Dueling Rallies Take Over Georgia Capitol Grounds As Businesses Can Reopen

ATLANTA - JULY 27: Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on July 27, 2019. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
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April 24, 2020 11:53 a.m.

The Georgia state capitol grounds in Atlanta will be occupied by both supporters and detractors of Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) decision to let some businesses reopen on Friday, representative of the divided state.

Kemp announced earlier in the week that he would allow gyms, nail salons, stores and bowling alleys to open Friday, with another wave of greenlights issued to movie theaters and full-service restaurants on Monday.

He is reopening wide swaths of the economy much earlier than other states, receiving some criticism from local officials about the catastrophic affect it could have on the transmission of COVID-19.

“Stay home. Nothing has changed,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms (D) told CNN Friday morning, describing her advice to residents of the city. “People are still getting infected. People are still dying.”

Athens-Clark County Mayor Kelly Girtz, also a Democrat, said that he is telling his constituents to ignore the governor’s announcement.

“I’m exhorting everybody in this community to continue to shelter in place,” he said. “Do not reopen at this point. It’s not the time to do it.”

On Friday morning, the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, a group of faith leaders in the capital city, held a press conference across the way from the capitol building to oppose the reopening. Speakers included a slate of church leaders, State Senator Donzella James (D) and the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, and represents the contingent of local voices that has bashed Kemp for the reopening.

The local NAACP in particular has been active in its opposition, and has been encouraging a “Black Out Sick Out,” urging people to ignore Kemp’s announcement and to stay home.

Shortly after the press conference, a very different rally representing a very different mindset will claim the space surrounding the capitol.

A group called Reopen GA is hosting an “End Shutdown” event, and encouraging participants to bring flags and signs to get Georgia “back in business.”

As to what they are actually protesting now that Kemp has green-lit the opening of wide swaths of the economy, it seems to be a matter of principle.

“We are protesting that the government did not have the constitutional right to shut down the economy in the first place,” organizer Jose Montes told TPM.

The protest is being led by Shane Hazel, a Libertarian candidate for Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s (R) senate seat. On his Facebook page, he called to “assemble the peaceful army” of protesters, his message emblazoned on a picture of President George Washington holding a machine gun.

“The government pointing guns at peaceful people & threatening their businesses while arbitrarily decreeing some people, their jobs, their businesses, their trades & their families “nonessential” is the most Statists 1938 Germany thing I’ve ever witnessed and there needs to be justice,” he wrote.

Per Montes, around 200 people planned to attend the event before Kemp’s announcement, though he is unsure how many will show up now that much of their cause has been won.

“We want to be clear that we support Kemp,” Montes added.

That congratulatory attitude is shared by Georgia’s U.S. Senators, Loeffler and David Perdue, both of whom earlier this week applauded Kemp’s efforts.

But not every Republican is on board.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he “totally disagrees” with Kemp’s decision to reopen businesses so early.

In reality, per CNN, Trump initially approved of the plan before being dissuaded by Dr. Deborah Birx on behalf of the members of the White House’s coronavirus task force who refused to publicly support the move.

The President doubled down on his disapproval during his Thursday press briefing.

“I want the states to open more than he does. Much more than he does,” he said. “But I didn’t like to see spas at this early stage. Nor did the doctors.”

“I didn’t like to see a lot of things happening, and I wasn’t happy with it,” he added. “And I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp.”

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