About 200 people Monday peacefully descended on Honolulu Hale and the state Capitol to rail against public and private employers in Hawaii forcing workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or take weekly infection tests.
The group began the public demonstration at Thomas Square around 10 a.m. and made stops on a walking rally route that also included the state Department of Health, with participants giving speeches over a loudspeaker and displaying signs urging others to stand up against what they view as an infringement on personal freedom.
During the three-hour event, Mayor Rick Blangiardi spoke with some demonstrators, workers were encouraged to walk out on Wednesday and some protesters contended that masks harm children and aren’t effective in reducing the spread of coronavirus cases that have spiked to record levels throughout the state in the past couple of weeks.
“It’s our body, it’s our choice — we the people, hear our voice,” was a repeated rally cry from participants who almost universally did not wear masks and carried many signs displaying messages that included “Let us choose,” “Live free or die,” “Masks are useless,” “A‘ole mandates” and “Freedom not fear.”
The demonstration followed Thursday’s announcement by Gov. David Ige, backed by Hawaii’s four mayors, to impose the vaccine-or-test requirement starting Monday for state and county executive branch employees.
Major private employers in the state, including four hospital system operators and the two biggest banks, also have adopted similar policies recently. Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s largest air carrier, also announced Monday that it would require all of its U.S.-based employees to receive vaccines.
Ige on Monday said he and the mayors have been mindful of individual rights but that the overwhelming majority of local community members have been willing to sacrifice this notion to protect the health and safety of everyone.
Ige, who spoke on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s online Spotlight Hawaii livestream program, also said many people with concerns over local coronavirus policies cite inaccurate information.
“I appreciate and I hear the concerns (of) those who disagree with my policies,” he said. “I do hear the protesters around the state.”
Blangiardi, after speaking with some demonstrators at Honolulu Hale, posted messages on Twitter refuting claims by some protesters that COVID-19 vaccines are untested and experimental.
“I appreciate hearing differing views and welcome debate in every decision I make,” he tweeted. “However, I will always favor opinions from the experts in their field, and the experts are nearly unanimous. The vaccine is safe, effective and the best way to prevent future COVID-19 deaths.”
Some demonstrators who spoke during the rally encouraged listeners to do their own research, while others made claims about the harm of vaccines and masks.
William “Bud” Stonebraker, who vied for the mayor’s job last year, told the crowd that the right way forward is through natural immunity and that not opposing vaccine mandates will lead to forced vaccinations in the future every two, three, four or six months in order to go to the grocery store.
“If this movement dies, we will not have freedom in Hawaii,” he told the crowd. “We will be slaves of the pharmaceutical monster that has been launched on us.”
Reno Remigio Jr. encouraged rallygoers not to ostracize people who took the vaccine or wear masks, and also asked that people who want the opposite not be ostracized or forced against their will.
“Please support us for our right to choose for ourselves,” he said. “I want to make the choice for myself and my kids.”
Gary Cordery, director of an organization called Aloha Freedom Coalition, urged government and private- sector workers along with anyone who values freedom and liberty to meet at Thomas Square for “Walkout Wednesday” in further protest of vaccine mandates.
Jaina Cassidy encouraged workers to seek religious exemptions for getting the vaccine, which government and private-sector employers are allowing, but also said people opposed to the vaccine-or-test policy need to stand up and speak against it.
“It’s not a time to back down,” she said at the Capitol. “The fight is now and the time is now.”