It was all American flags and blaring car horns yesterday afternoon in De La Guerra Plaza when a crowd of protesters showed up in front of City Hall in their automobiles to voice objections against the continued shutdown of California’s economy amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Santa Barbara
demonstration of the nationwide MAGA May Day, the protest was a
drive-in that saw hundreds of local residents drive their cars around the circle of the courtyard before proceeding down State St. Most of the participants stayed in their cars to observe social distancing.
Though the drive was originally intended to go straight down State St to Stearns Wharf, the pier was closed and a roadblock on Mason St forced the procession to take a roundabout route that circled from Chapala St onto Cabrillo Blvd. Some vehicles went their own way thereafter while others proceeded up Garden Street to return to De La Guerra Plaza.
During the demonstration, the protesters honked their car horns as they drove down State and waved small Old Glories out their windows. Messages were emblazoned on signs waved by passengers and on the sides of cars. They ran the gamut from “We have rights,” to “Liberty is essential,” to more pointed statements regarding the coronavirus shutdown like “The curve is flat,” and “Open businesses, not borders.”
Though many at the demonstration were Santa Barbara residents, some attended from further away. Among them was Thousand Oaks resident Arthur Larson, who was of the opinion that the coronavirus case curve has been flattened and that the pandemic isn’t as lethal as initially expected.
“The hospitals are empty. They’re laying off nurses because there are not that many COVID-19 cases,” he said.
Considering this, Mr. Larson told the News-Press that the closure of public parks and beaches and the continued shutdown of businesses are responses incommensurate to the severity of the pandemic. He called these measures “draconian.”
“I think more businesses should open and if people are afraid to go out, they should stay in. People that are unhealthy, should stay in. People that are good, healthy, and want to work, send them out and let them work,” he said.
Those who made the drive down State occasionally had small cheering sections from the sidewalk. Santa Barbara resident Dori Belmonte was among the curbside demonstrators and spoke to the News-Press when the event concluded at 1 p.m. Ms. Belmonte was also of the mind that response to the pandemic should be left more to citizens, and that the COVID-19 outbreak isn’t as grave as the government’s response would lead one to believe.
“Warn us about what’s wrong, and then let us decide the risk,” she said. “We’ve done research, we’ve listened to experts, we’ve listened to doctors and scientists, and this is not as big of a deal as they say it is. H1N1 had tons more people die, and nothing was shut down,” she said.
Caroline Abate, a frequent public commenter at Santa Barbara City Council meetings, acknowledged that the coronavirus poses some risk but objected to what she sees as government leaders using the health crisis as a vehicle for achieving their political aims.
“We wish leadership would be a little more conscious of freedom and liberty and not using this for a political agenda to fill these aid packages with all kinds of monies that have nothing to do with getting people back to work and getting the economy going again,” she said.
Ms. Abate and Ms. Belmonte also objected to the forced closure of churches.
Though the protest’s name refers to the abbreviation of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” former SBCC adjunct instructor Mark McIntire told the News-Press that the event’s attendees were of every political stripe.
“There are republicans, democrats, independents, libertarians, and even communists here today. Happy May Day!” he exclaimed.