Many Americans have been under strict stay-at-home orders, or at least advisories, going on three months. People are, unsurprisingly, frustrated and depressed but have complied with what they’ve been asked to endure, because they trust the state and local public health officials are telling the truth about the coronavirus pandemic.
There has been passionate – and honest – argument about how many people are likely to get sick and die under different circumstances and sets of official rules. It’s not clear how uncertain and continuing evolving scientific findings should affect extraordinary government measures that restrict citizens’ basic freedoms.
Recently there have there been growing public protests against continuing the lockdown, the “reopen” movement. The people who are doing the demonstrating may really be frustrated and upset, but new research and journalistic investigation is revealing that there are powerful forces behind them, egging them on. This is not unlike those protesting the murder of George Floyd that, for the most part, are intended to be peaceful protests.
Dissent – and the freedom to do it – is a crucial element of democracy. Political leaders are rightly influenced by public opinion. But it’s important to know when protests are sparked by special-interest groups seeking to manipulate official’s understanding of public sentiment.
Looking not too far back, one can see that the questions about the current protests raise echoes of the Tea Party movement a decade ago. Marc Ambinder, Executive Fellow in Digital Security at the University of Southern California, Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. wrote, “in mid-April 2020, it appeared that a new movement was rising to express frustration with the restrictions and uncertain endpoint to the pandemic and the economic toll the lockdown has caused.”
“In the space of several days,” he continued, “there were protests in a dozen states, ranging from a crowd of more than 2,000 who gathered in Olympia, Washington, to several dozen in Annapolis, Maryland.”
“The available evidence suggests that the demonstrations were organized by paid political operatives using Facebook and brand-new websites,” Ambinder wrote, “to encourage conservatives to protest in specific places against specific governors who had imposed strong public health restrictions on economic activity. This context indicates that one real intention of the protests was to create the illusion of an organic movement that had arisen to object to the restrictions. Evidence is to the contrary: Polling shows that just 12% of Americans think their local restrictions have gone too far – and 26% think they don’t go far enough.”
A “reopen” protester will argue that the government should get out of the way and allow anyone who wants to go back to work, or to the store, gym or swimming pool to do just that. Anyone who’s afraid of getting COVID-19 can just stay home.
“The reopen movement,” Brian Kahn, Managing Editor of Earther writes, provides the cover for “politicians to ignore the science and popular will to enact shortsighted policies and throw up their hands when more people get sick and die. It also gives us a preview of how some people and leaders will respond to the steps necessary to address climate change which will require similar bold actions that will upend the status quo.”
“The best available science,” Kahn continues, “tells us drawing down emissions rapidly this decade is our best shot at protecting the climate and humanity. Even then, people will still die, and we should absolutely mourn that fact. But more than that, we should be mad as hell that fossil fuel companies and pliant politicians have made that the best-case scenario while also doing their damnedest to ensure we don’t even get that.”
That we must reopen the U.S. in the face of the coronavirus risks is as hollow as thinking we can do nothing about carbon emissions. The results will be the same: needless death in the service of selfishness. In the case of the climate crisis, that death will be so much more widespread, encompassing the entire biosphere that has made it possible for humanity to thrive. I would like to learn more about the paid political forces behind the climate denial “movement.”
John Bos is a contributing writer to Green Energy Times. He has written about his growing concerns about of endangered environment for the past ten years. Your comments and questions are invited at firstname.lastname@example.org.