Christmas-themed Capitol protest targets Michigan's COVID-19 restrictions

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Crowds gathered on the Capitol lawn Wednesday, two days before Christmas, for a rally to protest continued restrictions on restaurants and gatherings. 

The rally, called "When the Gretch stole Christmas ... the people took it back," was a celebration of the holiday, freedom and the Constitution, said Brenda Wodarski, an organizer of the event from Grand Rapids.

Demonstrators take part in an event called 'When the Gretch stole Christmas, the People took it back' on the lawn of the Michigan State Capitol on Wednesday, Dec 23, 2020. It was basically a Christmas celebration in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions.

"It's about being together with family and friends at Christmastime and not being scared," Wodarski said. "God didn't tell us to live in fear."

The rally included speakers denouncing COVID-19 restrictions and Michigan's presidential election results, as well as photos with Santa Claus, several people dressed in Grinch costumes, Trump flags and clothing, a live Nativity scene and a lighted parade of vehicles. 

A group of Dominican nuns carried signs that urged people to "pray for our nation" and "stand up against socialism." Other individuals carried Gadsden flags and "Recall Whitmer" signs.

'The Gretch' leads a skit on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building as demonstrators take part in an event called 'When the Gretch stole Christmas, the People took it back' on Wednesday, Dec 23, 2020.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's restrictions on businesses have been scaled back significantly since the state's first COVID-19 peak in the spring. But restaurants still are barred from offering indoor dining, restrictions still exist on some businesses and some school districts have opted to keep their schools closed to in-person learning. 

The state has reported a decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since Whitmer's most recent restrictions were put in place in mid-November. As of Wednesday, Michigan's confirmed coronavirus cases totaled 469,928 and 11,775 deaths. 

Dave Novak said he's conscious of the ongoing risk from the virus and avoids indoor gatherings as a result. But the Lansing man attended Wednesday's rally because he said his ability to make those individual choices should be a right extended to people who want to have larger gatherings or restaurants seeking to reopen. 

Kathy Swartz brought her 'recall Whitmer' sign as demonstrators gathered on the State Capitol lawn in spite of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's restrictions designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"It's really important to get them up and running," Novak said of restaurants. "They can do it safely and, if not, they'll be out of business. They're going to do it right."

Chris Waugh of Gladwin came to the rally to support small businesses and schools closed or limited by COVID-19 restrictions. 

Two businesses have already closed in the small mid-Michigan town since the pandemic began, and restaurants "are working nonstop" to pay their employees and make ends meet through takeout orders, said Waugh. 

The elderly are unable to socialize at coffee shops and diners and children with special needs aren't able to get the attention they need from virtual schooling, he said. 

"I'm worried that the virus pandemic and the fear of it is going to kill four times as many people as the actual virus does," Waugh said.