A group called Free Ohio Now demonstrated in 32 of Ohio’s counties on Saturday, including Greene, Miami and Warren counties.
The group organized just over a week ago, according to Jennifer Stephenson, Beavercreek resident and Greene County coordinator for Free Ohio Now. It began in Cleveland when a group of friends decided to organize to voice their disapproval of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that sparked a stay-at-home order and closed nonessential businesses in mid-March.
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At its peak, about 20 protesters peak gathered in front of the Greene County Courthouse in Xenia on Saturday. Most held signs with hand-written messages supporting the constitution and saying “Free Ohio Now.”
Some vehicles driving past honked in support of the group and others shouted for the group to go home.
“It’s not opening up fast enough,” said Beavercreek resident David Stewart who rallied with Free Ohio Now. “In history, you quarantine the sick, not the healthy. So if it is dangerous to anybody, those people can take the measures they need to stay home and stay safe. Don’t make the whole country stay home.”
Protesters also spoke about their support of Senate Bill 1, aimed at limiting the authority of the Ohio Department of Health director. Gov. Mike DeWine has pledged to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
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DeWine said earlier this week that re-opening Ohio is a calculated risk and asked people to make good judgments.
“We’re on a dangerous road that has never been traveled before in Ohio and the danger is that we relax and stop taking precautions,” DeWine said in a statement on Thursday.
The Greene County Health District avoids politics, Greene County Health Commissioner Melissa Howell said. Pandemics are disruptive to physical and psychological health, society and the economy, she said.
“There is blame, finger pointing and civil (unrest) that has been associated with past pandemics,” Howell said. “We have strong local leaders in Greene County who are capable of moving forward responsibly.”
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Free Ohio Now organizers said they have been asked why they are protesting even as businesses are allowed to start opening back up this month. Stephenson said their purpose is to prevent what they believe is an “epic abuse” of power from happening again if there was a resurgence of the virus.
“We feel like Ohio needs to be fully opened up now,” Stephenson said. “I know (DeWine) is doing rolling openings, but these small businesses’ hands are going to be tied when they do open with a lot of the social distancing things going on.”
No masks were worn by protesters on Saturday. Stephenson said she isn’t judging people if they choose to wear one but it should be a personal choice. She said they were happy DeWine backed off mandated mask wearing.