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Nothing tells you more about a group of people than how they make you feel when you’re around them. After spending some time in the crowd at the Defeat the Mandates march in D.C., I came away feeling kind of…bored.
I’m not saying this as a bad thing. I’m not really the type to attend protests as is. Friends and ex-lovers had taken me to the Women’s March and a travel ban march in 2017, and a niche Afghanistan-related protest in 2018. They all came across as showy to me – like they were more of a big group therapy session for angsty liberals than a cause with a clear goal.
I didn’t get that sense among the couple thousand people on the National Mall last weekend. Sure, there were some circus acts mixed in – the camo-clad guy doing his Mel-Gibson-from-The Patriot impersonation by occasionally yelling “Freedom;” another guy bumping his Covid-inspired cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” with lyrics like “Hey, Fauci, leave my kids alone!” as the group walked to the Lincoln Memorial; and the characteristic God-squadders and abortion posters made their appearances as well.
But the event wasn’t overrun with the kind of kooks and far-right demonstrators that media outlets would have you believe. Mainly because there was no one stereotype in the crowd.
The faces you saw were the kind of nondescript ones you pass in the grocery store or out on the street. Sometimes it was young families, or a group of college friends, or an elderly couple or – a real sign this movement is hitting the mainstream – a few attractive people.
Everyone I came across was chill and unexciting, just like they would have been anywhere else on a Sunday morning.
Such an unorthodox group of protesters tells me this is a consensus issue. The herd is finally ready to move on with their lives. There’s a sense of relief in knowing that. The speakers, however, had trouble matching that vibe at the podium.
Comedian JP Sears, the event’s MC, told the audience that this was a movement of love. Kevin Jenkins, the CEO and founder of Urban Global Health Alliance, casted this march as a part of a new Civil Rights movement. The collection of doctors oscillated between angry rants and dour concern for where their profession is going. A support group spoke about their reactions to the vaccine.
Each person who took the mic had something to say about everything involving Covid. It produced scattered applause as a result. The only lines that got uniform cheers were when the speakers groaned about the media.
To be fair, the event never pitched itself as a unified identity. It advertised itself as “Democrats and Republicans. Vaccinated or unvaccinated.” (You get the idea). I shouldn’t expect every speaker to stick to a certain message other than “Leave us alone.” But I was expecting more.
Mandates have gotten people fired and are barring others from certain businesses purely for political reasons. There’s room to be disgusted, while also room to not stoop to that level. Instead, the protest felt over-produced at times.
Performers had raps and songs about their Covid experience. Guys like tech CEO Steve Kirsch cited studies about under-reporting of vaccine effects and how 100 kids die to spare one child from Covid. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. invoked Anne Frank to describe how the unvaccinated are being treated. Doctors like Pierre Kory and Aaron Kheriarty pounded the lectern about medical injustices. Dr. Robert Malone, essentially the keynote speaker judging by the number of attendees who petered out after his oratory, had nothing memorable to add other than his now-trademark “Where there is risk, there must be choice.”
It was as if the speeches themselves were a distraction from the main event. Clearly, the issue that has caused so much division is finally starting to subside.
People flipped the calendar to 2022 and realized that they’ve lost two years of their lives to this virus. I understand that only affects those of us living in deep blue metro areas like myself. Plenty of other parts of the country moved on by Summer 2020 (including where you live, dear reader). But it’s been remarkable to comprehend how long it’s taken for people to notice their lives are awful when you submit to the ritualistic fealty of The Science™.
So, maybe “boring” isn’t the right word to describe the mood of the crowd. “Exhausted” is.
People didn’t want to be angry about what was stolen from them. They didn’t want to be reminded of how stupid they felt for not fighting those pandemic-era policies earlier. They didn’t want another discussion about the efficacy of the vaccine where they wind up talking past the people they’re trying to get through to. They didn’t want to relitigate the need for vaccine mandates despite it being in the march’s name.
We all looked around at each other and noticed how much we’ve changed during this pandemic. Our leaders and institutions aren’t what we once thought they were. The pandemic exposed us to their corruption in such a visceral way.
We all “came of age” in the last two years. We lost the blissful innocence about how our world operates the way a child loses their innocence as they become adults.
That time – and that mindset – will never return to us. But it’s good to know that normal people are willing to put the work into building an actual “new normal” that is free from bureaucratic puppet strings. They just might need a few cups of coffee or an energy drink before getting started.
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