“Do you oppose infanticide?”
I had to admit that I do. And I took one of the nice lady’s brochures, detailing all the current proposed legislative bills she and her colleagues opposed, on the grounds that they would allow the murder of infants (“Kill the Bill, Not the Babies”), forcing of vaccinations COVID or otherwise, teaching of perversion, and even more liberal atrocities. I thanked her and kept moving through the loud crowd, seeking to prevent any further detailed interaction.
It was the grand “People’s Convoy for Freedom” rally at the State Capitol. I was there by an accident of timing, having come to help represent California physicians in advocating various medical and public health goals - expanded access to medical care, for one, and yes, gulp, increasing COVID and other vaccination rates. Who knew our visit coincided with this rally? Not I. But one couldn’t avoid it now. Walking from a meeting over to the Capitol building, the volume of honking horns increased with every step closer. A line of large and small trucks and cars, from big semis to funky antique pickups, inched around the big Capitol building block, honking away. Lots of folks with signs and flags were yelling and giving the trucks the thumbs-up. Caught up in the spirit, I waved at some of them too.
At the West edge of the Capitol, the lead trucks had come to a halt, where polite police were helping them park, then putting up barriers at each end of the block. A band was setting up on the broad white Capitol steps. Clearly today’s festivities were fully permitted - no January 6 “legitimate political discourse” here. But damn was it loud. All the parked and parking trucks now had their horns on constant play. It was like a big blaring ambient assaultive wall of sound, like Lou Reed’s infamous “Metal Machine Music” cranked to eleven. We strolled on, seeking a bit less volume. My colleague asked one of the young musicians setting up who they were, and he replied simply “Christians.” Further attempts at questioning indicated he really didn’t want to chat, so we on we ambled.
Some “merch” booths were being installed on the sidewalk across from all the parked vehicles. A t-shirt vendor appeared particularly well-organized. His display featured shirts implying Fauci is a Nazi, people who get vaccines have been “sheepinated,” and that Jesus votes for Donald Trump (which still strikes me as the biggest stretch of all). Around the corner he had some shirts and stickers urging “Stop the Steal.” My colleague, succumbing to an ill-advised urge, asked the vendor what was being stolen. “The election!” Was the loud retort. Further gently pressed with the news that even Republican officials and judges had turned back every one of Trump’s attempts to overturn the Constitution, that each forced recount had turned up even more votes for Biden, and that the leaders of Trump’s “stolen election” campaign had just confessed and pled guilty to the whole thing being a money-milking scam, the patriot began to yell at us. “You’re an ignorant moron!” he shouted. He kept on, loudly, for quite some time as we walked away. We didn’t get any shirts.
We went to meet a legislator, after passing through all the metal detectors, for a polite, informed chat about some the health issues of the day. The only allusion to the rally outside was a lament about the failures of education. I walked back with a different colleague, a pediatrician who grew up poor, on Medi-Cal, and persevered to dedicate her career to healing and helping kids. Drifting a bit behind, I accepted a brochure from a smiling rallier, who sweetly asked if I was “pro-poison shots.” No, just vaccines, I mumbled, but not quietly enough, for he exploded, yelling that I and my “fascist friend” were killers and idiots. And we aren’t even abortion providers.
One graffiti’d SUV had not only “Stop child vax” written on the side but also “CH 37 - LED ZEP.” Well now I was intrigued. Did the legendary Led Zeppelin have something illuminating to say or sing about vaccines or abortion? Was leader Jimmy Page, long ago a collector and acolyte of infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley, sending coded messages favoring Trump? It was all so mysterious, but the only guy standing nearby just laughed at my questions. Meanwhile the Christian rockers were cranking it out up on the stairs. Alas, while they could play, they were no Led Zep.
Back at the hotel meeting room I read the handouts I’d gathered. The problem of the day and focus of the rally, it seemed, was a “tyrannical ten” roster of proposed bills focused on immunization mandates, consent, information, and misinformation “censorship.” The “infanticide” bill was not on this list but a little sleuthing showed it’s a proposed heightening of medical privacy surrounding fetal death, arising from abortions or not, to protect women from the type of profiteering vigilante anti-choice snooping and prosecution now being proposed and enacted in more conservative states. It’s likely at least in part a preventive and preparatory policy change in anticipation of ever more anti-choice changes, right up to the repeal of Roe vs. Wade. It seems that some peoples’ interpretation of “freedom” from state intrusions into private lives can be quite selective. Especially those who can’t get pregnant.
We did not see a single non-white person at the rally, whatever that might mean. It looked a lot like a bikers’ convention, with a smattering of Sunday church BBQ and tons of fading tattoos. And almost all involved seemed quite polite, at least until questioned, and very happy to be there. We’d been urged not to wear white lab coats outside, just to be safe, but that probably wasn’t necessary after all.
Humans get their meaning in life wherever they might. The original truckers’ rally, in Canada, was opposed by their own union, funded by outside right-wing interests, and very unclear about exactly they were so upset about. This one seemed at least slightly more focused, maybe. Their website - which begins with a donation button and states they’ve raised almost $1.8 million as of mid-April, and then photos of a rogue’s gallery of obscure fringe characters - states that “Our core principals (sic) of FREEDOM AND LIBERTY give rise to the convoy’s request to end the State of Emergency that led to overreaching mandates” (elsewhere it’s stated not as a request but a demand). They apparently kicked off the convoy with an address from one of the “frontline doctors” who have been discredited for continuing to advocate disproven COVID “treatments,” besides disparaging vaccines. But, one might ask, how many of the rally participants had multiple vaccinations as kids, in order to attend public (ie, socialized) schools, and how many of their own kids have had such shots - without any uproar? Why so much divisiveness and anti-science rhetoric now? Those questions are for the hundreds of books about our times. But Barack Obama, likely none too popular among this “nonpartisan” crowd and speaking at Stanford the next day, observed that “Our new information ecosystem is turbo-charging some of humanity’s worst impulses.” The wonders of the internet are certainly at least part of the pathology and diagnosis. These used to be purely fringe cranks hardly anybody knew of; Richard Nixon called the rabid John Birch Society “kooks.”
Inside, at our well-guarded medical gathering, the state attorney general got numerous ovations from medical students and doctors favoring whatever has actually been shown to work to improve health. Outside, they didn’t seem to care about that little detail - what actually works - favoring policies that would actually increase unwanted pregnancies and abortions, spread dangerous diseases, and undermine the very Constitution their brochure urged us all to “Protect.” As big and tough and fanatical as some of them appeared, they weren’t particularly scary. The frightening ones wear suits, run for office or pay for those who do, and convince others that science doesn’t matter and neither do fair elections. If only there were vaccinations against those sort of pathogens.