Across the country, groups have taken to the streets in recent weeks protesting so-called “stay-at-home” orders meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. They argue the measures that are supposed to keep people safe are actually doing more harm to the economy. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Lucia Starbuck who’s covered the local protests for our media partner This Is Reno.
Boger: You've covered a couple of the "Reopen Nevada" protests now, one in Reno over the weekend and the other in Carson City the weekend before. What are you seeing and hearing from these demonstrations?
Starbuck: These individuals are protesting Gov. Steve Sisolak's directive to close non-essential businesses, his stay-at-home orders [and] things like that. In Carson city, it was a little chaotic. There were hundreds of protestors gathered in front of the Nevada State Capitol Building and I don't think I'll ever be able to get the sound of cars honking out of my mind.
In Reno, it was a little more subdued. About one hundred protestors gathered on the lawn at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. They heard from Monica Jaye; she's a conservative radio talk show host.
"We have the right and the liberties and the freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I don't know about you but working makes me happy," Jaye said.
After Jaye's pep talk, the protesters marched about three miles throughout downtown Reno. During these protests, there's not a lot of social distancing, not a lot of people are wearing masks, and that's really concerning because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines really urge people to do this to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The people who are protesting want people to go back to work. They want people to be able to travel freely. I talked to a small business owner, Rose Matthews; she's the co-owner of Pathway to Serenity, which provides massage therapy. She had to furlough all four employees, including herself.
"It's a huge financial impact for us and we're not able to keep our doors open and we're questioning our livelihoods in general," Matthews said.
Boger: Who's organizing these protests?
Starbuck: In Northern Nevada there are multiple Facebook groups orchestrating these protests. For the ones in Carson City, they're organized by a group called Operation Nevada. On their website, they say they aren't associated with any individual, any organization or a political party. However, the Reno protest was organized by a group called Standup Nevada. They're a little bit more political. Their Facebook page redirects you to a recall Sisolak website and that seems to fit with the research. Analysis shows that many of the reopen protests across the United States are associated with conservative organizations, gun rights groups and lobbyists. But protesters in Northern Nevada, they're telling me it's a nonpartisan issue.
Republican Jim Wheeler represents Minden in the state assembly.
"This is not a Democrat thing it is not a Republican thing, not a Libertarian thing. This is a Nevada thing. So let's all get together as Nevadans and make it work," Wheeler said.
I will say it seemed like a lot of the protesters are in that conservative camp. A lot of people sported Make America Great Again apparel, including hats, flags, shirts, jerseys, things like that. A lot supported the president's plan on reopening, but one protester was holding a sign that said, "Democrats for freedom," and it really caught my attention. Amber Hart told me she hasn't been financially impacted by the pandemic, but she's marching for those who have.
"I know that there are other people who are Democrats that feel the same way," Hart said.
A lot of protesters are also supporting a campaign to recall Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. They're alleging that he's acting [in an] unconstitutional [manner] and stripping their rights away.
Starla Doughty of Golden Valley protested in Carson City last weekend. She said under the Constitution, she has the right to assemble.
"The right to congregate, the right to go to church, the right to get in my car and drive to the golf course or a park. I can't even go visit my grandchildren or anything," Doughty said.
But according to Nevada law, as long as Nevada is under state of emergency, Sisolak does have those powers; he can execute these orders.
Boger: Gov. Sisolak has so far pushed back against calls to reopen the state. I'm curious, what do you see as the impact of these protests?
Starbuck: It must be said: if protesters continue to gather in large groups, with no social distancing, with no masks, it really could lead to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases. Governor Sisolak said himself if he sees a spike of cases down the road, he said he's prepared to scale back reopening plans. So these protests, they could prolong the shutdown, but I don't see them stopping until businesses begin to reopen in Nevada.
This story was produced in partnership with This Is Reno.