A caravan of about 50 vehicles Sunday traveled from the state Capitol to Costco in Kapolei to protest what participants consider governmental overreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advertised as the 2020 Caravan to Restore Our Freedoms by organizers Emil Svrcina and Kai Lorinc, the mobile demonstration brought together an informal coalition of residents who disagree with state mandates relating to the cessation of nonessential business activity, social distancing and other COVID-19 containment measures.
The caravan came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s public comments about the need to “reopen” the country, organized efforts by certain conservative and political special-interest groups to incite anti- quarantine protest, and a subsequent wave of relatively small but high-profile demonstrations against state-mandated stay-at-home regulations.
Many of the vehicles at Sunday’s event bore messages espousing the primacy of individual liberties and personal freedom and denouncing government-mandated restrictions on business and personal activities. The riders themselves were a low-key and convivial bunch, content to occupy a faraway corner of the Costco parking lot to compare ideological notes and make connections. Several wore nonsurgical masks with the understanding that it was a matter of individual choice, not because of the emergency order requiring the use of masks at essential businesses.
“We’re not denying that the virus exists,” said Lucky Ito, 40, of Salt Lake. “We just feel that the government is overstepping by imposing rules that are doing serious harm to the economy and ultimately hurting a lot of people.”
Ito, who operates a wedding videography business, said shutting down businesses deemed nonessential has put thousands of residents in tenuous economic situations with no clear end in sight. He said the virus could still be contained without the state regulating individual behavior.
“Don’t hold our hands,” said Ito, a former registered Democrat who switched parties during the Obama administration. “We’re not kids. We’re adults. We’re managers, people who run companies, people who play a huge part in making Hawaii what it is. If they keep things closed, the economy will crash hugely, and that gives other countries like China, Russia and Canada the opportunity to take over. It’s going to cost lives.”
Attorney Jim Hochberg said he opposes measures like the Easter weekend curfew, which he said was unnecessary given Hawaii’s specific coronavirus situation. Of greater concern, he said, is the suspension of civil liberties to address a situation that may not be as bad as originally feared.
“I’m not saying (the government wasn’t) telling the truth, but we’re getting more details, more information, and if it’s not that bad, we can’t ignore civil liberties for something that isn’t that bad,” he said. “If Chernobyl happened, you have to do what you have to do. I don’t think that’s the case in Hawaii.
“We’re at the point right now where Governor Ige has to start focusing on civil liberties,” he continued. “Churches need to be able to meet. People need to work. People have to sell things out of stores. The president has given us a really good incremental way to get to that, and I don’t want our state government to be antagonistic about it because they really don’t like President Trump.”
Costco employees and shoppers were largely unaware of the group’s presence. Of those who noticed, few appeared sympathetic.
“It seems awfully selfish,” said shopper John Ledet, 66, of Kapolei. “It’s their personal choice to risk the lives of everybody else? I don’t agree.”