“By doing nothing, by distancing ourselves from others, by staying home we are making a difference,” Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday in a video message.
York Daily Record
More than anything, they say, they want a seat at the table where decisions are being made.
Matthew Bellis and Teo De Las Heras didn’t know each other before this week, but now they’re on the same mission. They’ve joined thousands of other residents across the state who are asking Gov. Tom Wolf to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy.
They fear the impact of Wolf’s strict quarantine, so they’ll travel to Harrisburg Monday to stand with other groups on the steps of the state Capitol – at a safe social distance – to ask the governor for a time-specific strategy to end the quarantine.
Bellis, from Lancaster County, and De Las Hera, from Bucks County, belong to ReOpen PA. Standing with them will be members of Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine and End the Lockdown PA.
“I don’t think there’s one person in Pennsylvania who would like to be in Tom Wolf’s shoes. It would be a very difficult job,” Bellis said, but he’s frustrated that governors in five other states are building a strategy with Wolf, but he’s excluding his electorate.
“They’re part of the conversation, but we’re not,” Bellis said. “We don’t want to be in your shoes, but we do want to be a part of the conversation.”
Wolf outlined a phased plan Friday, though without a timetable, for the state’s reopening.
‘Open your business’
Protesters at the Ohio Statehouse Monday demanded a reopening of businesses. Gov. Mike DeWine agreed Thursday, while Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf hasn’t revealed a plan for reopening. A protest Monday is expected at Harrisburg’s Capitol building, demanding Wolf’s plan for phasing residents out of the quarantine. (Photo: Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch)
Reopen Pennsylvania, a group unaffiliated with the other three, won’t participate in Monday’s rally but has created a call to action, sharing its intentions “to officially resume business operations as of May 1.”
Its petition says: “Business owners, open your business. Follow the CDC guidelines of providing social distancing. Practice the societal norms of proper hygiene and sanitization. If you are confronted by an officer, do not engage. Accept your fine and contact an attorney. We have the power of safety in numbers.”
Group organizer Kirk Durbin owns a small business that was forced to shut down. The loans haven’t materialized, and unemployment hasn’t come through.
In Blair County, where he lives, there are 14 confirmed cases of the virus among 122,000 people. He doesn’t understand why the quarantine regulations are as strict for his county as they are for other, more virus-heavy locations.
“My gripe is that they’re not listening,” he said.
Bellis and De Las Heras are not advocating for a definite date, but they want the governor to provide a clear plan for reopening. All three of them want taxpayers to have a seat at the table, to have a voice when Wolf makes his decisions.
De Las Heras organized ReOpen PA, a Facebook group, on April 13; five days later, the group had reached close to 27,000. Their motto is: “Protect the vulnerable. Open the economy. Champion liberty.”
They created a video in their fist week to explain their mission.
He and Bellis are worried that, while there are people at risk for the coronavirus, there are many others left vulnerable from the economic shutdown.
“When we say we want to open up the economy, it’s not a desire for Wall Street to get bigger. … It has everything to do with everybody’s daily lives,” Bellis said. “This lockdown is hurting people.”
They’re asking the media to uncover who’s vulnerable now: Abusive situations in the home; people with no income; people at risk who are working outside the home.
“There’s a huge risk for the people who have to work outside the home,” De Las Heras said. “Now you have kids not going to school and not being able to ask for help. It just gives me chills for all those people we are leaving behind. We’re really missing out on that insight.”
Who is essential?
Justin Tyler Wann watched the construction grind to a halt in Lancaster, where he lives and works. He sees that work – of building hotels and modernizing the community – as essential to Lancaster’s future.
“I get the safety precautions to a degree, but who’s to say what’s essential and who’s not. We have not had a say,” he said. “If we have to wear (masks) 24/7, I’m all for it. I have at-risk family members … But you can’t close down businesses and expect people to be OK with it.”
He belongs to Reopen Pennsylvania. A common theme in these Facebook groups is the delineation of essential versus non-essential workers and how Wolf chose them.
Wolf’s decisions – some of the strictest in the nation – engenders comments likening this quarantine to a police state.
On ReOpen Pennsylvania, one person wrote, in part: “The American people are not insisting that the economy open. The American people are not choosing the economy over lives. The American people are insisting on a return to rule of law under the Constitution and government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
‘In a bubble’
Matthew Bellis is one of the organizers of ReOpen PA, a group that has gathered nearly 27,000 members since it formed April 13. ReOpen PA is one of three groups that will be represented at a rally in Harrisburg April 20 on the Capitol steps. They’re asking people to social distance at the rally or even stay in their car and honk in agreement. What they want is more openness from the governor about his phase-in process for the state’s economy, among other things. (Photo: Submitted)
“We need to get out of this,” said state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), who will be speaking at the rally Monday.
Like the others, Diamond is looking for an articulated plan from Wolf.
“He’s kind of in a bubble,” Diamond said, explaining that Wolf is talking little to his Legislature about his plans. “That’s not a criticism of the guy. I think he’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s not getting enough input and not using the communication tools at his disposal.”
Diamond getss inundated with phone calls after the governor makes decisions, but he’s not learning about any of those in advance.
He’ll talk about that at the rally, but he also plans to talk about the food supply chain.
“I have gotten two reports in the last 12 hours of poultry being exterminated because there aren’t enough employees showing up to process them.”
Those disruptions – and he knows of more – will eventually reach consumers.
“Those can’t be rebuilt over night,” he said.
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Wolf said Thursday he was not aware of a protest planned for noon Monday outside the state Capitol building.
The protest “would be unfortunate, if they actually go through with that,” the governor said.
“That’s going to be their choice. I’m sorry that that’s happening, if that in fact happens, because to the extent they’re banding together and violating the social distancing guidelines, they’re actually hurting themselves,” Wolf said.
Rally organizers are asking anyone attending to practice social distancing and wear appropriate protective equipment. For those worried about standing near the crowd, feel free to honk in support from a car, Bellis said.
“We each feel that we are responsible citizens. We are adults and want to be treated as such,” said Bellis, suggesting that Wolf is dictating more than leading. “We are living in a free society, and you need to give your people the freedoms that they have.”
Kim Strong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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