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1,000 gather to protest restrictions

1,000 gather to protest restrictions 1,000 gather to protest restrictions

A crowd of roughly 1,000 people gathered in the Mosinee industrial park on Sunday to call for ending Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” executive orders that have closed many businesses.

The crowd, standing shoulder to shoulder in an IROW parking lot surrounded by dozens of semi trailers, shouted “Open Wisconsin now!” while listening to 10 speakers, including two radio personalities, a dairy farmer, two legislators, a professional sport fisherman and a former congressman.

A Facebook invitation to the protest promised it would not be a “political event” and that “candidate signs would not be allowed.”

That promise went largely unfulfilled. The crowd was festooned with Trump supporters wearing bright red Make America Great Again baseball caps, waving countless American flags and hearing from not just a Republican senatorial candidate and assemblyman, but also Sean Duffy, a national Republican spokesperson who resigned his congressional seat last year. The first speaker, arch-conservative radio talk show host Ben Armstrong, spoke wrapped in a Trump 2020 red, white and blue flag.

Gov. Tony Evers took the brunt of the criticism. Speaker after speaker lambasted him as a tyrant who illegally imposed a state quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One speaker, Rep. Shae Sortwell (RGibson), said he and other legislators will ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to void his executive orders as unconstitutional. He said the challenge had a better chance of success because conservative justice Daniel Kelly, defeated in the April 7 election, would remain on the high court through August.

Event organizer Cory Tomczyk, who owns IROW, called on people at the protest to start a petition to recall Evers. A final speaker, Vicki McKenna, a radio talk show host at 1130 WISN in southern Wisconsin, urged small business owners to disobey Gov. Evers’ executive order and open their businesses in an act of civil disobedience.

Members of the crowd agreed with the speakers. At one point, the crowd yelled about Evers “Lock him up! Lock him up!”

The presentations had a common libertarian theme: that Evers, in dealing with COVID-19, was sacrificing American liberties and promoting socialism. In perhaps the most provocative speech of the day, McKenna charged that Evers deliberately closed businesses to bring Wisconsin residents to their knees and force them to demand government assistance.

Armstrong said Evers violated the U.S. Constitution in his executive orders and he urged the audience to liberate themselves from this oppression. “You need to do what it takes to keep this country free,” he said.

He denied that protesters had “blood on their hands” in demanding that Evers’ orders be overthrown, saying that they were pro-life while the governor still favored abortion. He demanded that Gov. Evers denounce abortion.

Armstrong, who repeatedly recited Bible verses, said soldiers in America’s wars won this nation’s freedoms, but that these liberties should not be sacrificed in the effort to eradicate COVID-19.

“We will not give up our freedoms,” he said. “Not for war, not for some stinking virus.”

Meg Ellefson, an organizer for Open Wisconsin Now, argued that Evers’ orders were causing more harm than good. She read a letter from an unnamed doctor in Wausau saying that an unidentifi ed hospital had pushed aside regular medical care in order to prepare for a COVID- 19 spike that has not yet occurred.

Calling Evers “inhumane,” Ellison related stories where people have suffered due to “safer at home” orders. These included cases where relatives have been unable to visit loved ones in assisted living centers and hospice, where people have had elective surgeries cancelled but now their conditions are worsening and where people have been unable to deal with pain while they wait for medical care.

Ellefson asked people to raise their hands if they had to close a business or lost their jobs due to the governor’s orders. Many people raised their hands. Even more raised hands when asked if they had to put off a scheduled medical procedure.

“We are not selfish wanting this to end,” she said. “The majority want it over. It’s time.”

James Juedes, a town of Easton dairy farmer, said Wisconsin farms are in “dire straits” because restaurants, under orders to serve only take-out meals, are not ordering food, severely depressing commodity prices. He said milk will need to be dumped, chicken and eggs thrown out and hogs destroyed. “Think of all of that wasted bacon,” he said. Juedes said the country had a billion pounds of cheese in storage and had no place left to place surplus production. “There is no more room at the inn,” he said. The farmer called Evers’ orders “devastating” and said they have caused farmers to use drugs and alcohol, as well as commit suicide.

