I interviewed Kimberly Edwards, the young mother who organized the #FreeTN protests across the state of Tennessee after starting a Facebook group that grew from 30 people to over 7,000 in only four days last month. Now that the April 19 and 27 protests have occurred, the #FreeTN group is considering a different approach by contacting state representatives to bring their concerns to politicians directly. With every call made, the same message is being relayed that the situation is out of their hands, as the health department has jurisdiction in the pandemic response.
It represents a dead-end to the political movement when the health department takes over. Going back to the drawing board, the back-to-work protesters are looking for other ways to get their message heard. Regardless of their aspirations, there is a plan that has been put forth for the various jurisdictions in the state to follow. Plans for reopening are not to be date-driven, but rather data-driven, according to Mayor John Cooper of Nashville.
Now Ms. Edwards is looking for doctors to help take their cause to the health department, but she hasn’t found anyone with real clout who already sits at the discussion tables of any of the major hospitals or medical boards in the state. When there is no one advocating for a cause who regularly sits at the decision-making tables before an outbreak such as COVID-19 happens, it can be quite difficult to be heard in the midst of managing a crisis while it is happening. The #FreeTN movement has its work cut out for them to make their voices heard in a more effective way.
Another obstacle that may make it difficult for the movement to be taken seriously is that social-distancing measures that are highly suggested by the health department were almost entirely ignored by the protesters. Seeing that most of these folks did not act out of an abundance of caution, taking their case to the health department, instead of to their representatives, to consider their charge feels like an oxymoron.
As much as it can be commended to organize and fight for the right to work, if protesters want to be taken seriously by the health department, they should probably not downplay the asymptomatic danger that COVID-19 presents by gathering people together in a crowd that ultimately shirks social-distancing or screams “fake pandemic” while their spittle drifts through the air. Regardless of intentions to not cause harm, this type of gathering could be the catalyst for further spread of the disease. That seems to be the chance that many Tennesseans are willing to take, except maybe the one woman who decided to wear a mask.
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