Several hundred protesters met at the Oregon Capitol Saturday afternoon to decry the restrictions put in place by Gov. Kate Brown to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Called "Reopen Oregon," the rally attracted largely right-wing protesters, many of them toting pro-Trump banners, several carrying rifles, and very few of them wearing protective face masks. Attendees crowded under umbrellas and in clusters—standing much closer than six feet apart from one another.
Ok straight up if you're trying to follow distancing guidlines here, you're gonna be hard pressed. There's little regard. I'm mostly shooting with a long lens but ppl gonna ppl pic.twitter.com/aJYkwKB2Dv— Beth Nakamura (@bethnakamura) May 2, 2020
The crowd's overwhelming request was for Brown to lift the current statewide ban on operating "non-essential" businesses, allowing currently furloughed or unemployed Oregonians to return to work.
Brown has not given the public a definitive timeline as to when that order will be lifted, as it depends on regional COVID-19 case data. In a Friday press conference, however, Brown said that several rural Eastern Oregon communities may begin reopening some of its restricting businesses on May 15.
That uncertainty doesn't sit well with some Oregonians, including Joey Gibson, the founder of far-right activist group Patriot Prayer, which is based in Vancouver, Washington. Gibson called on businesses to reopen as soon as Monday, May 4, at the Salem event.
Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer is here. “It’s time that we demand our right to go back to work.” pic.twitter.com/3qOcXDk99A— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) May 2, 2020
"We want people together, we gotta open up shop together," says Gibson in a video captured by Portland Tribune reporter Zane Sparling. "That's how we support each other."
Gibson has been attending similar rallies across the Pacific Northwest over the past few weeks, advocating for business owners to flout state officials' orders.
A group of healthcare workers are on the Capitol steps, saying that although they’re not counter demonstrating, they are urging a phased reopening plan. They do not want Gov. Brown to rescind the stay-home order, want to ensure there’s enough PPE and hospital capacity 1st. https://t.co/On5sUDrefy pic.twitter.com/EEUqAwgjpT— Eder Campuzano ➡️ #CouchDesk2020 (@edercampuzano) May 2, 2020
Protesters were met by a small group of health care workers wearing protective face masks and holding signs advocating for a slower and multi-phased reopening of workplaces, similar to what Brown has proposed.
Brown spoke with reporters Friday about the state's plan to streamline COVID-19 testing across state hospitals and being a sweeping study to track the virus' potentially undetected spread. Asked to comment on the Saturday protest, she replied: "Look, I understand that Oregonians are frustrated and scared. I would ask folks as they operate their first amendment rights to maintain physical distancing, wear masks, and be respectful of each other."