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Reopen Illinois rally draws hundreds to Loop, Springfield

Protesters want statewide rules lifted so people can return to work and businesses can open.

Anger and frustration were palpable in the Loop and in Springfield Friday as hundreds of people rallied and railed against statewide restrictions that have left scores of people across the state out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Chicago, at the Thompson Center, the crowd was small early in the day but grew to about 300 people — still a far cry from the crowd of 5,000 organizers had anticipated. Street closures were minimal, and the group stayed put at the northwest corner of Randolph and Clark streets throughout the morning and afternoon.

“We are still the land of the free. There are still independent people who can think for themselves and who can protect their own self-interest as they see fit,” former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica told reporters.

With car horns — both in support and in opposition to the rally-goers — and motorcycle engines echoing throughout the largely empty downtown area, the attendees laid bare their mounting frustrations, with some calling for Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to be removed from office.

Protesters and supporters gather during a news conference at the re-open Illinois protest outside the Thompson Center.
Protesters and supporters gather during a news conference at the Reopen Illinois protest outside the Thompson Center.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A mock version of The General Lee — the car from “The Dukes of Hazard,” complete with a large Confederate flag on its roof — was among the dozens of cars that drove laps around the Thompson Center for several hours.

“Give me liberty or give me COVID-19,” “F--- your face masks,” and “Ban vaccines” were some of the slogans written on the hundreds of homemade signs and flags that dotted the rally.

The Springfield rally drew several hundred people. The crowd filled the steps and spilled onto the lawn on the east side of the Illinois State Capitol.

Many expressed frustration with the Chicago-dominated state government they believe has ignored Downstate. Much of the anger was directed at Pritzker.

“He’s not in touch with the people who elected him,” said Ben Hamilton, an industrial tool shop owner from Peoria.

Several hundred protesters converge on the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Friday.
Several hundred protesters converge on the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Friday for a “Reopen Illinois” rally, calling for an end to the statewide stay-at-home order enacted to help constrain the spread of the coronavirus.
Neal Earley/Sun-Times

Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, who got a Clay County judge to free him — but only him — from Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, was greeted with loud applause before addressing the crowd.

“What Gov. Pritzker did is unconstitutional and that’s what we’re here to challenge,” Bailey said.

As for social distancing, the majority of the Springfield crowd clustered together; few wore any kind of mask or other personal protective equipment.

There were no counter-protesters spotted in Springfield, but in Chicago, a small group of counter-protesters set up shop across Clark, trading insults with the other side. A handful of health care workers stood on the outskirts of the main gathering to offer largely silent opposition to the main group of rally-goers.

“I realize I’m out here too, but I just don’t think now’s the time to open everything back up,” said Noah Spurlin, a certified nursing assistant who recently moved to Chicago from Florida and wore his scrubs to the gathering. He brought his own sign, too, which read: “Please have sympathy.”

A Reopen Illinois protester confronts a group of medical professionals who gathered and silently counterprotested,
A Reopen Illinois protester confronts a group of medical professionals who gathered and silently counterprotested,
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Asked what his job has been like recently, Spurlin said: “I’ve seen a lot of death. That’s the one thing why I’m out here because I’ve seen firsthand the severity it can get to.”

And while the rally-goers and counter-protesters kept their hands to themselves, Chicago Police officers assigned to the gathering took at least two people into custody.

One man, a counter-protester, climbed on top of a Department of Streets and Sanitation flatbed truck parked on Randolph Street outside City Hall. Glen Brooks, the CPD’s director of community policing, tried to persuade him to come down and stay on the sidewalk, but he refused.

Soon after, a rally attendee who saw the man on the truck tried to climb up himself, but he was immediately stopped by police and handcuffed. The first man on the truck was then handcuffed, as well.

A person in the backseat of a van holds up a sign the says “Open Illinois!”
A person displays an “Open Illinois!” sign from a van that joined a driving protest around the Thompson Center.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The gathering was the closest thing Chicago has seen to a rally for President Donald Trump since 2016, when a rally for him at the University of Illinois at Chicago was shut down after it was stormed by protesters.

In Springfield, Teri King set up shop near the rally, selling Trump shirts, hats and flags. Business was good, she said. King said she travels the country, selling the items at Trump rallies.

“It’s not about money, it’s about getting a message across,” King said.

Some state representatives, who have not met since the first week of March, attended the rally — and called for the General Assembly to reconvene to check Pritzker’s order.

“Every day that we’re not here, every day that this state is shutdown is another day we go down the tubes,” said state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur.

Sam Charles reported from Chicago. Neal Earley reported from Springfield.