Marek Warszawski: Fresno rally had protest signs, MAGA hats and shutdown anger — but protesters were peaceful – msnNOW

Posted: May 7, 2020 at 6:41 pm


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Walking down P Street in the direction of Fresno City Hall before Wednesdays Freedom Rally, I wasnt sure what to expect.

Would it be a bunch of right-wing wackos being manipulated by well-paid organizers and publicity seeking politicians? Or would it be everyday people, most of them local, expressing sincere frustrations and legitimate concerns over city and state policy designed to slow the spread of coronavirus?

The answer turned out to be a little of both.

To be sure, there were plenty in the first group. People carrying N.W.O. and QAnon signs and one reading W.H.O. is Poo that made me chuckle in a second-grade sort of way. Not to mention the female speaker who angrily proclaimed Do we live in America? We live in China without a hint of irony or self-awareness. (If we were in China, you wouldnt be allowed to protest in front of City Hall. Google Tiananmen Square sometime.)

But there were also folks like Rico Saldivar, who carried an American flag and wore a face mask.

Saldivar is a local business owner. He owns a tattoo parlor, a barber shop, a hair salon and a print store. All four businesses are located in Fresno, and each has been shut down since the city ordered the closures of those it deemed non-essential.

Saldivar has no income coming in, no way to keep his 15 employees on the payroll, but the bills keep piling up. As proof, he holds up his cell phone and shows me an invoice from his landlord totaling $10,450 owed in back rent.

And theyre quick to remind me every couple days, Saldivar said.

Saldivars tattoo parlor, barber shop and hair salon arent among low-risk businesses allowed to reopen Monday even though he insists he can operate them safely and is willing to comply with all social-distancing protocols.

This is totally unfair, he said.

Another person I met was Tricia Messer, co-owner of an off-road vehicle supply company based in Fresno that reduced operations but hasnt completely shut down. She carried one sign that read, Keep Our City Great. Open Our City and another that read, Open Our Churches.

I asked Messer if she was worried about being in the same place of worship as 100 or more others and not knowing where theyve been and what they may have been exposed to.

No, she replied.

Was she worried about getting sick and passing along the virus to others?

No, she replied again.

How come?

Because if that happens, its all part of Gods plan, Messer said.

That line of thinking may sound batty to an agnostic such as myself Id rather reduce my exposure than accept some supernatural fate but to Messer it makes perfect sense. And whos to argue with her? We have freedom of beliefs in this country, last I checked.

Unlike previous rallies in Sacramento and Huntington Beach, the 300 or so protesters were well-behaved and respectful of law enforcement. No arrests were made, and most of the disruptions came in the form of passing cars and trucks honking in support.

I do wish, though, that a semi-truck wouldve sat idling behind the stage when it was Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefelds turn to speak. My ears have never been more in need of a nonsense filter.

Since it was a political rally, I wont get on Bredefelds case too harshly for playing fast and loose with facts and data. Which he did with aplomb.

But when the elected representative of northeast Fresno downplayed the severity of COVID-19 by stating the virus only has a mortality rate between 1 and 2%, thats when things got troubling.

The reality is, said Bredefeld, clearly enjoying his moment, 98 to 99% of the people affected by this disease recover.

For the sake of argument, lets say Bredefelds figures are accurate. (They might be or might not. No one can say for certain.) But even a 1% mortality rate is 10 times higher than the seasonal flu.

Fresno County has a population of 1 million. Which means between 10,000 and 20,000 county residents will die if they catch the virus. For perspective, thats like taking a town the size of Parlier (population 15,000) and wiping it off the map.

Wish I could be so cavalier with the lives of so many people.

Also making guest appearances were Fresno County Supervisors Nathan Magsig and Steve Brandau. Both spoke ever so briefly in support of businesses reopening.

Speaking of cavalier, it was interesting to see self-proclaimed patriots be so disrespectful of our nations symbols.

During the national anthem, I only saw one MAGA-hat wearing protester actually remove her cap. The rest, at least a few dozen of them, kept their red hats firmly atop their heads.

And then there was Libertarian candidate Nickolas Wildstar, who gave a speech while holding the American flag upside down and letting the flag drag on the ground as soon as he got off the stage.

According to Title 4 Section 8 (a) of the U.S. Flag Code, The flag should never be displayed with union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property. Section 8 (b) reads: The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

My old Scoutmaster wouldve been mighty displeased.

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Marek Warszawski: Fresno rally had protest signs, MAGA hats and shutdown anger -- but protesters were peaceful - msnNOW

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