By Zach Hagadone
I would have attended the “Disobey Idaho” protest, which saw Idahoans by the hundreds — maybe more than a thousand — gather April 17 in Boise and Sandpoint to engage in a coordinated act of civil disobedience against Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus stay-at-home order. Instead, I stayed home to teach my kids. It was the middle of a school day, after all.
I would have attended the Disobey Idaho protest, but I was also too busy poking at my garden, even though there’s still snow on Baldy.
I would have attended the Disobey Idaho protest, but I decided it was a better use of my time to run a bore snake through my new 20 gauge, which I bought to go turkey hunting this spring — an outdoor activity that, despite what the fever-minded meme lords of the local Facebookosphere say, is still not only legal but encouraged.
I would have attended the Disobey Idaho protest but, after I was done cleaning my shotgun, figured I’d rather enjoy the sunshine in my backyard with a book and a beer.
Most of all, I would have attended the Disobey Idaho protest, but I like to think of myself as an educated, rational person who, if he felt his liberties being stripped away by a tyrannical government, would know it and take the appropriate steps.
When totalitarianism comes to America, I promise you that Brad Little will not be its agent. I’ve interacted with the man a few times in my 20 or so years as a journalist both here and in Boise, and I can assure you that the thought of regulating so much more than his own heartbeat is enough to set that gentleman rancher’s heart to racing in dismay. While I’m willing to give the Long Bridge brigade the benefit of the doubt and assume those comrades were gathered out of concern for my freedoms, I’d like to disabuse them of their self-appointed responsibility. I’m capable of looking after my own liberty, thanks all the same.
Alas, I did not feel any more oppressed than usual on that Friday afternoon, so I did as has been advised by every reputable public health authority on Earth — not to mention the governor of my state and the president of the United States, neither of whom rank too high in my estimation in the best of times — and hunkered down to do my part in lessening exposure to COVID-19, thereby forestalling the transmission of any more cases of the virus and giving my local health care community the strategic advantage in treating those who may — and in all likelihood will — fall ill and face far graver consequences than me.
The sacrifice of self-isolation and social distancing appeared to be accomplishing its intended effect in the past week, holding more or less steady between 1,423 and 1,458 cases in Idaho between April 10 and April 12. The state in general and Bonner County in particular remains for the most part a low-intensity area for COVID-19, though since April 17 — and as of April 22 — 147 cases of the coronavirus were added to the Idaho total. Meanwhile, Bonner County remains at four lab-confirmed cases. Two of those, Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton reported April 22, are “recovered.” “We don’t have community spread like what we’re seeing in surrounding communities like Kootenai County,” she said.
Rather than evidence of the virus being a “hoax” or overblown by “the media,” I submit that our relative lack of cases in Bonner County is because of the solidarity of citizens who are willing to suffer the psychological and economic hardships required by the moment to ensure the common good. By my reading of history, that’s about as brave and in keeping with the “American spirit” as you can get.
Sure, the Gadsden Flag so loved by chest-thumping patriots, and of course in attendance at the April 17 demonstration, screams out “Don’t Tread on Me,” but there’s another image in our history, which has also been repurposed into a flag, that speaks better to the so-called “Founders’” true aspirations for the United States of America: “Join, or Die,” a political cartoon attributed to Benjamin Franklin and often associated with his quote on the necessity for colonial unity, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” In other words, we’re all in this together and we forget that at our peril.
I did not attend the Disobey Idaho protest, but I did watch it via live stream — courtesy of Sandi Nicholson, of the Facebook group Educated Debauchery, which has in recent weeks provided some excellent local news coverage — and what I saw was far less than a heroic gathering of stalwart patriots than a tantrum thrown by bored, angry, frightened people who would have cut down George Washington’s dad’s cherry tree for firewood.
Theirs is “freedom from” whatever bothers them — from ginned up notions of “gun grabbers” to core-dwelling reptilian world bankers pursuing their fell plans via mandatory mind-control chips — supported by “freedom to” bludgeon everyone else with their hysterical threat du jour.
Don’t get me wrong, no one can be faulted for being bored, angry or frightened these days — everyone feels all three of those emotions toward the situation in which we find ourselves. I don’t have the words for how bored, angry and frightened I am right now — especially the latter two, when I think about those people who have so little regard for the health and safety of the wider community and so much regard for their own overheated notions of personal liberty, which, in their minds, is no more or less than license not to care about, or even conceive of, anyone but themselves.
As one protester said at the April 17 gathering, referring to the governor as “chicken Little”: “Open the damn state and stop killing people with ventilators and get over yourself.”
Yes. Please do that. Get over yourself.
My favorite quote from the event, however, came from a representative of an anti-vaccination group, who said with a straight face that, “this wouldn’t have happened if people didn’t buy into the germ theory of disease.”
After a long pause to let that sink in, during which my mind boggled at the amount of spurious internet sites one would need to visit to reject out of hand centuries of hard-fought scientific advances to settle on a view of disease last popular during the era of the Black Plague, I’d like to nominate this as among the stupidest things ever said in the parking lot of the Long Bridge Grill — no doubt the single stupidest thing said there in the daylight hours, and a glorious affirmation of the First Amendment’s grant of liberty to be as wrong as possible without a fused cerebral cortex.
On the whole, what made my head spin fastest was the notion that this gathering represented an act of courage. According to several of the speakers, these were people who refuse to live in fear — whether from a virus (which if it’s really no worse than the flu would require no courage to risk contracting) or the oppressive state (which if it were really so oppressive would have met such a demonstration with police power and, what’s more, not allowed the congregants to come armed, which I have no doubt at least some of them were).
These fearless people defied a virus they either don’t believe in or think is tantamount to a bad case of the sniffles in the face of a government — including a county sheriff — that wouldn’t care to lift a finger against them. Meanwhile, this brave act drew its impetus from a terrified consensus that the stay-at-home order will push us all into the abyss of poverty (though, let’s be real, in Idaho most of us were already there, thanks to our rock-bottom wages).
Fair enough, but you can’t have a rally based in fear — real, imagined or misinformed — and call it an act of courage.
Everyone wants life to return to some semblance of what it was before the coronavirus. Everyone is hurting, everyone is scared. Everyone is mindful of the restrictions that hamper our daily comings and goings. No one likes them. But self-important brats with too much time on their hands and a wicked case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome, indulging themselves in a piece of Friday afternoon political theater orchestrated by lobby groups in Boise, ain’t no fife and drum corps in echo of the Spirit of ’76.
Once more, the true act of bravery in this global situation is trust. Trust in the public health experts, in the leaders we elected and, most important, in each other to look past our immediate struggles in order to contribute to a larger goal of community wellbeing.
In the end, this demonstration was the kind of disobeying that children engage in when they don’t want to clean their room and pitch such a fit that their parents sigh and walk away to let them kick and scream it out by themselves.
The big difference, of course, is that no one runs the risk of dying as a result of a child’s refusal to tidy their bedroom. If community spread of COVID-19 emerges in Bonner County following this rally — and let’s hope as hard as we can that it doesn’t — whether it stemmed from Disobey Idaho or not, the demonstration will have been wrongheaded as well as an act of profound, dangerous selfishness: either broadening the spread of the virus or exposing others to it without need.
Zach Hagadone is editor-in-chief of the Sandpoint Reader, a second-generation Bonner County native and holds a Master’s degree in early American history from Washington State University. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandpoint Reader.
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