ALBANY — Close to 100 people — holding signs and waving American flags — gathered on Wednesday at the state Capitol to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Dozens of others drove cars, trucks and vans up and down Washington Avenue, blasting vehicle horns as they passed the Capitol during the noontime demonstration.
Signs targeted the governor and lamented societal impacts — closures of non-essential businesses and canceled school years — caused by Cuomo’s month-long “New York State on Pause” initiative. “Open Upstate” read a red-lettered sign on a black background carried by a woman in a red, white and blue winter cap and a blue medical-style mask.
Other signs read, “Enough Already Back to Work,” “My Small Business is Essential,” “Stop Ruining My Senior Year,” “Dictator Cuomo Give Our Lives Back,” “Tell Old Cuomo To Let My People Go” and “Fear is the Virus.”
Protests against lockdowns recently have taken place in several states — Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia among them.
Kentucky officials said the state experienced its highest daily spike in coronavirus cases — 273 — on Sunday, days after hundreds of protesters gathered outside the state Capitol building in Frankfort. People in the assembly had called for the end of a statewide lockdown.
In Albany, some carried blue campaign flags for President Donald Trump. Others wore the red “Make America Great Again” (MEGA) ball caps. Still others waved yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags.
Images: Photos from Wednesday’s protest
Some protesters wore now-familiar masks that cover noses and mouths. Some did not wear any face coverings, although the state last week ordered all people out in public places to partially cover their faces when they are closer than 6 feet to another person.
“What brings me here today is my constitutional rights,” said Wendy Larison, who traveled to Albany from her home in Van Etten, Chemung County, for the protest.
“The First Amendment guarantees me the right to worship where I want and I’ve been denied that,” Larison added. “It guarantees me the right to bear arms; I’ve been denied that. I still have the freedom of assembly to petition my governor, so I’m here to petition the government to re-open New York.”
Others explained why the rally was important to them, but would not give their names.
One man, who said he lived in the southern Adirondacks, carried an American flag and wore a gas mask.
“We’re just tired of the government telling us what to do all the time,” he said, as he got into his pick-up truck. “If I wanted to live like that, I’d live in New York City.”
The man said he wore the gas mask because he was taking the health crisis seriously.
“It’s just when they tell you can’t go to a store,” he said. “They can take precautions and open upstate New York — because the restaurants and salons, barber shops, they’re going to lose their businesses, some of these people, over this.”
A woman said the protest was all about citizen rights.
“We have no rights right now,” she said. “I can’t do anything I want to do and I feel like we need to open the economy because there are a lot of small businesses that are going to shut down forever if we don’t open it quickly.”
Another man also talked about the economy.
“The country is widely different; areas need to open up that are not affected as gravely as other areas and I think that needs to be done responsibly,” he said. “But I also think people need to get back to work. Is the cure worse than the virus? That’s what were looking at, people are out of work.”
Cuomo, during his daily COVID-19 press briefing, addressed the “cure worse than the virus” question.
“The illness is death,” he said. “How can the cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death?”
Cuomo also said other points in protesters’ arguments do not equal death.
Images: Photos from Wednesday’s protest
“Economic hardship, yes, very bad, not death,” he said. “Emotional stress from being locked in a house, very bad, not death. Domestic violence on the increase, very bad, not death.
“And not death of someone else,” Cuomo added. “That’s what we have to factor into this equation. Yeah, it’s your life, do whatever you want — but you’re now responsible for my life. You have a responsibility to me. It’s not just about you, you have a responsibility to me.
“We started saying, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about we.’ Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]