More than a thousand residents of Waukesha County stood shoulder-to-shoulder along Bluemound Road outside of Brookfield Square on April 18, without regard to federal social distancing guidelines that were established for the national health crisis. The protesters held signs that demanded Governor Tony Evers lift his “Safer at Home” order, and rejected his authority to extend it.

Those attending the mass social gathering did so without wearing any personal protection against the coronavirus, flaunting what they perceived as their privileged immunity. The cheering crowd waved a Confederate flag and campaign signs for President Donald Trump. Many did not considered the deadly pandemic to be their problem, and felt punished for something that was Milwaukee’s issue. Such comments carry long standing racist tones aimed at the large African American population of Milwaukee County which, along with the Latino community, has been hard hit by COVID-19.

If you need a definition of white privilege, here it is. While her neighbors are working long hours trying to save people from dying, this Brookfield protester wants to risk everyone else’s life for a [expletive] haircut.” – Sara Risley

The executive power of Governor Evers to enforce the “Safer at Home” order were set to expire on May 11, and would have required approval by the Legislature to continue. However, at the Governor’s request the order was extended by Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Service. Her authority on the matter is not limited.

“The data tells us that ‘Safer at Home’ is working, and the science of the virus tells us what the path ahead needs to look like,” Palm said. Wisconsin officials have joined with other states in calling for more social distance and testing before the economy can gradually re-open.

Organizers said the protest was a spontaneous citizen movement, but the level of coordination concurrent with similar actions in other states – that also endangered public health – showed otherwise. Several of the protesters described the “Safer at Home” order as deeply inconvenient, and were willing to sacrifice human life in order to stimulate the economy. Such prevalent attitudes by Republicans have caused variations of the hashtags #GOPDeathCult to trend across social media.

One photo posted to Facebook by Stephanie Roades during the protest showed a middle aged white woman holding a sign that said “I want a haircut,” while Wisconsin’s COVID-19 death rate continued to climb overnight. Roades articulated the situation in her photo caption:

Remember, this spectacle of individualism and hate happened in the white affluent city of Brookfield, in Waukesha County. Same county that doesn’t have a sustainable clean water source, and has to buy water from Milwaukee. These aren’t poor folks or stupid hicks who want to risk dying to go to work because they can’t afford rent or food or healthcare. These are people who own capital and define themselves on their conspicuous consumption and flaunting their affluence to each other.

They chant “we want to work” but what they really mean is “we need our employees to work” to maintain profit flow and “we need servants back at their posts as to not disrupt our lifestyles” even if it means suffering and death. You better believe the Capitalists want us back at work NOW, even if it means sending us out into the middle of a pandemic because they see us as disposable. They are the “no lives matter but our own” crew. They only value your life based on what you can give them.

They need workers to launch their boats. They need caddies to drag their golf bags around. They need workers to clean and paint their vacation homes. They need landscapers to cut their lawn or work in their landscaping companies. They need cashiers they pay minimum wage to ring up chicken sandwiches and shitty home decor. They need hairdressers to frost and feather their hair. They need nail technicians to fill in their tips. They need nannies and schools back in place so they can have their days back to themselves. They need coins to fill their empty collection plates. They need someone to detail their cars. And on and on..

They value these services more than they value the life of the person providing it. Lockdown is rattling them because they have no identify outside of being a white supremacist capitalist. They are terrified that people will start to understand that capitalism is nothing without the workers. That they actually aren’t essential at all to commerce or community.

Also on April 18, two separate teams were busy investigating COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another from the state National Guard. Brown County officials said the CDC was making its way to the Green Bay area to look into a recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

The other investigation involved inmates and staff at the Milwaukee County House of Corrections in Franklin, where the facility reported multiple cases of the coronavirus. About 30 National Guard troops were sent there to test around 950 people. The Guard has conducted several virus-related missions since the pandemic hit Wisconsin.

The Sheriffs of Racine and Washington Counties both issued press releases on April 18 stating that they would not enforce the “Safer at Home” order by Governor Evers, in what was seen as a Jim Crow Era tactic used to reject the rule of law by arbitrary enforcement.

“I took an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of our citizens and I can not in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution,” said Sheriff Christopher Schmaling. “Wisconsin law gives the authority and the responsibility for investigating and enforcing public health violations to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and local health departments. We will leave the enforcement of public health orders to the health department experts.”

Along with user comments condemning the Brookfield protesters for putting innocent lives at risk, a “COVID-19 Lockdown Protester” card was widely posted across social media.

“To demonstrate my commitment to my freedom and to compensate for the extra burden I am putting on the U.S. medical system, I hereby decline medical treatment for COVID-19 related medical conditions.”

Eva Illouz, a professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, recently published an article saying that “we will survive this crisis, thanks to the heroic work of doctors and nurses and the resilience of citizens. But the bluff of neo-liberalism must be called out. The era in which each economic actor need worry only about filling his or her pockets with gold must end.” She noted the state has proven to be the only entity capable of managing such large-scale crises.

Capitalists have taken for granted resources provided by the state – education, health, physical infrastructure – without acknowledging that the resources they were squandering from the state could, in a situation like this, ultimately be responsible for withholding them from the world which makes the economy possible. This must stop. For the economy to have meaning, it needs a world. And this world can only be built collectively, by the joint efforts of corporations and the state. While only states can manage a crisis of such scale, they will not be strong enough to get out of the crisis alone: Corporations will need to contribute to the maintenance of the public goods from which they have taken so much benefit.

© Photo

Stephanie Roades and Jim Owczarski

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January 2020. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following year, we have published hundreds of articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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