The State Of California: What's Driving California Protests?

There have been widespread protests in California against Governor Newsom and the state’s continuing shelter in place order, those demonstrations are expected to go on. The protest last week at the state capitol drew thousands of people demanding that the Governor reopen the economy, but are those really spontaneous grassroots demonstrations, or is there something else at play here?

In many ways, these seem like genuine expressions of frustrations and anger from many Californians, a sentiment one attendee echoed at last Friday’s rally.

“I actually think people should just open the businesses themselves instead of waiting for the government,” said the attendee, “where does he get his authority for this?”

The Governor believes he has constitutional authority to take executive action to protect public health, but many of these protests have been organized by conservative groups around the country including the Michigan Freedom Fund, the Convention of States, and groups allied with President Trump

Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, Chair and Lead Researcher at the UC Berkeley Center for Right Wing Studies, joined The State of California Report to go further into this.

Are these protests really grassroots?

The issue is the same as occured when the Tea Party rose in 2009, the question is whether it’s grassroots or if it’s astroturf, and the answer is that it’s both. You don’t get people out on the street because people like the Koch Brothers are throwing money at them, that’s true. The institutions like the DeVos Family and Americans for Prosperity, they are working behind the scenes, but the motivations are very different. They’re on the same page politically, but they arrived there in different ways. The big money behind the views, they believe for ideological reasons that the amounts that are going for stimulus are going to bring a sense of dependency in America. They are afraid that this is the opening round of America turning in a very serious way toward a socialist society. The people who are actually on the street, they have more complicated feelings and motivations.

A lot of them are the kinds of people that go to Trump rallies, they are similar to the kind of populist sentiment of the Tea Party of years ago. They are motivated by a combination of things, and one of them is really economic jeopardy that they are feeling in a really direct way. The way they express it is that ‘you have no right to do this to us. Constitutionally we have rights and we shouldn’t be locked out of our houses and able to go to work.’ There’s a kind of populist constitutionalism, which was very common in the Tea Party, and the same is true now. You could say that this populist constitutionalism has been joined by a kind of populist epidemiology. Populist constitutionalism was that they don’t need to listen to judges and lawyers and so forth. The elites want to tell us what the Constitution means, but we know what the Constitution means ourselves. In the same way that’s what’s going on with the lockout. That gets joined by this notion of populist epidemiology that again the experts don’t know anything. That sense of not trusting the experts and the idea that we can figure out the dangers for ourselves - that’s a lot of what’s motivating people out on the streets.

The outliers that show up to the protests, with anti-Semetic signs or bigoted expressions, are they hurting the message of the movement?

What you’re getting is what’s often been called the alt-right. That is to the say the movement of white nationalists, anti-Semites, people who historically are members of the KKK and neo--Nazi organziations - they rally around the Trump campaign. They are now out on the streets, and the people who follow their conversation online see the notion that what’s going on now is an opportunity for this movement to make its move. The move often gets expressed as things like taking up arms, calling for a civil war, they often call it among themselves online ‘the Boogaloo”. An event where the “patriots” will rise up, and what’s feeding those guys showing up at those marches is this hope that this is the moment that it might take place.