Even protesters should socially distance

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2020

short rows headerProtests are as much a part of representative democracy as voting. The motives driving protestors can range from the highest moral conviction to pure political mischief, from righteous indignation to day-in-the-park flippancy. No matter. They are a vital part of our cherished First Amendment freedom.


I never had a particularly strong urge join a protest, but I’ve covered them, talked with participants, photographed them, even been threatened by them on occasion. I’ve thought some were on target, some were being ridiculous and some were downright humorous, but have supported the free expression that protected them all.

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Until now. Like other responsible Virginians, Anne and I are doing our damnedest to steer clear of situations that might expose us to COVID-19. We don’t want to either give or receive the stuff, and despite the desire of some far-right self-proclaimed economists, we don’t feel obligated to give up our lives for the sake of keeping the country comfortably humming along, if our deaths can be avoided through sensible action.

We leave the house to buy groceries and other necessities. We don our gloves and masks, try to go when crowds are light, get our stuff and come home.

We know that we’re going to encounter people who are carriers of COVID-19. It’s inevitable. Many of our friends and neighbors are far more exposed than are we. They are manning those grocery lines, filling those prescriptions and performing other jobs that are required to keep society moving, even at this vastly abbreviated level. So, there’s always the chance of bringing the deadly virus home, try as we may not to do so.

Personally, I completely agree with Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order, as painful and inconvenient as it is becoming. There is comfort in the fact that Gov. Northam is one of 42 governors who have issued similar orders. Virginia is not acting radically, but is very much in the mainstream among science-driven states across the nation and heads of state around the world.

I understand the increasing frustration and fear associated with the stay-at-home orders issued by these governors. Family incomes are at the very least stressed and, at the worst, being destroyed.

I also understand that when frustration builds, it often leads to a desire to be heard. We have every right to gripe, to vent our frustration, and if we must choose a target, the governor is a convenient one. Though the vast majority of Virginians believe he is being rational and reasonably cautious, there is always room to criticize. After all, it is he who ordered us to stay at home.

So write a letter, or call your local TV news channel and gripe. They’re usually eager to listen.

I will go so far as to say, take your picket sign to Richmond if that makes you feel you have accomplished something.

But do so alone, and at considerable distance from anyone else, for when you gather in large numbers, rub elbows among your politically disgruntled fellows, breathe on them and they on you, you are threatening those of us who are doing our level best to battle this killer. For when you go back to your community, rather than being the solution, you may very well become a large part of the problem.

Participating in that type of gathering is just as irresponsible as the college kids who went to the beach this spring, then returned home to exhale the virus onto their parents and grandparents around the country.

You don’t have to sit down and shut up if you think the vast majority of Americans are wrong to be fearful of this killer. If you seriously disagree with Gov. Northam and think we should all leave our homes and stand shoulder to shoulder in the sunlight or the workplace in the hope that in doing so somehow we will be just fine, you’re welcome to that delusion. And if you believe, in the words of our commander in chief, that COVID-19 will soon magically disappear, then you’re welcome to hold that view as well. But don’t threaten the rest of us as you do so.


John Edwards, publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times, can be reached at j.branchedwards@gmail.com.