Patriotism and Paranoia: Scenes From a COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Protest

A licensed healthcare professional documents and weighs in on a Wisconsin protest against orders to stay at home to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a licensed healthcare professional, I did not understand why people would want to protest the stay-at-home order,” said Kenechi Unachukwu when he heard of a planned protest at the capitol building in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Since he knew perfectly well why staying home is necessary in the fight against COVID-19, his interest was piqued. “For me, I felt as though this was a chance to document history in the making, as well as gain a little bit of insight into the feelings of this portion of the population in the state I have called home for over three years.” So he did, shooting away with his Nikon F3 loaded with Kodak Tri-X 400.

Kenechi listened as agitation echoed in the voices of the guest speakers and the crowd responses. A woman was misdiagnosed with COVID-19 and had to be separated from her family for an extended period of time. A frustrated preacher lamented that church services weren’t considered essential so his congregation couldn’t worship. A tattoo shop owner stressed how small businesses that rely on community commerce were hit hard and forced to close, yet giant retailers remained open for business. While he didn’t agree with the views expressed by most of the protesters, it was easy to see where their frustrations were coming from. “People were coming close to losing the things that were important, and a protest was the only way they could fight back against their perceived oppression.”

He aptly described it as a disorienting mix of patriotism and paranoia — no words better describe the scenes at the protest than these two. It’s a fitting summary to everything that unfolded and he was able to capture in a single roll of black and white film. 

“Citizens acting as makeshift security guards in full tactical gear brandished their guns in a show of their second amendment rights. American flags and Trump 2020 banners abounded as the people demanded the state be reopened for business. But under the shadow that the flags cast against the cloudy sky, there was a sense of fear. Fear that this persecution was the first step in a total government takeover. Fear that there was some knowledge being hidden about the so-called disease that had suddenly appeared across the world. And most justifiably, a fear that things may never return to normal.”

Make sure to visit Kenechi Unachukwu’s website and Instagram (@kenechi.una) to see more of his film photography.

Joy Celine Asto
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Joy is a writer, film photographer, and part-time traveler from Manila, Philippines. She finds bliss in exploring whatever surrounds her and documenting it in photos and stories. She runs on caffeine, lives on books, savors good music, and thrives in everything creative.

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