SYCAMORE – Dozens of people gathered outside the DeKalb County courthouse on Friday for a Reopen Illinois rally to protest Gov. JB Pritzker's extended stay-at-home order and guidelines surrounding when businesses can re-open safely.
Jackie Bruske, a mother of four children under age 7 runs a home organization business out of her house, said she was at the rally because she believes people should be free to make their own choices about going out or wearing masks, as well as other precautions experts have recommended in battling the novel coronavirus.
"Unfortunately our governor is basically a dictator and has decided he will decide for all of us, instead of our general assembly, what we are allowed to choose or not," Bruske said.
Estimates of the crowd ranged from 50 to 150, while one unofficial count taken during a speech counted 78 people.
Pritzker on Tuesday announced his Restore Illinois plan, a five-phase approach with public health department guidance on the process of re-opening businesses, schools and other services gradually based on criteria surrounding COVID-19 testing capacity and hospital availability.
Those rallying Friday called for businesses to reopen, issuing strong opposition to Pritzker's executive orders.
"I didn't know about this but I wanted to support the group," said Paul Schwartz, owner of PJ's Courthouse Tavern, across the street from the protest. "I'm behind them all the way. I'm seeing my business go down 80%, employees go down from 34 to 11. And the state is making it easier for them to stay on unemployment by paying them way too much money. So a lot of them I want back I can't get back."
The event, organized by Joan Vancil and Tanya LaPage, started with a private Facebook event with 25 people committed, Bruske said. She said two days ago she made a public event that had 205 people interested.
She said she guessed the crowd was between 50 and 60 people and was very impressed with the turnout. She said a lot of people were staying in their cars to respect social distancing.
"I didn't expect that at all," Bruske said. "I thought a couple of my friends would come. This is incredible."
The protest featured speakers from the community talking on a range of subjects, including anti-vaccine rhetoric.
Nathan Fay, a landscaper in DeKalb County, spoke to the crowd and drew comparisons of the stay-at-home order to Nazi Germany.
"In the movie Schindler's List, if you go back in there the Nazis, one of the storylines was this older gentleman with one arm was shoveling snow," Fay said. "They said he was not essential and they removed him from the shoveling area. It was in the movie, and they killed him. And he said I'm essential, I'm essential. The story is we're being told – the non-essentials are dying off. All these businesses are going under, left and right. They don't have the money or the funds to stay open anymore.
"We're essential. Everyone is," he said. "I don't care about your color, your nationality, where you came from. Every person has a place and is essential."
Mike Meyer, a father of two police officers, two nurses and a firefighter, had a sign that said "I do care."
"We got skin in the game," Meyer said. "I do care. But I'm thinking we need everybody working, that way we've got a robust hospital system. We're not cutting off our feet. We need good support from everybody. ... Money's got to come from someplace. Let's get back to work."
DeKalb County falls into the North-Central Region under Pritzker's plan.
In order to move into the next phase and begin reopen measures, DeKalb County's region would need to report daily positive COVID-19 tests of 20% or less of the number of tests being conducted. The county would also need to go 28 days without an overall increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions, and have at least 14% of all hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators available for surge capacity.
Under Pritzker's stay-at-home orders, only businesses deemed 'essential' are allowed to operate under guidelines based on social distancing measures in an attempt to slow the spread of the viral respiratory disease, which has thus far killed more 3,000 Illinois residents and 70,000 Americans.
But for Schwartz, he said he didn't believe those numbers. He also said there were other issues at play.
"Honestly there's a difference of opinions on that," Schwartz said. "Besides suicide rates are going up, divorces are going up, alcoholism, obesity. There's a lot of fallout from all this. And I think people in America should be able to judge for themselves when it's safe to go out, and not have Springfield tell us."
In addition to the hit her business is taking, Bruske said religion was another driving force for her presence on Friday.
"The first reason I'm out here, honestly, is my right to worship has been taken away," Bruske said. "I'm Catholic and we believe we need a priest to consecrate the host for it to be a valid communion. We've been given dispensation to miss mass, but we've missed mass for weeks on end now and there's no end in sight."
Pritzker modified the stay-at-home order last week to allow for in-person congregations of no more than 10 people at a time.
With one reported death in DeKalb County, Bruske said the measures are unfair.
"I'm not allowed to go to church," Bruske said. "I'm not allowed to do the things I think are important and essential to my life and my children's lives. They aren't allowed to go to school. Learning and education are incredibly important. I'm out here because the constitution affords me certain rights and they are stripped from me 100%. And I think it's not fair for the numbers we have. There is literally one death in DeKalb County. One. And we have people losing their businesses and being ruined financially and there's one death."