News

Preachers, Pole Dancers, and Protesters rally against vaccine mandates at New York’s Freedom Rally

A demonstrator sells “I loved NY” T-shirts at the World Wide Rally For Freedom in Times Square. Photo by Annie Iezzi

Outside the Times Square precinct of the NYPD yesterday, hundreds of protesters gathered to chant their new version of the pledge of allegiance.  

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to its Constitution, upon which our free republic stands, one nation, under god, free from tyranny, with liberty and justice for all,” they said in unison.

The phrases: “and to its Constitution,” as well as, “free from tyranny,” are additions made in explicit protest to COVID-19 restrictions in the United States. Protesters rejected mask mandates, as made clear by the absence of masks in the crowd. They were also opposed to the requirement that NYC patrons of indoor dining and fitness facilities display vaccine cards, which they refer to as “Totalitarian Vaccine Passports” and “Movement Licenses.” 

Many identified their opposition to vaccine mandates in the workplace as their reason for protesting.

Laesha Mezerra, on her lunch break from Mt. Sinai, and Robinson Bias, carrying a Dominican flag, march during the World Wide Rally for Freedom. Photo by Annie Iezzi

Laesha Mezarra, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, joined the demonstration on her lunch break, a decision she made because she will receive her termination letter for refusing vaccination tomorrow. 

“We were here for the pandemic,” she said, “We were working. I don’t want the vaccine because I’m scared.”

According to the NYC Health website, the unvaccinated in New York City accounted for 96.1% of all COVID-19 cases between January 17 and August 17, and in the same time period, accounted for 93.7% of COVID-19 related deaths. 

Protesters disagreed, many cheering when one megaphoned person said that “thousands” of people who have died from receiving the vaccine were erroneously documented as dying of COVID-19.

On September 8, the United States passed the milestone of more than 675,000 COVID-19 deaths, and the following day, President Biden announced a vaccine mandate to curb the spread that included more than 100,000 Americans working in governmentally funded organizations.

This protest, called New York’s Freedom Rally, wasn’t a solely American one. It was a subset of an international movement named The World Wide Rally For Freedom.

 This movement, also known as the World Wide Demonstration, occurred in more than 40 countries and 150 cities around the world, according to the group’s website. There, they list “5 Important Freedoms,” as the protest’s targets for safeguarding: the freedoms of speech, movement, choice, assembly, and health.

 Videos and photos from Cape Town, Montpellier, Exeter, Hiroshima, Brisbane and more flooded the Twitter hashtag #WeWillALLBeThere,” some depicting scenes of clashes with law enforcement. 

The protest in New York remained peaceful, with demonstrators waving flags gathering in Columbus Circle at 1:00pm, before marching down Broadway to 42nd street and into Times Square. Alongside them rode a bicyclist with both hands outstretched in a double-thumbs-down gesture, yelling ,“Wear a mask!”

 While they walked, advocates handed out stickers that read “Fear is the Real Virus,” and “Don’t Sacrifice Your Children to Science.” Many informational flyers, pamphlets, and signs co-opted the slogans of women’s movements, with “My Body, My Choice,” and “Coercion is Not Consent,” featuring prominently on their pages. Protesters said they did not agree with the pro-choice affiliations of those slogans.

Pastor Andy Woodward of Providence, a reformed Baptist church on East 62nd Street, passed out information to demonstrators who may be seeking to mitigate their fear with faith. The flyers incorporated rebuttals to COVID-19 restrictions, as well as other right-wing talking points.

 “Tired of woke churches? You’re invited to PBC,” read the informational card in bold letters. The handout displayed a list of “No’s,” including, no “mask/vax mandates”, no “critical race theory,” and no “skin-color based guilt.” Underneath, it detailed “Yes’s,” among them “biblical preaching,” “conservative theology,” and “serious discipleship.”

 “You shouldn’t be forced to take it [the vaccine],” Woodard said. “If there’s a risk, you should have a choice in making an informed decision about that risk.”

Pole dancer at the World Wide Rally for Freedom with her “I’m My Own Shot Caller” sign. Photo by Annie Iezzi

 This sentiment was repeated often from the stage at the end of the protest route. There, former Rockette Heather Bereman was the emcee for the stationary portion of the event. She led the crowd in a rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérable, before introducing the event’s several musical performers. The booing of passersby was almost drowned out by their singing.

 Fist pumping musicians rapped about the overreach of the government, the uprising of the people, the importance of personal liberties, and in one case, the need for the people to arm themselves against a tyrannical government. Other singers performed more instrumental pieces about seeking human love in today’s world of isolation spurred by COVID-19 and the ensuing government restrictions.

 Amid the protesters bouncing and swaying to the music or distributing self-produced informational flyers, Jennifer Rivera stood alongside a stand-alone pole, of the pole dancing variety.

 Rivera, the CEO and owner of Pole2Pole Fitness, nodded her head as she spoke.

“I’m here because I’m against the mandates,” she said. “My place of business will not comply with the mandates that people show vaccine records…Pole dancing is perfect for this movement because we are the rebels of fitness.”