Cedar Attanasio/AP Photo
People are coming to D.C. to protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Cedar Attanasio/AP Photo
Just a week after Mayor Muriel Bowser requires select businesses to check proof of vaccination, thousands of people appear to be planning a trip to D.C. to protest vaccine mandates on the National Mall. "Defeat the Mandates: An American Homecoming" is a march and rally on January 23rd that organizers say is being held in order to show their objection to vaccine requirements on businesses or schools that have taken effect across the country.
The event, headlined by several conservative, anti-vaccine advocates, is taking place on federal land, as national protests hosted in D.C. typically do. But some residents are concerned for local business owners and hospitality workers, who could be on the receiving end of protesters looking to buck any mandate and make a point. Residents recall times when right-wing protesters from out of town descended on D.C. and caused mayhem.
At least 20,000 people are expected to attend the anti-mandate protest, according to a permit application submitted from the Children's Health Defense, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s anti-vaccine organization, to the National Park Service. The permit has not been issued yet, but NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst says the agency is expected to do so next week.
The spokesperson for the protest tells DCist/WAMU over 30,000 people have signed up online for the event, including several hundred local firefighters and first responders. He says organizers decided to host their event in D.C. because that's where Dr. Anthony Fauci lives and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is located. In other words, organizers did not plan around the implementation of D.C.'s own vaccine requirement, which takes effect Jan. 15, but were more interested in D.C. because it's the nation's capital.
A post warning locals of possible disruptions is making the rounds on social media. "PROTESTERS INTEND TO ENTER HOSPITALITY VENUES TO CHALLENGE DC'S VACCINE MANDATE," it says. "PROTECT YOURSELF." The Instagram account, @intheweeds_dmv, which shares experiences and happenings in the region, appears to have first circulated it.
The account confirms that it was referring to the "Defeat the Mandates: An American Homecoming" event, and that 40,000 people allegedly registered. However, it did not immediately provide any proof of protesters intending to disrupt local businesses. In direct messages with DCist/WAMU, the account also noted that the heavily-attended, anti-abortion rally, March For Life, was also scheduled for that weekend.
The event spokesperson says anyone attending the anti-mandate protest should not disrupt local businesses. At the bottom of a recent press release for "Defeat the Mandates," it says "Organizers urge all those participating in the march to be respectful to those affected local businesses including dining establishments and hotels forced to operate under DC's mandate."
The event page has been encouraging attendees to book at hotels in Arlington due to D.C.'s vaccine requirement. "Many of our Arlington, VA hotel blocks have already sold out. We still have hotel blocks in DC, but please be aware of the requirements for proof of vaccination or negative covid test," the website says.
The timing of the protest is inopportune, given that businesses will just be getting used to enforcing the vaccine requirement. According to workers at businesses that have already instituted their own vaccine mandate, many patrons are understanding. Throughout the pandemic, D.C. has proved itself to be a city of rule followers. The fear among some workers is what happens when out-of-towners pay a visit - particularly those ardently opposed to mandates or other COVID-19 protocols?
"When the Proud Boys came, there was violence or stabbings, there was just a cloud of uncertainty," says Zac Hoffman, who's long worked in the restaurant industry and is the club manager at the National Democratic Club. "And then, of course, January 6 — anytime you hear about any kind of demonstration, that's certainly where your mind goes."
"I don't think we're quite at that level of concern, but I think the overarching feeling is, it's better to be prepared and ready than to not take something seriously," he continues.
Hoffman is currently preparing his staff to enforce the mandate. He says restaurants that are located close to the National Mall should at least consider closing or ensure support to whoever is manning the door. Make sure multiple staff members are available to check proof of vaccination or possibly de-escalate a conformational patron, he suggests.
"We're kind of suffering from a little bit of January 6 post-traumatic stress," says Tony Tomelden of the Pug, a bar in the H Street Corridor. "Every time this comes up, we're like, 'Oh my God, they're going to come again.'"
He says it remains to be seen how large the protest actually is. Sometimes, these gatherings end up being a crowd of a few dozen people. But it's always good to be vigilant, he adds. He isn't really worried about bars like his, figuring out-of-town protesters wouldn't trek over to neighborhood dive bars. He is more concerned for the workers of fast-casual restaurants or familiar chains located downtown.
Either way, Tomelden plans on posting his own flyer at his bar, partially joking but still warning patrons of what's to come: "ON 1/23/22 @ 11:30 AM SOME FOLKS DESPERATELY SEEKING ATTENTION MAY BE HARASSING ESTABLISHMENTS ENFORCING DC MANDATES ... AVOID THEM THEY WILL LEAVE TOWN SOON ENOUGH."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.