Hayward resident Esther Maina said her home community is under severe stress because of the governor’s orders. She said a local food pantry, Ruby’s Pantry, ran out of food and had to turn away 100 families. Her husband, Pete, a proseries fisherman, said his business is at risk as corporate sponsors cut back due to lack of sales.

Rep. Sortwell said the Book of Genesis said men need to socialize and also to work. He said people have forgotten how to live.

“We are so obsessed with survival that we are forgetting about living life,” he said. Sortwell said Republican legislators would take Evers to court and roll back his orders.

“People are sick and tired of being told not to work, to not go to church,” he said. “They don’t want to be ruled by King Evers. We will take this state back.”

A second legislator, Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), said the left in Wisconsin had imposed a quarantine by spreading “fear and panic” about COVID-19. She said citizens needed to fight back against Gov. Evers using “knowledge and common sense.”

In response, the audience erupted into a chant of “Common sense! Common sense! Common sense!”

Duffy said he supported an initial statewide quarantine but now wanted to give county boards the ability to determine whether their non-essential businesses remain open or closed. He said central Wisconsin businesses could open because the COVID-19 pandemic was not severe here.

“We are not New York,” he said. “We are not Milwaukee.”

McKenna called Gov. Evers “a clown” who had taken away people’s freedom, adding that he imposed executive orders in a deliberate ploy to impose socialism on Wisconsin citizens. She urged business owners to reopen their shops and invite being sanctioned.

“It’s civil disobedience and we can do it, too,” she said.

McKenna said the Gov. Evers orders left her “pretty pissed off.” She urged citizens to fight the continued “safer at home” rules. “To hell with this,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”

County allows protest

The Marathon County Health Department and Sheriff Scott Parks agreed to allow IROW owner Cory Tomczyk to hold a protest rally on his property on Sunday after being given assurances last week that the outdoor event would include social distancing.

“I received an opinion from our corporation counsel [Scott Corbett] that stated the event was apparently an outdoor activity and, as long as social distancing is maintained, the event could occur,” said Judy Burrows, health department public information officer. “Consideration was given to the regulation of speech and assembly.”

Sheriff Parks said Tomczyk provided plans for the rally that included meeting the governor’s requirements for social distancing.

The sheriff said the governor himself has said citizens retain the right to peaceable assembly as long as social distancing rules are followed.

“I feel the governor understands the need for peaceful assembly and protests as an opportunity for citizens to be heard on their opinions,” he said. “Our forefathers deemed that to be a constitutional right for all.”

The IROW rally, held in a parking lot, had many more participants than Tomczyk told the crowd he had expected. Rally-goers stood pretty much next to each other for two hours. Social distancing calls for a six foot area of separation between people. That rule was not followed, nor did Tomczyk ask people to observe social distance. Instead, he told rally-goers they were on his property at their own risk.

Both the sheriff and the health department said they are attempting to enforce Gov. Evers’ orders while, at the same time, being sensitive to people who have lost jobs or have had a business shut its doors.

“We have been part of directing individuals to be isolated,” Sheriff Parks said. “We have been involved with requesting those businesses deemed non-essential to close. Note the word... requesting. The word is key because the businesses we spoke with complied without having to be ordered by me to do so.”

Burrows said the health department, too, is trying to keep citizens safe while being sensitive to people’s economic needs.

“The health department has been and will continue to do what it can to support local businesses,” she said. “Our intention is to control the spread of the virus. We realize ‘safer at home’ has had serious impacts to local businesses.”

At the rally, former congressman Sean Duffy said it should be up to county boards, not the governor, to determine whether non-essential businesses stay open or shut.

Burrows said the health department does not endorse this idea.

“The virus will not observe a physical boundary (county or a state line) and will happily infect any host available,” she said. “There are many challenges when written policies have physical boundaries.”

Burrows said rural counties don’t necessarily have protection against COVID- 19 because they have fewer people. She noted that Clark County, which is a rural, low population county, has had roughly the same number of cases as Marathon County.

“There are no easy answers to solve the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.