'I'm willing to die for my freedom,' and 'We all have to live our lives'
(Update: adding comments from event)
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Despite Gov. Kate Brown's "Stay Home, Save Lives" order, more than 200 people, from bar owners to massage therapists to construction workers and youngsters, gathered in front of Redmond City Hall Friday evening, venting their frustration at the current situation and calling for the state of Oregon to reopen its economy and get back to work.
"We're not here to rally, we're not here to protest -- we're here to tell you to get with the act," event organizer B.J. Soper said in a message to elected officials, which he and others pointedly noted were not at the event that was promoted as a "town hall meeting" and ignored the 6-foot "social distancing" edicts of Gov. Kate Brown and health officials, much less wiping down/sanitizing the microphone between speakers.
"We have to stand in opposition," Soper said. "We have to stand against these dictates." He was the first but not the last to note that Deschutes County and Redmond don't have the density that raises the concerns seen in Portland and more populous cities.
"We're a community of people that care about our liberty," Soper said, shortly before handing over the microphone to the first of many in the crowd -- a crowd District Attorney John Hummel would like to have seen cited for violating Gov. Kate Brown's executive order by even holding such a gathering.
"We are a self-governing society." Soper said. "When our government and our elected officials fail us to do what we elected them to do, there comes a time when we have to just step up and do it ourselves."
A Bend salon owner said the 16 self-employed people who work at her business include a lot of single mothers, working at a place that is "clean or cleaner than a hospital can be.' But now, many are still waiting for any of the aid that was promised, so they can pay their bills and feed their families.
"We're pretty much driven to break the law," she said. "We will bootleg some haircuts," she added, to some cheers. "They make us break the law."
A woman who owns rental units had a message for the governor and Legislature: "One size does not fit all," especially in areas with lower density east of the Cascades.
A man holding an American flag said, "These mandates that we're under right now feel so backwards." He said he posted online about attending the meeting and got in some arguments, such as someone who said, "You want my dad to die."
"I never said that," he said, "but if someone's at risk, the at-risk person should stay home."
Another speaker said he used to be a medic, trained in biological attacks, and "you do not quarantine everybody. That's just not how it works. This whole order, shutting down everything that's non-essential is ridiculous."
A woman who took her turn at the mic said, "I feel there's been some major broken promises by my state," then asked the crowd, "Who else is having trouble paying their bills? … We need to open Oregon again, by any means necessary. I hope Kate Brown takes us seriously."
Another man said businesses can choose to decide how to operate, allowing fewer reservations an hour at a restaurant, for example, but "they can't tell us not to work."
Another man who said he's "one of the groups that supposedly most vulnerable to this" virus told the crowd, "I ain't wearing no stinking mask, and I'm sure as hell not afraid to be close to people. You know what I'm afraid of? I'm afraid of what they'll do to our freedom. … I'm willing to die for our freedom."
Redmond resident Norman Dreher said he's lost two jobs because of the pandemic and cannot pay rent this month. "Keeping sick people quarantined is democracy, keeping healthy people quarantined is tyranny," he said.
Ryan Hopson, owner of a Redmond construction company, said he and his wife are paying rent on her new salon, even though its doors have been forced to close.
"Let the people that are willing to and not scared to, let those people go to work and suck it up for everybody that may or may not be able to do so," Hopson said.
A bar owner said, "People come to our business to socialize," and that he's heard and believes folks isolated in their homes for weeks on end are at risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression.
"We all have to live our lives," another speaker said.
Dick Robertson, the owner of General Duffy's Water Hole, said they can still sell growlers, cans and six-packs, but he said, "This is stomping all over our constitutional rights. The problem is, OLCC will take my license away. Not one of the liquor stores is closed. Our governor has not stopped receiving her paycheck. I say, if we're going to be out of work and not hurting anybody, they should be out of work."
Another, upset speaker called it "borderline martial law. This is tyranny. We are a free people. This is tyranny. We are a free people. This is 1933. This is unacceptable. You know all the suicides that are going to come from this?"
A Terrebonne licensed massage therapist said she has people calling her in severe pain she can't help -- some even talk suicide, and "All I can say is I'm sorry." And she wondered, among other things, why the banks aren't also shut down.
A small business owner said, "I hear a lot of talk about non-essential business. Every single person here is essential. The country was built on small business, and they are trying to shut us down, and we can't let it happen."
