California Protesters Talk Mental Strain, Importance of Freedom

May 11, 2020 Updated: May 11, 2020

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.⁠—Kiki O’Bourke was among the approximately 1,500 protesters in Huntington Beach on May 9 who urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to expedite his plan for reopening the state.

“Emotionally, it’s killed me,” he told The Epoch Times. He’s physically healthy⁠—aside from a hernia that was supposed to be fixed in February by an operation that’s now been postponed indefinitely.

O’Bourke is worried about friends and family with mental health issues. Some of them have had “domestic problems rising” during lockdown, he said. A friend of his committed suicide recently. Tears filled his eyes as he talked about it.

He fears losing his freedom, and that’s why he decided to protest. He said the state’s regulations are an “overreach of power,” similar to what his father fled in Cuba. “My dad left Cuba to get me out of there,” he said. “It’s liberty or death.”

Epoch Times Photo
Kiki O’Bourke at a protest calling for the rapid reopening of California, in Huntington Beach, on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

The protests in California and across the nation have come under fire for ignoring social distancing precautions. Some media reports have also criticized the organizers for hiding funding sources and allegedly acting with a political motive, with the protests said to have the flavor of 2009’s Tea Party protests.

A majority of the protesters on May 9 didn’t wear masks or practice social distancing. Many held “Trump 2020” banners. Many waved American flags or dressed in stars and stripes. Music and chants of “U.S.A.!” drifted for blocks.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters call for the rapid reopening of California, in Huntington Beach, on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
A protester attends a demonstration calling for the rapid reopening of California, in Huntington Beach, on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Protesters call for the rapid reopening of California, in Huntington Beach, on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

Mental health, civil rights, and the need to make a living were the reasons most protesters cited for attending.

“I’ve felt very depressed some days,” said Orange County nurse Marianne Smith. Getting out to protest and call for freedom has given her a boost.

“It has impacted me to be very aware of my civil rights. For the first time in my life, I’m awake,” she said.

Another protester, Dan Shabati, said the stay-at-home order bankrupted his retail business, which had thrived for 25 years.

Phase two of Newsom’s reopening plan includes retail businesses reopening for curbside service only, he said. But his business doesn’t work that way; customers want to test his products in the store. He also doesn’t operate online for that reason.

“I think it’s very controlling,” he said of the restrictions.

In the afternoon, the protesters moved from the Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street, where they caused gridlock, to the shoreline. The beach was officially open for recreational use, such as jogging or surfing. But a May 8 press release from the city had warned locals, “Beachgoers must ‘keep it moving’ at all times” and “settling in place” is not permitted.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters call for the rapid reopening of California, in Huntington Beach, on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Police keep watch over protests in Huntington Beach, Calif., on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Police keep watch over protests in Huntington Beach, Calif., on May 9, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

The Huntington Beach Police Department reported that crowds were peaceful, and they made no arrests, similar to the larger protests on May 1, which had about twice as many attendees.

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner told The Epoch Times he understands the desire to reopen, and supports doing it safely. He expects some jobs to return, but some to be lost because of bankruptcies like that of Shabati’s business.

“We’re seeing the state borrowing from the federal government to cover employment benefits⁠—that’s going to be a long-term fiscal bomb for us,” he said.

As of May 10, the Orange County Health Agency reported 3,502 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 76 deaths. Of the cases, 337 patients are residents in nursing homes and 259 are in Orange County jails.