Hundreds of anti-lockdown protestors gathered at the Denver State Capitol on Sunday to demand the state reopen and loosen restrictions implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. They were met by a small and peaceful group of silent healthcare workers representing their cause.
The two sides came face to face with one another in photographs taken by Denver-based photographer Alyson McClaran.
Health care workers stand in the street in counter-protest to hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, Colo., on Sunday, April 19, 2020. Photos by Alyson McClaran pic.twitter.com/yanunDrVKj
— Alyson McClaran (@McclaranAlyson) April 20, 2020
Healthcare workers stood in the crosswalk blocking anti-lockdown protestors’ cars en route to the Capital.
For the most part, the workers have not been identified and their employment at area hospitals has not been confirmed, but as a photographer witnessing the event, McClaran knew she’d found what she was looking for when she came upon the scene.
“Regardless of who they are, it’s more about the message they were sending,” McClaran said.
“It’s more about these two roads colliding: The nurses are trying to be peaceful and say, ‘Go home please,’ and the other side is stressed and angry and scared and they want to reopen.”
McClaran said the man and woman in scrubs held their ground through a green light at the intersection as cars honked and protestors yelled, waving signs.
One woman riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle leaned out the window with a “Land of the Free” poster and chanted, “Land of the free. Go to China if you want communism.”
McClaran’s boyfriend, Marc Zenn, recorded the encounter:
Two nurses, who have witnessed first hand the toll Covid is taking in Colorado, stood up and peacefully counter protested. Here is how they were treated. I had join them. pic.twitter.com/iJnNcqZxSv
— Marc Zenn (@MarcZenn) April 19, 2020
“The nurses just stood their ground,” McClaran said. “They were very peaceful, and I didn’t hear a single word come out of the guy’s mouth.”
A man in another vehicle bumped the front of his car against the man in scrubs and verbally accosted the counter-protestor.
The protest, Operation Gridlock, is a network of right-wing groups and conservatives calling for the country to reopen. Similar demonstrations have taken place across the country as more than 97% of the US population observes shelter-in-place orders.
Even as the deadly virus has claimed more than 40,000 lives in the US alone, supporters of Operation Gridlock claim their livelihoods are at stake, and their personal freedoms and rights are infringed upon by state-mandated pandemic restrictions.
Police on the scene asked the counter-protestors to move out of the roadway so cars could pass during green lights. The healthcare workers were then permitted to stand in the crosswalk and continue to peacefully counter-protest through red lights.
McClaran thinks her photos went viral because “nurses are on the front line and everyone is so supportive of them and thankful.”
Westword reporter Chase Woodruff, who was also covering the rally, was able to speak to two unidentified counter-protestors.
Remarkable scene at 12th and Grant, where two healthcare workers from a Denver-area hospital — they declined to say which or give their names — are standing in the crosswalk during red lights as a “reminder,” they say, of why shutdown measures are in place. pic.twitter.com/7xTjXvGN2E
— Chase Woodruff (@dcwoodruff) April 19, 2020
“It’s really tough,” the woman, identified only as ‘Jo’ and a physician’s assistant, told Westword. “If they get sick, we’re the ones that are going to take care of them.”
“I work every night… I work tonight, and I take care of patients inside the hospital, with and without COVID. It’s catastrophic, and it’s devastating.”
‘Jo’ told Woodruff that people on the street were thanking her for her service and for demonstrating. McClaran also said that many people on the street acted as voices for healthcare workers, defending them from the angry anti-lockdown camp.
Colorado has confirmed over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and 447 deaths. The state has issued an order to remain on lockdown until April 26.
According to President Trump, many states will be able to start reopening on May 1.
Twitter users are tagging their support for healthcare workers’ counter-protest with the hashtag #IStandWithHealthcareWorkers.
— Ky ♡ (@kycornwell) April 20, 2020
What a #bossbabe. The complete calmness in the face of ugliness is what we should all strive for. Heroes dont all look the same. Some come in green scrubs #IStandWithHealthcareWorkers #denverprotest pic.twitter.com/REugs1uGoA
— chaostheoryXD (@chaostheoryXD) April 20, 2020
— Dr. Dana L. Pertermann, PhD (@Pertermann_arch) April 20, 2020