Winnie Brinks: No room for racism, sexism in fight against COVID-19

May 3, 2020 6:26 am

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Hundreds of people gathered on the Capitol lawn this past Thursday in opposition to the restrictions put in place by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to mitigate the devastating effects of COVID-19 as it sweeps across the state.

I certainly understand the frustration. We’ve been directed to wear masks, stay in our homes, and separate from our loved ones. More than 1 million of our neighbors, friends and family members face the loss of a job or the closure of a business they’ve spent a lifetime building. The coronavirus has had a profound impact on what we once knew as normal.

But none of that is fixed by waving Confederate flags, carrying signs with gendered insults, comparing Whitmer to Adolf Hitler, or suggesting the governor be hanged.

After the rally outside, they came into the Capitol building with their high-powered rifles, tried to storm the House chamber while representatives were in session, and heckled senators from the gallery. While everyone has a right to disagree with our government and protest peacefully, the behavior displayed Thursday was beyond the pale.

Michigan reaches more than 41K COVID-19 cases, 3,700 deaths

While Whitmer and most of my colleagues are listening to health experts and trying to help our state manage a global pandemic, this rally filled with hate and anger was about something entirely different. The truth is this rally was just a convenient opportunity to broadcast the racist and misogynistic tenets all too common in today’s Republican Party.

Senate leadership may have acknowledged the protestors as “jackasses” in a statement late Friday, but on Thursday, some of their members were mingling with them. The reality is Michigan Republican politicians have stoked this dangerous activity by questioning medical experts and publicly denigrating Whitmer. They are complicit in instigating these rallies, and their big-money backers have been organizing them in multiple states.

This week alone, Republican legislative leaders called us back into session for three days, during which precious little business was done, and not a single bill was passed to provide actual help to Michiganders who are struggling. They did not put dollars in the pockets of hurting Michiganders, or food in their cupboards or provide protections to frontline workers. They did not put computers in the hands of students, or make more affordable housing available, or expand access to health care.

Instead, the few items on the agenda were aimed at weakening the governor’s power and taking away tools allowed her by long-established laws to manage emergencies.

While simultaneously saying they disagree with Whitmer, Republican legislators passed Senate Bill 858, which codifies the vast majority of her executive orders that remain in effect.

But what they left out when codifying her executive orders is telling. First, they did not continue Executive Order 2020-59, the stay-home order, which health experts agree is the governor’s most effective tool for limiting the spread of the virus. And second, they did not continue the orders that explicitly address equity: EO 2020-55, which establishes the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, and EO 2020-64, which affirms anti-discrimination policies and ensures equitable access to care protocols for disabled people.

The actions and inactions of GOP legislative leaders have laid bare their disregard and disrespect for women, Black and Brown people, and the disabled. It also makes crystal clear what many have suspected is true: It’s all about power. It gives the appearance that they simply don’t like it that a Democratic woman and a Black man, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, have been empowered by the voters to make decisions about what happens in our state.

After all, we didn’t hear a peep from them when the previous Gov. Rick Snyder administration extended states of emergency on several occasions.

I know there are Republicans in my community who reject racism, misogyny and discrimination. They should be able to expect each of their leaders to do the same.

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Winnie Brinks
Winnie Brinks

State Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) was elected in 2018 to represent the 29th District including Ada Township, Bowne Township, Caledonia Township, Cascade Township, East Grand Rapids city, Grand Rapids city, Grand Rapids Township, Lowell city, and Lowell Township. She previously served three terms in the state House.