Hundreds of demonstrators demanding an immediate lift of restrictions to blunt the spread of COVID-19 ignored recommendations against large gatherings and a mandate that people keep their distance from each other to descend on the state Capitol Monday and crowd into the building that houses Gov. Doug Ducey’s office.
As most of the protesters marched, stood and sat on the grassy areas around the Capitol building, dozens of demonstrators defied social distancing norms and packed into the lobby of the Executive Tower – where Ducey’s office is on the top floor – for almost an hour.
Their loud chants echoed throughout the lobby. U.S. Senate candidate Daniel McCarthy criticized Ducey for not being available to meet with them. He prompted them to chant.
“What do we want to tell the Governor?” he asked.
“Re-open Arizona!” the crowd responded.
Dozens of people gathered at the AZ Capitol are chanting in the lobby of the Executive Tower to tell Gov. @dougducey to “reopen Arizona now.” Some call him a coward for not coming to meet them pic.twitter.com/K3UW2YPe0z
— Laura GomezRodriguez (@bylauragomezr) April 20, 2020
The crowd also chanted, “You work for us,” and “I will not comply!”
But the governor said he won’t do what they want in the middle of a pandemic that has killed nearly 200 Arizonans and more than 42,000 Americans since January.
“We appreciate the passion expressed by Arizonans today, and we share their desire to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said in a statement to Arizona Mirror. “Every decision we make will continue to be informed by public health and a commitment to reenergizing our economy when it is responsible and safe to do so.”
Ptak said the governor is working closely with President Donald Trump and experts at the federal, state and local level to implement “the latest guidance from CDC and the White House.”
Public opinion polls have shown that most Americans believe the restrictions are important: An April 16 Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of Americans say they are more concerned that these restrictions will be lifted too quickly, while only 32% say they are more concerned they won’t be lifted quickly enough.
This was the second rally in as many days demanding that Ducey scrap his public health measures, both because the economic cost is too great and because the governor’s critics say COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it aren’t actually a threat to global populations.
The rally, which was promoted by conservative groups and personalities on social media, saw an estimated 500 people of all ages descend on the Capitol, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, many of whom were dressed in clothes featuring the American flag or pro-Trump messages.
The crowd largely ignored recommendations from the Centers and Disease Control and Prevention that people wear masks or face coverings in public and practice social distancing to help stem the spread of COVID-19. People who turned out to the rally were of all ages, from babies tied to the chest of their mothers, families pushing strollers and older people using canes to walk.
In Arizona, only businesses deemed “essential” are allowed to remain open, and they must enforce social-distancing measures that keep customers six feet apart. Ducey’s executive order runs through April 30, though he can choose to extend it past that date. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said Friday the state is “not meeting the criteria to proceed with a May 1 reopening.”
On Monday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported that the known COVID-19 cases in the state increased by 135 from Sunday, reaching 5,064. The illness has killed 187 Arizonans, according to ADHS. The first COVID-19 case in Arizona was registered at the end of January.
At Monday’s demonstration, some of the demonstrators’ signs read, “Liberty or death,” “Open up AZ” and “Freedom is Essential.” Cars and trucks circled the streets around the Capitol for hours, honking in protest as others cheered them on.
Prior to marching from Wesley Bolin Plaza down to the Capitol grounds, Rep. Kelly Townsend and Sen. David Farnsworth – both Republicans from Mesa – spoke to the crowd, as did other GOP candidates vying for elected office.
Farnsworth said “Satan is behind” the restrictions on commerce and movement that have been implemented broadly across the country, as governors have grappled with COVID-19.
He said he intends to come back to the Capitol for another demonstration this weekend if Ducey doesn’t rescind his executive orders and the state is “re-opened.” Farnsworth noted that, if they “have to come back, we will come back with 10 times as many people.”
Legislative District 16 candidate Forest Moriarty, a Republican, also addressed the crowd.
“The Constitution doesn’t give you your freedom to assemble… God gives you that right,” Moriarty said. “I need you to remember the words said by Moses, ‘Let my people go.’”
Just before ending the series of speeches by currently elected officials and hopefuls, Townsend led a chant.
“Open Arizona now!” she said.
Once inside the Executive Tower, protesters said restrictions enacted during the public health emergency infringe on their rights.
A man yelled, “Hey, Governor Ducey, I have a copy of the Bill of Rights, I’ll help you read it!” Pacing around the lobby area, a woman said, “We are humans. We are not animals. Open it up. We are free.”
As the protesters gathered in the lobby of the building, Townsend watched and held one side of an American flag. As the crowd dispersed, she approached them to speak.
The legislator pointed out there were no news media visibly present in the building. The crowd booed.
“Right now, we have a reporter who is outside trying to tell my friend that it’s a national emergency. I need some help to get them to go somewhere else,” Townsend told the crowd.
Some briefly chanted, “Shame! Shame!” and moved outside the building.
Among the demonstrators were a few medical workers wearing scrubs and protective masks who stood in silent opposition. One of them held a sign from Healthcare Rising Arizona, an organization that had been advocating for a ballot initiative to make changes to health coverage and hospital billing. That campaign ended last month, amid the pandemic.
One man in scrubs held a sign that read, “I know you’re frustrated but we need your help.”
Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.