SANTA FE — Circling the mostly empty state capitol building, about 16 cars blared their horns in a parade-style protest Monday afternoon. Many had adorned their vehicles with American flags and slogans like “F the Governor” and “Reopen New Mexico.”
“High NOON drive around the Capitol — honk horns, paint cars or bring signs. SHOW UP. Do not park and walk — stay in your vehicles!” the event post on Facebook read.
The protesters called on Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to “reopen” New Mexico after the state closed all non-essential business until at least April 30 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While much more subdued, the Santa Fe protest coincides with protests across the country to reopen the United States’ shuttered economy, despite warnings about the lethal consequences of doing so.
The orders are meant to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus and are overwhelmingly endorsed by public health officials, doctors and researchers.
Still, fear of the virus that has killed 40,724 American’s as of April 18 — including 58 New Mexicans — was not enough to keep Monday’s protesters away.
“I’ll tell you, my husband was sick in February and that was before the (COVID-19) actually test came out,” protestor Shelly Mahan told the Daily Lobo after the protest procession stopped. “I would be willing to bet probably 80% of the people that were sick from November to February already had it.”
Mahan, who runs a car body and repair shop in Lovington, New Mexico, made the four hour drive north to protest what she called an overreaction. She also believed the Governor's emergency orders targeted small businesses and favored big box stores like Walmart.
While many of Monday’s protestors were from small New Mexican towns, questions about just how these protests are organized and who is organizing them have begun to surface.
A Washington Post article found that three brothers from Ohio were responsible for some of the largest anti-quarantine Facebook groups in the country.
Santa Fe’s protest was organized on Facebook by an account named MaryGrace Laurich. None of the protesters the Daily Lobo spoke too said they personally knew the account owner.
As these protests, grassroots or not, have popped up across the country, it’s given rise to the impression that a sizable portion of Americans believe the country should re-open. The impression runs directly against polling that suggested the opposite.
By party, 70% of Republicans supported a national “stay-at-home” order, along with 95% of Democrats, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll. That same poll found nearly all Americans, about 70%, believe the coronavirus pandemic will worsen.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” onlooker Amy Gabriel said of the protests. “I think we need to just continue to do what we’re doing — flatten the curve. When the time is right and the scientists tell us it’s time, it’ll be over.”
Gabriel lives behind the New Mexico Supreme Court building just north of the Roundhouse. She brought her camera out when she heard honking around her and news helicopters circling above her.
“I think they’re getting a lot more press then they deserve,” Gabriel said. “Unfortunately, you can’t just say ‘well they’ll suffer’ because we’ll all suffer.”
The protest eventually ended with an impromptu news conference in a nearby parking lot.
Two women, including Marcilla Melendez, gave lengthy monologues to journalists assembled in the parking lot.
“It’s made people so scared,” Melendez said during the news conference. “In my little town in Belen, people smile at each other. Right now, people are just afraid to even smile. That’s not normal. I just want my country back.”
The protestors planned to return April 24.
Justin Garcia is the Editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Just516garc