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As economic pain deepens, protesters pushing back on US stay-at-home orders

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Hundreds of protestors march outside the Kentucky State Capitol to rally against current social distancing requirements and business closures ordered by Gov. Andy Beshear, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Frankfort, Kentucky, US April 15, 2020. (Reuters photo)

As sweeping stay-at-home orders in 42 US states to combat the coronavirus have shuttered businesses, disrupted lives and decimated the economy, protesters have begun taking to the streets to urge governors to rethink the restrictions.

A few dozen protesters, many with young children, gathered in Virginia's state capital of Richmond on Thursday in defiance of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam's mandate, the latest in a series of demonstrations this week around the country.

On Wednesday, thousands of Michigan residents blocked traffic in Lansing, the state capital, while protesters in Kentucky disrupted Democratic Governor Andy Beshear's afternoon news briefing on the pandemic, chanting "We want to work!"

States including Utah, North Carolina and Ohio also saw demonstrations this week, and more are planned for the coming days, including in Oregon, Idaho and Texas.

The coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 31,000 Americans, the highest death toll of any country, and public health officials have warned that a premature easing of social distancing orders could exacerbate the pandemic.

The demonstrations have unfolded against a political backdrop, as Republican President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said he wants to "reopen" the economy as soon as possible, has clashed with governors over whether he can overrule their stay-at-home orders.

In Michigan, where Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has imposed some of the country's toughest limits on travel and business, some protesters at "Operation Gridlock" wore campaign hats and waved signs supporting Trump.

Whitmer is considered a top candidate to be the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden when he takes on Trump in November's general election.

One of the organizers of the demonstration in Lansing, Meshawn Maddock, said she was frustrated that much of the media focused on a handful of protesters who gathered on the steps of the capitol, including militia group members and a man she called a "yahoo" holding a Confederate flag who she said were not part of the rally.

She faulted Whitmer for dismissing the event as a partisan rally instead of engaging with the thousands of residents who Maddock said have legitimate questions about the governor's stay-at-home order.

Demonstrators measure out a 'social distance' of six feet as they gather in opposition to Virginia's stay-at-home order and business closures in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak during a protest against the lockdown measures in Richmond, Virginia, US, April 16, 2020. (Reuters photo)

"When I'm fighting to (help) a guy who cleans pools or mows lawns, or a women who wants to sell her onion sets or geraniums, I don't care whether they vote Republican, Democrat, or never vote at all," Maddock said.

Maddock, 52, is among seven board members of the Republican-aligned Michigan Conservative Coalition who organized the protest. She is also a board member of the pro-Trump political action committee Women for Trump but said the Trump campaign had no involvement in organizing the protest.

"The Trump campaign has given me no messaging," she said. "All I know is that I care about Michigan. I've lived here my whole life and I want to help workers get back to work."

Maddock owns A1 Bail Bonds in Milford with her husband Matt Maddock, a Republican state representative, and said she has had to lay off seven people due to the coronavirus.

She said she had received calls from people in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states asking for advice on planning similar protests. 

(Source: Reuters)

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