of all, that the photo is from May 2019, which (to be honest) is a detail I missed when I saw the tweet in the process of shutting down my computer.
Nonetheless, the question remains: Are protesters not permitted into public buildings to protest anymore? Gregg’s reporting gives no indication of why the “throng” of protesters was blocked at the door. I asked Chief Joseph Little of the Capitol Police, and this was his response:
… the [Capitol police] supervisor that day had spoken to the organizer of the event. The issue was that they wanted to present a petition to Governor McKee who was not in the building. The group was advised that they could not come in unless they were wearing masks. So, our officers arranged for the organizer to hand the petition to a staff member from the Governor’s Constituency Office at the front door, which they did. It should be noted that a handful (5-8) of “protesters” from the group did in fact come in and go out throughout the event wearing a mask. So the issue was not the vaccine issue but it was the mask issue.
To an extent, Gregg’s implicit association with January 6 at the U.S. Capitol was appropriate. We cannot know what would have happened in a different reality, but it’s feasible to suggest that the fact that the public was forbidden from entering the building that day was one of the causes of violence and destruction. After all, large numbers of the people who did enter the building that day remained within the tourist-guide ropes. Had the crowd had an opportunity to enter, protest, and leave in an orderly fashion, that contingent may very well have set the tone more completely.
Not to conflate Donnis with Gregg, but broadly speaking, the media’s style guide — one group “storms” and “confronts” while another simply “occupies” or “mostly peaceful protests” — contributes to a conclusion about the COVID age. Among the multiple reason that establishment powers love it is the ability it grants them to pick and choose who has what rights when.
Mandates (especially when unreasonable) create the opportunity for exceptions, and as long as people in government can continue to claim that they’re afraid of a government, they can disguise actions that indicate that they’re afraid of the people.