Hundreds of demonstrators made their way through the streets of Raleigh on Tuesday calling on state officials to speed up efforts to re-open the state and its economy.
The protest was part of a series of rallies and marches planned by ReopenNC, a grassroots organization in favor of reversing measures that have limited economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group has encouraged its members to contact local officials as well as petition the state and federal governments, and they have a substantial presence on social media. The Facebook group has amassed more than 67,000 members to date and sponsored many local groups for counties across the state, including a joint group for Durham and Orange counties.
Among those members is Ashley Smith, the co-founder of ReopenNC, who had begun her efforts by individually lobbying elected officials last month.
She said she started the group because she was disgruntled by the idea that state and local officials could prolong the shutdown of economic activity for several more weeks or even months, which could put many people’s livelihoods at risk.
Smith said she was very aware of the risks of demonstrating publicly for this cause, but it was important for her freedom of expression to be protected. She said she told the demonstrators that had gathered in Raleigh on Tuesday to keep their distance and said many did. She also said she saw many demonstrators wearing masks and other protective equipment.
“Everyone knows the risk here. I’m rallying to open the state,” Smith said. “I’m rallying for people to have their rights to come and go as they please, to worship in a church, to sit down beside their neighbor and shake their hand, to open their businesses. That’s my stance.”
The state government has addressed public concerns for these mass gatherings. William C. McKinney, general counsel for the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, mailed a letter in response to an attorney who petitioned him representing activists in favor of reopening the state.
In the letter, the governor’s office acknowledged that outdoor protests had not been prohibited by executive orders issued by the governor in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.