Photos by Angel Pena
By Erik Galicia
Feelings of financial desperation and theories of a coming fascist government hit the streets of Riverside on April 25.
Dozens converged on downtown, marching down Market and 14th Streets, demanding that Riverside County and California be reopened.
The protest was the latest in a string of nationwide demonstrations opposing pandemic restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some said they represented those who are out of work and will not be able to sustain much longer.
Protester Bassad Pesci said that although he is still coping well financially without work, he is looking at the bigger picture.
“I’m ok,” Pesci said. “But there’s plenty of people who are gonna have a complete break apart of their lives if this goes on much longer.”
According to Pesci, COVID-19 statistics do not add up to a crisis. He claimed that COVID-19’s fatality rate, a rough estimate of which can be calculated by dividing deaths by known cases, could be as low as 0.2% because health officials are finding infections to be 10 times higher than originally thought.
The California Department of Public Health reported 1,651 deaths out of 41,137 known cases, amounting to a fatality rate of around 4% as of April 25. That number jumps to nearly 6% when looking at national numbers. These percentages are 20 and 30 times higher, respectively, than Pesci’s estimate. But Pesci maintained that the true number of infections is not known.
“If you’re scared, quarantine yourself,” Pesci said.
Opinions among protesters about the severity of the pandemic varied. While admitting the seriousness of the situation, marcher Jess Perez said it is now controlled enough to reopen California.
“I think if people are sick they need to get treatment,” Perez said. “If people are afraid to get sick, they have the right to stay home. But it’s manageable now.”
Perez also likened the shutdown to the activities of Nazi Germany, calling it a government experiment.
“I think our government is overreaching and they’re suppressing the people,” Perez said. “Causing businesses to shut down, people to lose income, not be able to provide for their families, not be able to get well when they need to because they don’t have the means to do it. Then they become completely reliant on the government.”
A protester who wished to be identified only as Lona expressed a harsher judgement of the situation, describing it as an elite-led conspiracy to wipe out masses.
“We wanna open California from that fascist pig (Gov. Gavin) Newsom,” Lona said. “To have a fascist government shut down my country and consider my brother a nonessential, f— them.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed to $125 million in funding for what it calls the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a project aiming to develop treatments for the virus, according to their website. Lona called this an attempt to create lethal vaccines, echoing rising theories that argue Bill Gates holds some responsibility in the pandemic.
“I know the pig is planning to kill all of humanity with his little vaccines,” she said. “Two million are gonna die. If that isn’t enough, you have Leon Musk and Bill Gates killing you with 5G towers.”
Despite protests, 75% of Californians oppose an abrupt end to the stay-at-home order, according to a California Health Care Foundation poll published April 24. A national HuffPost poll conducted between April 17 and 19 found that 60% of Democrats and 58% of Republicans feel pandemic restrictions are reasonable.
Just a mile away from the march, Riversiders at the farmers market on the intersection of Fifth and Main Streets said it is not the right time to reopen society.
“Not until it’s ready,” Daryl Norsell said. “Until the people who have spent their lives studying say so. I trust those guys. It’s a temporary thing.”
Norsell called the protests “ignorance on display.”
Craig Sheldon, a vendor, agreed.
“It’s not like the government is just saying this,” Sheldon said. “They’re going off of the recommendations of the entire medical community. Human lives are far more important than dollar signs.”
Although Newsom has announced that California’s stay-at-home order does not have a set expiration date, Riverside County’s order is set to expire April 30. An extension has yet to be announced.