Protesters demand end to business closures at Harrisburg rally

Ioannis Pashakis//April 20, 2020

Protesters demand end to business closures at Harrisburg rally

Ioannis Pashakis//April 20, 2020

Angry over the closure of businesses deemed “non-life sustaining,” hundreds of protesters, many carrying signs and hats supporting President Donald Trump, took the streets of Harrisburg to protest the actions of Gov. Tom Wolf to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Harrisburg as supporters drove through the city honking their horns in encouragement.

Organizers called on the governor to be more transparent.

“I truly believe that our liberties have been stripped from us with no explanation of how this will end,” said Matthew Bellis, chief communications officer at Lancaster-based Liberty HealthShare and an administrator of “ReOpen PA. “We need more transparency from the government and we need more people to tell us how they are making these decisions.”

Early last week, a number of Facebook groups quickly gathered support online for hosting a space where individuals could share their grievances regarding Pennsylvania’s current stay at home orders.

Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine and ReOpen PA attracted 50,000 supporters on line in less than a week. Bellis and his fellow organizers had no previous experience in organizing a protest and referred to the effort as a grassroots movement.

“If we tried to do this again it would be like capturing lightning,” he said. “We had folks giving speeches from the capitol steps, many people turned out and many more drove around and showed their support.”

Speakers at the hour-long event included state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, and state Rep. Russ Diamond R-Lebanon. Both thanked the crowd for coming to the event and criticized the state for its use of business closures to cease the spread of COVID-19

“Never before in the history of this commonwealth has a governor exercised so much power,” said Mastriano. “Never before has a governor decided which businesses he declares essential and nonessential.

“We have a single focus here,” he said, “to reopen Pennsylvania, protect your lives and take this power away from the governor. He should not assign right or wrong, winners or losers.”

Megan Osborne, owner of Meghan Motors in Greencastle, Franklin County, said she will need to lay off her employees this week if she can’t open her business. She would be happy to sanitizing surfaces and maintain social distance if she could keep her business open.

“If we have other individual responsibilities then so be it, but business shouldn’t be closed,” she said.