Aaron Ruis of El Cajon manages an assisted-living facility for disabled adults, but Saturday in downtown San Diego he was managing crowd chants at a “freedom rally” to open the state’s economy.
“What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!” he said through a megaphone, along with cries of U-S-A and Free-Dom.
Ruis was one of 250 people standing at the corner of State Street and Broadway defying state and city bans on gatherings. Hundreds of others circled in cars past the event, honking their horns and waving American flags.
Many brought signs and flags supporting President Trump. They also brought children. Most demonstrators wore no face coverings.
“A lady from my church shared the [event] information with me,” Ruis said via email after leaving the 2-hour demonstration around 2:30 p.m. “I find it important to share that in the four years I’ve known her, she has never spoken about politics. It is the unprecedented nature of this situation that has drawn many of us into this fight.”
Signs ran the gamut — from “Our Freedom Doesn’t End Where Your Fear Begins” and “I Want to Go Back to School” to “Quarantine Newsom” and “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”
Others: “Fear God, Not COVID-19” and “LET MY PEOPLE GO-LF.”
What led Ruis, 40, to the foot of the Hall of Justice and the Westin San Diego at Emerald Plaza?
“It is clear from our founding documents that the idea that the individual, not the government, knows what’s best for their particular situation,” he said. “In addition, the limitation on governmental powers enumerated in our Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, are most important during times in which the government feels they have an opportunity to infringe on those rights.”
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Handmade signs were frequently displayed by car occupants supporting the “freedom rally.” Photo by Chris Stone
A woman flew two iconic flags at the “freedom rally” in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone
One sign offered a spiritual slant on the issue. Photo by Chris Stone
Parallel signs wanted “our jobs” and “our senior year” back. Photo by Chris Stone
A woman’s sign says: Our freedom doesn’t end where your fear begins.” Photo by Chris Stone
Young girl expressed longing to be with her friends. Photo by Chris Stone
A “freedom rally” participant kept his message to passing cars simple. Photo by Chris Stone
One woman’s sign contrasted the lockdown of the sick with the lockdown of the state. Photo by Chris Stone
A Donald Trump-branded flag was displayed on Broadway to passing cars. Photo by Chris Stone
One protester linked COVID-19 restrictions with socialism. Photo by Chris Stone
Several people showed the Patrick Henry slogan “Give me liberty or give me death.” Photo by Chris Stone
A woman suggested she was tired of being cooped up at home. Photo by Chris Stone
Few at the “freedom rally” observed six-foot social distancing rules. Photo by Chris Stone
A different kind of pro-choice demonstrator made an appearance at downtown rally. Photo by Chris Stone
A flag-festooned car gives a lift to a woman hoisting a cowboy hat in old glory colors. Photo by Chris Stone
Red-white-and-blue was a common motify for protesters at downtown “freedom rally.” Photo by Chris Stone
A theme of the rally was the loss of First Amendment rights to assemble. Photo by Chris Stone
A woman holds a sign as young girl is helped with her face covering. Photo by Chris Stone
The sentiment “Reopen America” was the unifying theme of downtown rally. Photo by Chris Stone
Supporters of the protesters honked and waved flags at the downtown “freedom rally.” Photo by Chris Stone
Young children were among the mostly adult crowd at the downtown protest. Photo by Chris Stone
Children showed signs at the rally to end mandatory closings. Photo by Chris Stone
Children raised their voice at the rally to end mandatory closings. Photo by Chris Stone
The so-called Gadsden flag was carried by protesters and mounted on vehicles passing by. Photo by Chris Stone
Handmade signs were shown to fellow “freedom rally” demonstrators downtown. Photo by Chris Stone
Sun roofs were open on many cars supporting the “freedom rally” protest on a day in the high 60s. Photo by Chris Stone
Many cars repeatedly circled downtown to display flags and signs at the intersection of State Street and Broadway. Photo by Chris Stone
A woman standing on the Broadway median expressed herself to cars circling the protest. Photo by Chris Stone
Supporters of President Trump waved signs and called for an end to the stay-at-home orders. Photo by Chris Stone
A young girl’s sign addressed an issue other than the coronavirus. Photo by Chris Stone
Many protesters dismissed fear as they called for beaches, parks and schools to reopen. Photo by Chris Stone
Protesters attacked the governor and stay-at-home restrictions. Photo by Chris Stone
American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags reflect onto a SUV as it passes on Broadway in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone
San Diego police observe the protest from the federal courthouse side of Broadway. Photo by Chris Stone
A protester rides a hoverboard down Broadway near State Street to express his opinion. Photo by Chris Stone
A protester in downtown San Diego lets his mask speak for himself. Photo by Chris Stone
A protester questions the number of deaths versus the county’s population. Photo by Chris Stone
A protester’s sign show events that she feels are connected to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Chris Stone
A protester expressed a sentiment about loosening shutdown restrictions on his surgical mask. Photo by Chris Stone
A man waving a “Don’t tread on me” sign sported a MAGA 2020 mask — one of the few wearing a covering. Photo by Chris Stone
Drivers circled the block to repeatedly show support for protesters in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone
Some protesters showed their passion for an activity that has been suspended. Photo by Chris Stone
Like others — including those calling for the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom — Ruis said he got involved because he felt it important to make known to elected officials “that we hold them accountable to these truths.”
San Diego police observed the demonstration from across the street — the south side of Broadway. About a half-dozen officers didn’t move to enforce any anti-crowd orders.
Ruis wasn’t surprised.
“No, I regularly preach in front of the downtown Planned Parenthood and find San Diego PD to be very sensitive to our First Amendment rights,” he said. “They are a first-class department, and I’m very glad they represent us well.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi as saying: “We are balancing the need to enforce and citing people for not social distancing with the anger (and) frustration that people have for being quarantined the last month.”
Did Ruis have any concern that the gathering could fuel the spread of COVID-19?
“That is always a real danger to consider,” he said. “However, many studies have put the estimated contraction rate in the 80 percentile. The majority of measures have been taken to ‘flatten the curve,’ not to stop the inevitable.”
He noted that a vaccine isn’t expected for roughly another 18 months.
“So all things considered, I don’t believe today’s events put us at greater risk weighing the economical crisis and health crisis together,” he said.
Ruis said he’s heard about plans for another anti-lockdown rally on May 1 but had no details.
(Saturday’s event was promoted on Facebook by host Naomi Israel, who posted afterward: “Thank you to everyone who came today and made it what it was. This is the revolution!!!!! The people have not seen anything yet, the next one will be BIGGER! If you’re ready, please like this post and I will create a new event ???????? OPEN CALIFORNIA, open America and stop the … madness ????????.”)
Ruis closed a note to Times of San Diego to say “that our rights come from God, and [hopes] government recognizes this truth. They are not the progenitors of rights. When they forget this, it’s incumbent upon the people to remind them of this.
“We’ll keep speaking louder until they hear.”