A grandfather said, "I'll tell you what's essential. It's the freedom of your grandchildren." He claimed the CDC "is padding the numbers. We're being lied to." Noting Deschutes County has had only about 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19, he asked, "We're going to shut down the entire economy for 60 people? "
"It scares me to see people surrender their freedoms so damn fast," he said. "Our representatives, no one is going to stand up for you… You have the right to go out in public and take your own risks. This is a gross overreaction and at worst, this is a plot. Do not surrender your freedom. Do not surrender your rights. if you've got a business, open it up. You want some protection, we will surround you."
Another massage therapist, for 35 years, said she's never closed down. "Unfortunately, because there's been so much fear out there, I've had practically no business."
Some were upset that churches, too, have closed. One noted the lack of violence at Friday's event and called absent elected officials "cowards." Another who took the mic offered thanks to the truckers but said food processors are shutting down and "we're going to run out" of food.
A man who gave his name as Jeremiah thanked police for not moving in to cite or break up the crowd, but noted, "There's a large group of people believe us gathering here is killing people. When you interact with them, don't be harsh, don't treat 'em bad. Love 'em, listen to them, understand where they're coming from, so you can talk to them and maybe plant the seed. We need them."
A Vietnam vet, Don, claimed the V in COVID-19 stands for "vaccine," not virus, and said, "They want to vaccinate everyone here. You do not want that vaccine. How many who died had those vaccines in the last 10 years?" He also asked everyone in the crowd to "stop buying s--- from China."
A man who only said "I'm old" told the crowd we're "in the midst of a big fat power play from the left. They're using this as an excuse to socialize this country. They want to strip you of your constitutional rights. It's time to wake up. These people are trying to get us." And he shared the previous speaker's view of China: "Stop going to Walmart and buying that s--t."
One speaker said he respects Mayor George Endicott but wants to ask "why are you not on the phone to every mayor of every city on the east side of Cascades," seeking a coalition so "we can dicate what heppens in our community. We all need to go back to work."
Soper said there will be a flag-waving protest Saturday at noon at Redmond's Maple Avenue Bridge, and a big protest in Salem on Saturday, May 2.
One of the last speakers said he spent 18 months in federal prison for being on hand during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge takeover. And he said it "warms my heart" to see the crowd that gathered Friday night.
Soper, first noting that no speaker brought up the impacts of school closures, suggested another gathering in a week, again outside Redmond City Hall. In the meantime, he urged calls to local elected officials, telling them. "We're out here talking. We expect you here next week, to tell us your plan. How we're going to be moving forward?
"You can get on the bus, or get out of the way, because we are moving forward," Soper said. "One way or another, we're getting back to life in Central Oregon."
Earlier, a flyer on Soper's Facebook page and distributed throughout the city of Redmond said, "It's time to get Central Oregon back to work!"
In a Facebook video posted Friday afternoon, Soper said, "The whole point is that we get a community discussing the issues, and talking about how we’re going to resolve them. Not sitting around and waiting for ineffective representation to act.”
In that video, Soper played a phone conversation he had with Redmond police. He said he's unsure how many people will show up.
"It could be five, it could be 500," Soper said.
During the phone call, police let Soper know that a few officers will be in attendance to "monitor the event, not to try to get involved or intervene in any capacity. Just to make sure we don't have any other groups arriving to cause any problems."
City spokeswoman Heather Cassaro told NewsChannel 21 Friday that Redmond police have also made Soper aware of physical distancing guidelines, encouraging he and other protesters wear personal protective equipment.
"Hopefully they'll abide by that," Cassaro said.
During his conversation with Redmond police, Soper said people will have the opportunity to act as they choose.
“If they want to listen and stand far away they can do that," Soper said. "If they want to be close, they can make that choice on their own.”
Also on Friday in Salem, dozens circled Oregon’s state Capitol in their vehicles Friday to protest the state’s stay-at-home order meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
People in vehicles honked horns and displayed signs in one of several protests happening across the country this week as conservatives push back against virus-related restrictions.
Organizers said the rally is aimed at getting their constitutional rights back and getting Oregonians back to work, KEZI-TV reported. Gov. Kate Brown issued an order for Oregonians to stay home starting March 23 and banned non-essential gatherings and travel after crowds descended on the state’s beach towns and hiking trails the weekend prior.
The order closes many businesses except for those deemed essential such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Brown said earlier this week that she won’t reopen Oregon’s economy or ease restrictions until she sees a declining rate of active virus cases and public health data suggesting a return to normalcy is safe.