Mandates are ending in US, but protests outside officials’ homes continue
By Alyssa Lukpat
Many pandemic restrictions in the United States and Canada have been relaxed, but that has not stopped protesters from gathering outside some government officials’ homes and badgering them.
Although vaccination and masking rules have generally eased in the past few months, protests have continued outside officials’ residences in Massachusetts and other places in the United States, and in Nova Scotia and Alberta in Canada. Demonstrators have disrupted traffic, disturbed neighbors and, in some cases, targeted officials with racist and sexist language.
Since she took office in November, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has been targeted by demonstrators. Many of them oppose her vaccination mandates requiring city workers and some people in indoor settings to be vaccinated, although one has been held up by a court ruling. They have been pestering her for weeks outside her home, calling her “Hitler” and shouting at her children that she was going to prison, she said on Twitter in January.
Wu lifted the city’s universal indoor mask requirement earlier this month, but the protests have not stopped.
Protesters have also harangued a Boston city council member, Ricardo Arroyo, outside his home, he said on Twitter last week.
In Nova Scotia last month, some people who opposed the Canadian province’s pandemic restrictions demonstrated outside the home of Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health. Nova Scotia has been lifting restrictions in phases since last month.
In January, demonstrators opposing pandemic requirements in Calgary, Alberta, gathered outside the home of the mayor, Jyoti Gondek.
Many of the targets of protesters are women or people of color, or both.
“Unfortunately, many women of color serving in positions of leadership are used to this,” Wu told reporters in January.
Monica Wang, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and an associate director at the university’s Center for Antiracist Research, said while the public had a right to question pandemic policies, an official’s gender or ethnicity “shouldn’t be part of the conversation.”
“It calls into question: What is the actual argument being made?” Wang said.
Catherine Vitale, 31, has been protesting outside Wu’s home for a few days a week since January. She said she started going because she opposed Wu’s vaccine mandate for city workers, and she later went to protest school masking and other requirements.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with her race or gender,” said Vitale, who lives in Boston and said she had lost jobs during the pandemic. “It’s completely about her policy.”
Some officials have tried to limit the protests with ordinances or amendments to existing laws that restrict when and where people can gather.
Last month, Wu proposed a city rule to block “residential picketing” from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. The Boston City Council approved her proposal at a meeting Wednesday, clearing the way for Wu to sign it into law. On Friday, the police said that five protesters near her home were fined for violating the rule, The Boston Globe reported. Vitale told the newspaper in a statement that the demonstrators had not known that the ordinance was in effect.
After protesters arrived outside Strang’s home in Nova Scotia, provincial authorities amended a law last week to block protesters from coming within 50 meters (164 feet) of a health official’s home. In January, a Florida state senator proposed a bill to limit protests outside people’s homes.
Marty Walsh, a former mayor of Boston, did not face these kinds of protests before he left to become the U.S. labor secretary, but public health authorities across the United States have been harassed for their pandemic policies, according to a study published in March in the American Journal of Public Health.
More than half of the 583 local health departments surveyed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported that some members of their staff had been harassed in the first 11 months of the pandemic.
In April 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease doctor, began receiving enhanced security from the federal government after he encouraged social distancing and began receiving threats. He has continued to face harsh criticism, and some Republican politicians have echoed attacks on him from right-wing commentators.