REOPEN NC is a Facebook Group created on April 7. As of the morning of April 18 it had received nearly 3,000 likes and claimed 33,521 members. I first encountered it while reading The Daily Beast online. According to their group description, they: “are residents of North Carolina that stand for The Constitution and demand our officials Reopen NC no later than April 29, 2020 … The shutdown is not warranted, nor sustainable for our area. The vulnerable can be isolated or protected in other ways, without sacrificing our entire state economy. It’s important to note, several other states have not enacted stay at home orders.”

Megan Kendall is the individual who put up the site. To her credit and that of the site’s administrators, there are some ground rules for posting that include: “Be Kind and Courteous;” “No Hate Speech or Bullying;” “No Promotions or Spam;” and “Respect Everyone’s Privacy.” Politeness, however, is not an excuse for promoting actions that may kill someone.

Yesterday they made national news with a Reopen NC Rally in Raleigh, when approximately 100 people gathered to protest stay-at-home orders. At least one protester was arrested after refusing to obey police requests to refrain from assembling for what was deemed a “non-essential activity.”

Apparently the group is going to model the behavior of Moral Monday protests. They plan to show up in Raleigh on Tuesdays to object to the current stay-at-home, social distancing restrictions. They have also incited a number of opponents to found an opposition Facebook page, Stay Home NC, but that’s another story.

I suspect we will begin to see more of these groups around the United States as social distancing guidelines remain in effect and as the economic toll on small businesses increase. Although some of these protests originate with people who are already on the fringe (Ashley Smith of Morganton, one of the site administrators, has used social media to advance her opposition to vaccinations), they bring into play a set of individuals who were outside the Tea Party phenomenon of the Obama era. We all know how badly that movement played out, both for our state and the nation.

One can reasonably argue Tea Party grievances were grounded in xenophobia, racism and/or mounting tensions fueled by growing economic inequality and the inauguration of an African-American President. However, the pandemic economic woes are more immediate, more obvious, and more likely to hit a broader swath of the population. And they don’t have an easy villain to blame, although our President is slowly rolling out a number of options: the World Health Organization; Democrats and Democratic governors; China; immigrants, who brought in the virus and are spreading it; scientists and health experts; and Fake News, who hyped a flu outbreak into a pandemic. So, individuals who were not attracted to the Tea Party might make common cause with something like REOPEN NC when they can’t pay the rent for their shop.

Economies like ours are dependent on small businesses and, to a significant extent, tourism. Closing shops, most of whose owners do not have a comfortable cash reserve nor a bevy of lawyers to ensure they get immediate assistance from government programs, causes palpable pain. And to have them closed and travel-restricted during the coming months of high tourist season means they are unlikely to earn the money necessary to keep them alive in the leaner winter months. Combine that with the loss of the WCU and SCC student populations and we’ve got a real likelihood of local economic disaster.

The popping up of REOPEN NC reaffirms our ideological divisiveness, particularly as it relates to suspicion of government in any form. Yet, if the pandemic has proven anything, it is that there are some situations which require, for quick and effective responses, capable government action. Certainly that is not what the United States got with regard to our current situation and it is reaping the effects of likely millions of undetected coronavirus carriers abroad in the land. Many Americans prefer libertarian individualism, except when they don’t – think Social Security, good roads, clean air, all of which require a collaborative effort. Hyper-individualism does not build bridges, find vaccines, nor favorably regard a desire to promote “the general welfare.”

What that means for us is that we need to be particularly sensitive to the economic toll the pandemic has, is and will take on our local businesses. We need to be prepared to support them when they reopen and to work toward local, state and national remedies that help make them whole. 

We need to persuade voters that if we want to rebuild our country they need to turn to Democrats (note FDR after Hoover and Obama after Bush). There was never a Trump Prosperity, but only an extension of the Obama economy, until, suddenly there wasn’t. And that happened on Trump’s watch, although there is plenty of evidence that he wasn’t doing much serious watching early on. And we need to do that while affirming the wisdom of science. North Carolina’s COVID-19 spread has not been as severe as that of other states precisely because of the swift action of our Governor and the overwhelming positive response of citizens who are practicing social distancing guidelines.