Get the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
The streets of Harrisburg were lined Monday with hundreds of protesters – standing close to each other and not wearing masks – advocating for the loosening of Pennsylvania's strict coronavirus stay-at-home order imposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Protesters, not just in Pennsylvania, generally have been urged to abide by social-distancing guidelines for the sake of health and safety. This protest, which had been planned since last week and was being organized by two groups – one associated with a handful of GOP state legislators and one associated with other such protests, including a Thursday rally in Minnesota – was originally meant to take place largely or exclusively with rallygoers remaining in their cars and listening to an Internet live stream of the event.
That was not the case.
A stream of the rally shared by organizer Christopher Dorr showed that at least an hour before the official start time in the Pennsylvania capital, protesters – holding American flags, "Make America Great Again" flags, Gadsden flags and other signs – were lined up shoulder to shoulder on the side of the road as cars drove by laying on their horns.
A green truck was emblazoned with the message "Jesus is my vaccine."
One sign read "Open Pennsylvania Now."
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Judy Ward, who is a nurse, said in an address after the rally started that she was scared about the fact that so many of the protesters weren't wearing masks but thanked them all for coming out to speak out against Wolf's alleged overreach. The masks comment upset the rallygoers, who then proceeded to boo her for approximately 30 seconds.
"You're not here to protest caution, you're here to protest silencing civilian voices," Ward said as protesters drowned her out with "USA" chants before the chants eventually died down and she finished her speech.
Dorr said in a narration of the video before the rally that it was very similar to a Trump rally. "It's fantastic," he said.
The other group of organizers, who were separate from Dorr and did not work with him, included state Rep. Aaron Bernstine. Bernstine in his remarks criticized Wolf for connecting the reopening of Pennsylvania's economy to that of other states in the region, like New York, and asked him to come up with an independent plan for his state while emphasizing that he thinks it is possible to partially reopen the state while keeping Pennsylvanians safe.
"We've taken this pandemic seriously," he said before listing the many sacrifices Pennsylvains have made because of the coronavirus. "Unfortunately, some people have lost their lives to this terrible virus ... but I tell you who else my heart goes out to – the 1.5 million Pennsylvanians who have given their livelihoods up."
"Our new normal does not mean that we will sacrifice our freedom for our safety," he continued. "Our normal is not taking government handouts allowing us to pay our bills. And we can do all of this without risking lives."
Bernstine and Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature already have something of a plan, which is a bill that would mandate Pennsylvania follow federal guidelines offered by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on which workers should be considered "essential," rather than the more strict order the Democratic governor currently has in place.
"There's no reason that in Pennsylvania and across this country that we can't do both – protect our lives and livelihoods," Bernstine told Fox News. "I think every job is essential to help people provide for their families."
Pennsylvania Rep. Russ Diamond also addressed the protesters in a fiery speech.
"I believe that every one of you is essential and that every one of your businesses and jobs are life-sustaining," he told the demonstrators. "Your freedom of speech and right to assemble are life-sustaining."
Diamond also panned Wolf's strict stay-at-home order and limits on businesses that can open.
"Arbitrarily and capriciously picking winners and losers is not life-sustaining," he said, before turning to action he wants Wolf to take and touting a number of successful bipartisan bills the legislature has worked on with Wolf.
"You can turn this all around today by rescinding or modifying your counterproductive orders. You could sign SB 613 into law right now," Diamond said, referring to the Republican-backed bill to have the state follow CISA guidelines.
The Pennsylvania protest makes it one of a number of states to see such demonstrations, including Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia and more. Democratic politicians, including Wolf, have panned the protests as misguided.
"I know every Pennsylvanian is eager to get back to work — I am included in that," he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We are working as hard as we can to make sure we reopen as quickly as possible. What we don’t want to do is reopen and then be hit by this virus in a way that overwhelms our health care system. Let’s continue to make this good progress and keep people safe, and when the time is right, we will reopen and liberate every single Pennsylvanian."