Hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Chicago Friday to speak out against Illinois' extended stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They called on Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker to reopen more of the state’s economy.
Protesters, some wearing face coverings and some not, waved American and Trump-support flags and carried signs decrying the state’s stay-at-home order, as Chicago police officers in face coverings looked on.
“Give me liberty or give me COVID-19,” read one sign, and “Let my people go … back to work,” read another.
But others turned out to counter the protesters, some wearing full hospital garb and face coverings, or in vehicles carrying anti-Trump slogans on their windows. The state needed “relief, not reopening,” one sign written on a van declared.
Some nurses gathered at the Thompson Center to express support for keeping the stay-at-home order in place. One of those nurses said he was frustrated by the insults hurled at him by some of the protesters, whom he said berated him and offended him with a sign that he said read, “Nurses are Nazis.”
“People were telling me that I wasn’t a real nurse, that I was a paid actor,” said Paul Pater, a University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital emergency room nurse and Illinois Nurses Association board member, who organized the counter-protest. “Some of the things these people say kind of don’t make sense because they’re worked up in a frenzy. They were saying, ‘You’re not a hero. You don’t have valor. You’re stealing valor from the troops.’ ”
One demonstrator — former Republican Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica — said extending the stay-at-home order through May 29 will cause “irreparable harm” to individuals and the economy. Peraica said public bodies — including the state legislature — should convene to begin a regionalized approach to opening more sectors of the economy.
“This unilateral action by our governor and other governors across the country is causing irreparable harm,” Peraica said. “It’s time to have some accountability, and it’s time to allow people to go to work.”
Protesters also gathered in Springfield Friday. Hordes of crowds stood outside the statehouse, waving signs and shouting “Open Illinois” and “Freedom Not Fear!” as drivers honked horns in support as they passed the crowd.
Pritzker extended a statewide stay-at-home order through May 29, but he is allowing garden centers, pet groomers and golf courses to reopen. When asked for reaction to the protests Friday afternoon, Pritzker said the protesters were exercising their rights, even if they were wrong. But, if numbers of cases continue to drop and the state is allowed to reopen, “it won’t be because some protester has a sign,” he said. It would be because of those who are staying home. “They’re keeping people from getting sick and dying.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the hospital where Paul Pater works. It is University of Illinois at Chicago.