Not six feet nor six inches apart in many cases, hundreds of people gathered downtown near the Capitol building in Denver to protest Colorado’s stay-home order, currently set to expire on April 26.
Protesters huddled together on the sidewalk and up the lawn toward the Capitol, waving flags and bearing signs with slogans like “Everything we do is essential” and “Unemployment takes lives, too.”
A few wore masks, some brought their children, and at least one rode a horse in the street.
The event, dubbed “Operation Gridlock,” followed a similar demonstration in Michigan and comes as some Colorado communities are chafing against the social distancing measures implemented by Gov. Jared Polis in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, which has so far infected thousands of Coloradans and killed more than 400.
“We just want our state to open back up again. That’s all we want,” said Deesa Hurt, of Parker, who said she’s been out of work selling cars for about a month. “I’m watching businesses close. I’m watching friends lose their incomes and their livelihoods.”
She said she’d applied for unemployment but was told she would have to wait for about six weeks. More than 100,000 Coloradans applied for unemployment benefits a week ago.
The governor and public health officials have given some clues as to what Colorado might look like as restrictions are eventually eased, but guesses as to what will become Colorado’s new normal are just that — guesses.
In addition to those demonstrating out in the open, cars drove by honking, some trailing American flags, adding to the number of protesters, although at a distance.
Other signs included “Your ‘health’ does not supersede my right” and “I would rather risk coronavirus than socialism.”
Some protesters cheered masked police officers, some asked whose side they were on, and others snarked at them: With several cars parked on Lincoln Street — there is no legal parking here — a police officer told a man that the cars would soon be towed. The man responded that he hoped enough cars parked there to block them from doing so (but he and others who’d parked there eventually moved).
Jennifer Hulan said she’s upset and worried she’ll lose her small business, Waters Edge Winery and Bistro in Centennial.
“We’re about to lose our business unless the state opens back up,” she said, adding that she’s had to furlough some employees. “I believe in the virus just like any other diseases, but I don’t think we need to be living in fear.”
Kimmi Schramm, a mom of seven, came up to the protest from the Colorado Springs area, and said she was there partly because her daughter is a high school senior and is missing out.
“She can’t have a prom, she can’t graduate, and she’s also is taking classes at a local community college,” she said. “She basically is not doing as well because she can’t go to school and the professors are kind of stuck, they don’t know what to do and she’s discouraged. She actually told me, ‘You know, I don’t even want to go to school anymore.’ I mean, that’s the next generation. We have to stand up for them. This is why I’m here, to give them hope. This is tyranny. This is not OK.”
Doug Schepman, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department said in an email that there were no arrests or citations issued at the protest, and that police re-routed traffic at times.
“The primary closure was eastbound 14th Ave. between Bannock St. and Grant St. throughout most of the demonstrations,” Schepman said. “Traffic was periodically re-routed on the main roads around the Capitol and Civic Center Park (Broadway, Lincoln, Colfax, etc.) to help temporarily relieve the traffic backups.”