Crowd holds caravan-style protest in favor of Anchorage reopening with state

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 6:52 PM AKDT
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Hundreds of cars crowded the streets of Midtown and Downtown Anchorage Wednesday. In the cars were Alaskans that are unsatisfied with many parts of the economy still being closed.

The protest mainly took aim at Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's plan to reopen businesses on a slower timetable than the state.

Some of those same folks expressed to KTUU that they were onboard with how Gov. Mike Dunleavy is handling reopening business.

Both the governor and the mayor have said in press conferences that they are working closely together on a plan. Right now, Anchorage is set to reopen some businesses starting on Monday, after the rest of the state begins its opening on Friday.

On the Facebook event page, organizers said to those attending that they should stay in their cars and follow social distancing protocols while obeying traffic laws.

There was some mingling between folks while they prepared to leave the Loussac Library, where they all met up, but once they departed, it appeared the protesters stayed in their cars.

Their route went through Midtown and down A St., where the cars did a loop through downtown caravan-style. The whole time, drivers honked their horns while passengers waved flags and signs out of their windows.

The people who spoke to KTUU said that they don't believe the virus is a hoax. However, they feel Alaska's response to shut down businesses was too much.

"I mean, there's definitely a virus, there's definitely stuff going on. People are getting sick, people are dying," protester Kevin Sosinski said, "but at the same time, people are dying at home. They need to get back to work."

For some participants, the protest was their first. Melissa Steen was one of those, and said she's not out of work at her consulting firm, but all of her clients are.

"Never thought I'd have to protest for my rights," Steen said. "If we throw ourselves into a depression, the suicide rates, the absolute poverty levels that are going to happen, will be much worse than we're seeing now."

As a nurse anesthetist who doesn't have work without elective procedures, April Erickson said she feels business owners can open responsibly.

"Everybody's paychecks and bills says they're not going fast enough," she said. "As a healthcare worker, I believe that there is a way to balance safety and people working."

Her husband, Todd, is a pilot who hasn't been able to fly much since the novel coronavirus became a concern. He said he thinks Alaska should open up fast because COVID-19 isn't as serious here.

"Our bed capacity in the hospitals? We're not utilizing it. We have enough where if it does spike, we can go. So why wait another week?" he asked.

Not everyone they passed agreed with what the protesters were doing. Cedar Bear stopped and wrote, 'Stay home' on his hand, and stood silently with it open as cars rolled by honking their horns.

"I'm in the same spot they are right now. I just lost a really awesome job personally," he said. "It's okay to be angry about, but this is not the answer. You can be taken advantage of by this virus and you can end up getting hurt in the process."

Bear said he thinks Alaska should stay hunkered down a while longer, so that businesses can open up with less risk of people getting sick. Based on what Mayor Berkowitz said in response to the protest at his Wednesday press conference, Bear isn't the only one.

"There are a large part number of people, who maybe aren't protesting, but who are standing on the side of saying, we are hunkering down, because that is the safe thing for us to do," Berkowitz said, "and the amount of input that I get from people who want to make sure that we move ahead slowly, deliberately is also something that we pay attention to."

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