Large crowds protest Wisconsin's 'Safer at Home' order outside Madison Capitol

NOW: Large crowds protest Wisconsin’s ’Safer at Home’ order outside Madison Capitol


Updated: 6:52 p.m. on April 24, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Against the guidelines of health officials to observe social distancing and against the state’s Safer at Home order banning large gathering of people, about 1,500 people attended a rally at the State Capitol to protest the extension of the order meant to save lives and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Some in attendance were wearing masks, others not. Given the large crowd, those who were near the main area were unable to observe social distancing guidelines of maintaining at least six feet of distance between them and another person. However, they shared one main message: to end the Safer at Home order and reopen the state.

“I don’t believe in shutting down the entire country, a blanket shutdown for everybody,” Mimi Schahczenski of Marinette told CBS 58. “If you are elderly if you are unhealthy if you’re afraid, you stay home; don’t quarantine all of us because I think quarantine for everybody is tyranny.”

For Schahczenski and others, the order has had a severe effect on their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

“My husband needs a knee replacement surgery he can’t get his knee replaced,” Schahczenski said in reference to the temporary postponement by hospitals of certain surgeries in order to address surges in COVID-19 patients. “He’s in pain every day.”

“I’ve lost my job,” William Leber said. Leber, of St. Croix County, said he drove four hours to arrive for the rally. “My company’s probably going to go bankrupt and my job’s probably not going to be back.” Leber said he works in the aviation industry and wants to see the state take a more “surgical” approach to its response of the pandemic.

Others attended with their family members. Jackie Wolford of Oconto Falls brought two of her children with her, saying it was a good moment for a “civics lesson” for them. Wolford echoed the sentiment of many who believe rural parts of the state should not be held under the same guidance and orders as places with severe numbers of cases, such as Milwaukee, Dane and Brown counties.

“We’re just her trying to speak up for, especially our small businesses,” Wolford said. “I’m from a small town; our small businesses need to be open. We can’t have the government saying what’s essential and what’s not.”

Wolford added she would like to see more voices brought into the conversation about the state’s response to the pandemic.

“I think our legislature needs to get involved too, these orders need to stop coming from one person or one department.”

While organizers of the rally said it was not a political event, the main event and surrounding ones had conservative and right-wing backing.

One of the organizers of the main event, Thomas Leager, has organized Second Amendment rallies at the Capitol in the past. Cars and trucks driving around the Capitol Square were part of a separate, but simultaneous event with the same message as the main event. The drive-in rally, called Operation Gridlock,” was organized and supported by Ben Dorr, a Minnesota gun rights activist and the political director for the Wisconsin Firearms Coalition. CBS 58 reported on Dorr’s influence on April 22. The drive-in rally was intended to clog up the streets surrounding the Capitol, similar to what happened at a Michigan rally earlier this month. Another group that joined in on the rally was the Wisconsin chapter of the Convention of States, a group with Tea Party origins.

Signs, flags and clothing in support of President Trump were visible throughout the crowd. There were also signs calling for the removal of Governor Evers. The rally was also supported throughout the week by conservative talk radio hosts and GOP lawmakers, who are currently in a legal battle against the Safer at Home extension. Republican leaders were not seen in the crowd.

There were also counter protesters who silently held up signs that said “Please go home.” Another read, “COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals. In overwhelmed hospitals, more people die. You can save lives, too. Please stay home!”

On Thursday night, a counter protest occurred on the Capitol steps where health care workers placed 1,300 candles to represent the number of people hospitalized because of the virus.

A virtual counter protest is also happening this weekend. The Safer at Home Rally is being organized on social media and is asking participants to share videos and photos in support of the Safer at Home order as well as showing support for health care workers.

Nationally, a CBS poll from April 23 found that 63 percent of Americans are worried about reopening the country too fast and worsening the pandemic.


Posted: 12:02 p.m. on April 24, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Thousands of people are expected to protest Gov. Tony Evers' extended "Safer at Home" order outside the State Capitol in Madison on Friday, April 24. 

Speakers are set to share stories about how the order has affected them and why they want it to end. 

While organizers of the rally say it's not a political event, there is a right-wing bend to what's happening. 

Some of the organizers of the main event have set up second amendment rallies at the Capitol in the past. On top of that, a drive-in rally will be happening simultaneously set up by two right-wing groups -- one a second amendment rights group from outside Wisconsin, and a convention of states group which has tea party origins. 

Republican lawmakers have encouraged those who want to attend to do so, as this shapes up to be a proxy event in the battle between the GOP-controlled legislature and the Democratic Gov. Evers. 

Friday's rally had its permit denied but it will still move forward. Capitol police said they want to respect people's right to assemble and free speech. 


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