Another day, another protest in Michigan against Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders. However, this time, Michigan protestors have found what they believe to be a unique way of fighting against statewide lockdown mandates due to the novel coronavirus spread. The event, dubbed “Operation Haircut,” took place on Wednesday in the state capital of Lansing. While some paraded with signs on the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol building, others stood in line for hair cuts, beard trims, and hairstyling.
The protest comes in response to Whitmer's announcement at a press conference on May 19, during which the governor said that it was unlikely for barbershops and hair salons to open in the near future. “I would love to get my hair done, too. But the fact of the matter is, the nature of that personal service is such that it is intimate, it is close, you can’t social distance and get your hair cut,” said Whitmer. “That’s why it is important that we have all the protocols in place.”
Despite the fact that Whitmer's orders echo a number of other heavily-affected states — like New York and California — protestors felt that the threat to local salon owners was too much to bear and began offering free cuts and trims on the street. In photos shared on social media and by local news outlets, hairstylists and demonstrators — many of which were not wearing any protective gear — continued to cut hair in Lansing, Michigan, which has become the unofficial mecca of all local protests.
“Citizens are tired of being treated like babies,” Meshawn Maddock, Chair of the 11th District Republican Committee and co-founder of the Michigan Conservative Coalition told ABC affiliate station WXYZ Detroit. “As adults, we know what needs to be done to stay safe. Any citizen has the right to participate, or not participate, in Operation Haircut." The Facebook event for the protest also featured a promotional image of a man getting a haircut with the caption, “Short on the side, freedom on top.”
Operation Haircut was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition which has been responsible for other protests at the state capitol, including “Operation Gridlock.” Referring to Whitmer as the “dictator in chief” on its website, the Michigan Conservative Coalition says the event was inspired by the “police state tactics in Owosso.” This is in reference to Owosso barber Karl Manke who violated statewide orders when he reopened his shop. Manke also participated in the protest, despite having his license suspended by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs after his shop's own protest.
Organizers for Operation Haircut did encourage participants to practice social distancing, to stay home if they are sick, use common sense hygiene, and to keep signage respectful and on topic. Specifically, organizers asked that protestors “leave your confederate (or other toxic flags) and guns at home.” Reports of previous protests show demonstrators carrying confederate flags, guns, signs with swastikas, and nooses.
As of May 20, Michigan reported over 52,000 cases of COVID-19, with over 5,000 deaths so far. The state has the fourth highest death rate in the U.S., closely following Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Despite this, Michigan protests have been relentless since lockdown measures were instructed in March. Now, it seems like protestors in the state will have to wait a little while longer before they can return to scheduling regular appointments. Until then, they might have to tough it out or brave the YouTube haircutting tutorials like the rest of us.