Big Tent Ideas

LORD: Reopen Rebellion Hits Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of the DCNF

Jeffrey Lord Jeffrey Lord is a Pennsylvania-based contributing editor of The American Spectator. He writes at his own web site, and is the author of Swamp Wars; Donald Trump and the New American Populism vs. the Old Order.
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This time, it was Pennsylvania’s turn.

On a sunny Monday at noon, more than a thousand Pennsylvanians gathered on the steps of the State Capitol building in Harrisburg. Since I live just over the river, it was an easy trip to make to answer that oldest of questions in journalism. As Bugs Bunny phrased it: “What’s up, Doc?”

Parking in a mostly unfilled public garage a couple blocks from the Capitol, it didn’t take long to encounter the protest. It came in two forms.

First there were the cars, trucks and motorcycles that were circling the building at a slow pace, American flags and lots of Gadsden flags flying. The latter, if perhaps not as familiar by name, is certainly recognizable to most Americans for its bright yellow background with a coiled rattlesnake at its center above the motto “Don’t Tread On Me” — a quite simple and plain signal of support for civil liberties and freedom combined with a warning to tyrannical governments that dates to the American Revolution. (RELATED: Protest Showdowns: Anti-Lockdown Protesters Carry Guns In Pennsylvania, Kansas City Counter-Protesters Block Traffic)

Clearly over a thousand protesters had gathered. On one side of the main street in front of the Capitol, they were gathered on the massive stone steps, the flat open area above them used as a stage for speakers. But there were hundreds more gathered on the other side of the street, with all cheering on the honking cars and motorcyclists, the latter gunning their engines to add to the noise.

As I wandered around the crowd, the utter American-nature of the event was impossible to ignore. Music blared from loudspeakers, amusing with a rock song that those of a certain age will ironically recall as being associated with the rise of the Clinton era in 1992. The song by Fleetwood Mac is “Don’t Stop,” and its opening lyrics deliver the message this way:

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

Indeed. As my masked and gloved self moved around it was hard to miss the dual nature of the rally. On the one hand, the crowd was festive, signs bobbing and waving to the beat of the music. It reminded me of the atmosphere at the now momentarily-disappeared upbeat, rock-concert style Trump rallies. The signs were pointed and direct. Among them:

“My Rights Don’t End Where Your Fear Starts!”

“Re-Open PA!”

“Let America Work Again!”

“Tyranny Kills”

“We Do Not Consent!”

As such signs illustrated — and there were hundreds of them, tellingly homemade — there was a second feature of the rally that was impossible to miss. These were Pennsylvanians who were livid with Gov. Tom Wolf for a lockdown of the entire state — the Democratic chief executive arbitrarily closing hundreds of small businesses. The targets were the “mom and pop shops” that are at the very center of Pennsylvania’s — and America’s — economic vitality.

I spoke to one woman eager to talk, giving permission to quote her. Melanie Stringhill Patterson lives in what Pennsylvanians know affectionately as the “Mon Valley,” tucked away alongside the Monongahela River several hours west of Harrisburg. She had been swarmed with text messages from restaurant owners, the larger hospitality business in her community, small store owners, boutiques, car dealers, realtors and more.

“They’re taking a killing,” she said passionately.

She was being told of sales dropping 75%. Once making $5,000 to $6,000 a day, the restaurant owners said they were barely clearing $400 a day with take-out only service now imposed. She was hearing from single moms who had toiled for years in general manager positions in the restaurant business as they raised their families, and now earned nothing while still having to pay the rent and feed their kids. (RELATED: Senate Democrats Block McConnell’s Bid For $250 Billion More In Small Business Aid)

She shook her head.

“This is insanity. This [dealing with the virus] can be done responsibly and with common sense.”

But clearly, it isn’t being done that way.

One question raised was a seemingly obvious one. Why is it OK to go to a big grocery store and shop wearing a mask and gloves — but not OK to do the same in small businesses? No answer supplied to the protesters.

Melanie was not alone in these sentiments. It is safe to say that this group gathered today — and one senses they are far from alone in this state and the country at large as the “Re-Open” movement grows — was determined to make themselves heard … and get action.

To that end the crowd was addressed by several Pennsylvania state legislators — Republicans all — who had supported legislation to use the CDC’s and Department of Homeland Security’s guidelines on those businesses that are allowed to be operating during the virus emergency. Wolf’s administration had used the phrase “life-sustaining” as a way of determining what businesses can and cannot be open — and the governor promptly vetoed the bill. Suffice it to say, the Pennsylvanians on the State Capitol steps see a threat to sustaining the lives of their own families, not to mention their businesses.

So, it was clear as the rally finally came to an end, that this discussion, this “Re-Open” protest movement, will not only go on, but it will gain steam.

Which, in this presidential election year, will inevitably translate into votes. Pennsylvania is without doubt at the very center of the 2016 election. The fact that candidate Trump carried it in an upset in 2016 — an upset that helped elect him — will only make what happens in this state even more important.

Judging by the energy and anger that was on display with these flag-waving protesters on Monday, it would seem that Wolf is making his party’s — and Joe Biden’s — November task more difficult, if not impossible altogether.

Jeffrey Lord, a former CNN contributor, is a columnist and author. He is a former associate political director in the Reagan White House. In his Washington career, he has served successively as a senior aide for a U.S. congressman and a U.S. senator, chief of staff for former Reagan cabinet member Drew Lewis in the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign, and as an aide to HUD Secretary Jack Kemp. He writes at his website,

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