Convoy protesting stay-at-home orders targets Michigan's capital

pabradyphoto/iStock(LANSING, Mich.) — For three decades, Meshawn Maddock and her family have run the A-1 Bail Bonds business in Milford, Michigan. But just days ago, she said she was forced to lay off her last three employees due to courts being shuttered and jails being emptied to blunt the spread of coronavirus in the hard-hit state.

Michigan Gov. Grethen Whitmer has imposed some of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the nation, including limiting the number of customers in essential stores to four for every 1,000 square feet; prohibiting employers from making employees come to work unless they are “necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations”; suggesting people limit the number of household members running errands; and banning all public and private gatherings outside homes.

Maddock said Whitmer has gone too far by doing things like banning motorboats; prohibiting travel to in-state vacation residences; forcing stores to close areas dedicated to carpeting and furniture; and declaring plant nurseries and garden centers non-essential businesses and landscapers non-essential workers. She has also warned that fines could be up to $1,000 for violating social distancing rules.

“Nobody is denying that this is a crisis, a worldwide crisis, but we’ve also all learned to be safer. Everybody has learned a lesson in hand-washing, face touching and social distancing. And so many businesses and hobbies, and just everyday things, have been restricted by our governor,” Maddock told ABC News.

On Wednesday, Maddock, a member of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, plans to drive 60 miles from her home to Lansing, the state capital, to lead a protest from her vehicle of Whitmer’s stay-at-home rules, saying, it’s “absolutely time to get workers back to work, small businesses reopened.”

“We were hoping, in the beginning, because people were so fed up and so frustrated with our [state] administration, that we would get a few hundred cars down there, but instead we’re going to have thousands,” Maddock said. “Our local government can’t even run our unemployment website right now. They can’t solve this crisis, and they’re only perpetuating it. So we just really wanted to give people a way to be heard, and right now we have no way for our voices to be heard.”

Maddock said she’ll lead a procession of vehicles beginning at noon on what would normally be Tax Day, encircling the capitol, in hopes Whitmer will get the message from her constituents that “bankrupting the state is not going to cure this virus.”

“She’s trying to put her thumb on us,” Maddock said.

On the group’s Facebook page announcing the demonstration, dubbed “Operation Gridlock,” more than 4,000 people as of Tuesday afternoon said they planned to attend, while another 15,000 expressed interest.

“We are telling people to stay in their vehicles,” Maddock said, referring to social distancing rules of staying at least 6 feet apart. “I can’t see any reason why we would have any issue with the authorities. We’re exercising our First Amendment right to peacefully protest.”

During a daily briefing on the pandemic this week, Whitmer said she doesn’t plan to try to stop the demonstration.

Whitmer added that the extraordinary measures she and other governors are taking are intended to “make sure that we avoid a second wave at all cost.”

“That would be devastating for our economy,” Whitmer said. “Not one of us wants to go through this again, not in a month, not in the fall. … And I want you to have your freedom. I want to have mine, too. We will get to a place where we can be with our friends and family again. It’s OK to be frustrated, it’s OK to be angry. If it makes you feel better to direct it at me, that’s OK, too. I’ve got thick skin. And I’m always going to defend your right to free speech.”

”So I just ask that those who are protesting these orders, do so in a safe manner so that you don’t get sick and you don’t subject our first responders to risk either,” she added. ”This is a tough enough situation. Let’s not make it harder on one another.”

Michigan confirmed the state’s first case of coronavirus, or COVID-19, on March 11. As of Tuesday, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, more than 1,700 had died among more than 27,000 positive cases.

Whitmer said she needs to see solid and consistent data showing the epidemic is abating, that a plan for widespread testing is in place and that hospitals are stocked with what they need to fight the virus before she even considers reopening state’s economy.

“So we’re going to make decisions based on science and having a real strategic phase-in of our economy, when it is safe and feasible to do so,” Whitmer said.

She suggested that some of the anxiety state residents are feeling is being caused by false rumors about her stay-at-home orders.

“Nothing in the stay-at-home order prohibits buying car seats for your children. There’s no prohibition on that,” Whitmer said. “You can buy bug spray, you can buy American flags. I have not banned homeschooling. These are a few of the falsehoods that have been disseminated on social media that I wanted to clear up.”

Maddock, also the chair of the 11th District Congressional District Republican Committee in Michigan and co-founder of Michigan Trump Republicans, told ABC News that Wednesday’s demonstration has nothing to do with the politics of the first-term Democratic governor, who last week appeared on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s newly launched podcast, fueling speculation she’s on his shortlist for a running mate.

“This is not partisan. Jobs are not partisan. Workers are not partisan. This is just a frustrated expression of people,” said Maddock, whose husband is a Republican member of the state Legislature. “We’re watching our businesses burn down, and they’re claiming that this is a stunt because we care about these things. We expect our government to act with reason instead of emotion, and our government is failing us. Elected officials need to step up and start acting reasonably.”

Maddock said she has had two friends who contracted coronavirus and died, and knows others who have been infected. She said she’s not insisting on opening the economy full tilt all at once.

“I think that people are a lot smarter than our government gives us credit for, and I think that people have common sense. When I get on a motorcycle, I put a helmet on, not because the government tells me to wear a helmet. The same thing with the seatbelt in the car,” Maddock said. “I understand safety, and I know how to take care of my own family.”

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