Vehicles surround state capitol in protest of governor's stay-home order

The protest coined 'Operation Gridlock' was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition
Posted at 10:50 AM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 13:27:52-04

LANSING, Mich. — A group of people, including small business owners, drove to the Michigan State Capitol on Wednesday to take part in a "vehicle rally" to show their opposition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order.

The rally, organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, asked articipants to surround the capitol in their vehicles at noon on Wednesday.

“We can get this rally done and stay within the social distancing guidelines,” said Marian Sheridan, a co-founder of the coalition. “Citizens are frankly tired of being treated like babies. As adults, we now know what needs to be done to stay safe."

The coalition is asking Whitmer to re-consider the extension she announced Thursday to her stay-home order. Several landscaping companies speaking to FOX 17 at the time said they had been hopeful that the governor would announce certain exceptions to the order at the time, allowing them to return to work in some capacity.

That didn't happen. Whitmer said at the time, when asked about allowing landscapers to get back to work, "Golf, landscaping — and I’ve heard these seem to be the ones that we hear the most from the legislature, some of the Republican legislators. You know what, it’s not critical infrastructure. It’s just not."

But those in opposition to the order said it reaches too far. Rosanne Ponkowski, president of the coalition, said, “When did a one-size solution solve everyone’s local issues? Governor Whitmer will put you out of business before allowing mere citizens to be responsible for their own behavior. That is madness.”

The coalition asked rally participants to meet in the Alden Nash carpool lot in Lowell to meet up before they left for Lansing as a caravan.

Rally participants started showing up the lot well before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

FOX 17 was on-site as vehicles gathered in Lowell.

Theo Jensen, who normally works construction, said Wednesday morning, "I just need to get back to work. I need to start making my own money. I've never lived off the government before, and this is the first time I've done unemployment or anything like that, and it's a miserable process."

At the head of the caravan was Jim Tenhaaf, driving a pickup truck adorned with decals saying things like "Freedom is Essential" and "Rights are Not Optional."

Tenhaaf, who owns a concrete company with his father, told FOX 17 Wednesday morning, "Everybody wants to work. Everybody wants to work safely, and if there are guidelines we can follow as employers, we can implement these safety guidelines."

"That's all we're looking for. ... We're looking for the government to stand by our side," Tenhaaf said.

Several thousand people took to the streets in and around downtown Lansing. Many of them ended up getting out of their vehicles, while the organizing coalition advised people not to.

“I think we’ve done what's asked of us, and we’ll continue to do that. But some of her restrictions don’t make any sense to the common people," said DeAnn Gumvert, a Jackson-area real estate agent.

Vehicles were still circling the capitol at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, with a small crowd of people congregating in front of the capitol's lawn.

Diane Schindlbeck, a board member with the Michigan Conservative Coalition, said, “Is there a virus out there? Yes. Are people dying? Yes. And is this sad? Yes. But there are ways we can take precautions, we can do it safely. And we don’t need to go to the extreme of entirely closing down.”

Watch the drive-by rally