“Gov. Lee, free Tennessee”: Local protesters call for reopening of small businesses

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Protesters rallied throughout Tennessee Sunday to express their concerns for the extended closures among businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes days after Tenn. Gov. Bill Lee extended the state’s stay-at-home order until April 30.

PREVIOUSLY: TN Gov. Bill Lee extends ‘stay-at-home’ order through April 30, plans to reopen economy in May

The Johnson City protest organizer Bridget Cheek fears for those who are unable to feed their families due to a lack of income.

“We’re just looking out for people that are wanting to have freedom to choose whether they stay at home or not — to choose freedom over fear, basically,” Cheek said. “There’s just not enough statistics right now to support this stay-at-home order and the closing of all these businesses that are really essential to people’s lives and their livelihoods right now.

“Those people are suffering. Those are actual numbers right now of people that are suffering, that aren’t able to feed their families, that won’t be reopening, and are wondering what they’re going to do this next year. So, that is what we’re concerned about, and we’re fighting for those people. Some people here are those people.”

One person to show his support at Sunday’s protest included Carter Quillen, a Tenn. congressional candidate who believes the government might have overreached with the safer-at-home mandate.

“I support your First Amendment right to assemble and do business,” Quillen said. “I don’t think the government has the authority to institute punitive measures against people that want to continue on these circumstances. That should be the individual’s choice.

“If a small business owner wants to take the risk, then he should be allowed to take that risk. He shouldn’t have a threat of punitive measures against him for exercising his constitutional freedoms.”

On the other hand, Quillen upholds that he also respects others’ choice to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.

“I think we should respect everyone’s right to social distancing,” Quillen said. “I think social distancing is a good idea under the circumstances, and we shouldn’t go around hugging people who don’t want to be hugged.

“We’ve [his wife and he] been staying quarantined. My wife has respiratory issues, and she’s been scared to death. Maybe she should be, and maybe not. I believe in data and fact-based analysis and analysis-based decision-making. And if you look at the facts that are being made available to us, some of these decisions that are being made seem a little bit excessive. It’s hurting a lot of working people. It’s killing a lot of working people — I mean that metaphorically. Some of these people aren’t going to recover. They’re just going to get put out of business.”

Another Tenn. congressional candidate, Nichole Williams, holds the belief that business owners should be able to continue their usual line of work if they so please. Williams told News Channel 11 that handfuls of people have reached out to her in fear for their unpaid bills and halt of income.

“$1,200 is not enough money to get someone through a six-week period,” Williams said. “We’ve got delays on unemployment checks; I don’t know if anyone is getting these federal unemployment check that they’re supposed to be getting yet.

“This is concerning because it’s not just people who own small businesses. It’s the waiters and waitresses; it’s the retail employees. It’s all kinds of people, and it’s a big deal because the people who are still open are struggling also because a majority of the people who would’ve given them business are now without an income.”

Williams said that those concerned for their health should be able to self-quarantine, as those who are concerned with their incomes should be able to continue their businesses.

“We can’t ask healthy people to stay home to protect the very, very few that could be compromised by this,” Williams said. “These immunocompromised people — they need to remember that they have a compromised immune system and stay away, but normal, healthy people who don’t have compromised immune systems need to be able to get back to work to feed their families.”

Sunday’s protest in Johnson City acts as a precursor to a state-wide protest that will take place in Nashville on April 27, according to Cheek.

Click here for more coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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