As COVID numbers rise, activists march in Morristown to protest Murphy policies

Activists march from Morris Township to Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy's coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin


On a weekend that saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases in New Jersey, activists marched from Morris Township to Morristown to protest lockdowns of businesses and schools and demand that Gov. Murphy reopen the economy.

“He needs to open up, open up, open up, for everybody in New Jersey,” declared Boonton restaurant owner Mickey Chopra, an immigrant who said his American dream “is about to shatter.”

Morris Counrt Surrogate Heather Darling addresses Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Citing a shuttered Morristown fitness studio, Morris County Surrogate Heather Darling, who led Sunday’s event for a group she calls We the People NJ, warned more dreams will be  “crushed…by these draconian moves that the governor is unilaterally meting out.”

The flag-waving crowd–which included a man with a Confederate flag– was estimated by Morristown police at between 100 and 150 people. They were peaceful, though there were a few sharp exchanges with observers.

“Be mad at Mitch McConnell, not Murphy!  Shame on all of you,” a passerby shouted at demonstrators sporting pro-Trump banners, hats and yes, masks. Someone shot back an epithet, and a man flashed his red Trump t-shirt at him.

Video: Group protests Governor Murphy’s emergency orders:

Driving by Morristown town hall, a motorist rolled down his window to yell support for Trump.  Another driver blared a song that cursed the president.

A counter-protester from Phillipsburg, who gave his name as Reggie, age 69, used a golf bag to anchor a sign chiding the president for hitting the links instead of promoting safety protocols from Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts.

Man totes Confederate flag, behind a pro-Trump banner, at Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“What golf course?” challenged a Trump supporter. The president teed off Saturday at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

One man brandished a Confederate battle flag.

“It’s not hateful… this flag has been around for a real long time. I’m proud to hold it,” the man said.

Asked if he considered how the flag might be offensive, he answered, “No. You tell me. You’re the boss,” and walked away.

Sign denounces the governor at Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the Defense Department tacitly banned Confederate flags from military bases. NASCAR barred the Confederate symbol from motor races, and Mississippi lawmakers voted to remove it from their state flag, becoming the last state to do so.

Darling, who is a lawyer and former Republican freeholder, said she promoted the event as nonpartisan and told Morristown Green the Confederate flag “certainly was not representative of the group We the People NJ, by any means.”

Sunday’s protest came one day after New Jersey registered a record 4,679 new cases of COVID-19, in a week that saw the governor announce 10 pm curfews for restaurants and 10-person limits for indoor gatherings. Stricter lockdowns may be necessary, Murphy cautioned.

One million new cases were reported nationwide for the week, and coronavirus hospitalizations hit a new high, spurring the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ask Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving and keep celebrations small.

So far, New Jersey has confirmed nearly 15,000 COVID fatalities. The disease has killed nearly 257,000 people across the United States, and almost 1.4 million worldwide.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy  at May, 18, 2020, press conference.. Pool photo by Jose Moreno / Philadelphia Inquirer

Murphy’s name elicited lusty boos at each mention on Sunday. One woman toted a sign labeling the Democratic governor a fascist.

But a majority of Garden Staters agree with Murphy’s emergency measures, according to an October poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Sixty percent of adults surveyed approved of his overall job performance, with 31 percent disapproving. Some 72 percent of respondents gave him good marks for his handling of the coronavirus.

At least two vaccines may be available by spring. Murphy urged residents to redouble their safety practices for now.

“I just ask folks, bear down everybody, I know this stinks. I know you’ve got fatigue. Who could blame you? I know we all do. Keep these (masks) on, keep away from each other,” he said on Friday, comparing the holiday period to the Super Bowl. “We’ve got to win it.”

Anti-Trump demonstrator at Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Businesses and households, meanwhile, continue feeling the pain of pandemic restrictions.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate climbed to 8.2 percent last month, and nearly 1.8 million residents have filed for benefits since the pandemic struck in March, Murphy acknowledged last week.

Moti Almakias, a Roxbury resident who owns a beverage company, told Sunday’s crowd he did not mean to minimize the health impact of the coronavirus.

“But we know that the effects of closing our economy and our lives are, by far, more devastating… This is not only the destruction of big business. This is the destruction of the individual.”

Several speakers raised concerns about educational, emotional and psychological harm to students forced to hunker down with virtual studies.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:

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Almakias’ son Jake, a senior at Roxbury High School, said it was unfair to deprive students of proms, sports, and the escape that classrooms provide for youths from troubled homes.

Morristown resident Tanya Maximoff objects to school closings, at Morristown rally, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I think we can all agree school is not meant to be on computers, and that kids are not meant to lose opportunities and experiences that we’re all supposed to have during these years of our lives,” Jake Almakias said.

“What do kids have to look forward to, to wake up and look on a screen? This is not the way that Americans are supposed to live. This is not what the government is supposed to do to us,” he said.

Tanya Maximoff of Morristown said her grammar school-aged daughter “started sobbing…like her heart was breaking” when told last week that the Morris School District was going virtual for 14 days.

Braving the grey November chill in a red-white-and-blue Make America Great Again ski cap, Maximoff recounted how her daughter pleaded: “I want to be be in school. When will I ever go back?”

“I think it should be right away,” Maximoff said, to cheers.

Drew University history professor Jonathan Rose speaks at Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Online it’s impossible to determine when students are in crisis and need counseling, said Drew University history Professor Jonathan Rose. Nor can he teach effectively via computer, he said.

“It is not working. They are simply not engaged. As a teacher, I belong in the classroom with my students. Because that’s the only way real education takes place,” Rose said.

Praising schools for low transmission rates, the governor last week voiced support for keeping classrooms open, to the extent possible.

The novel coronavirus is spreading in homes, not in schools or places of business, Darling said.

Sunday’s activists were “asking for the right to exercise personal responsibility as they go about their lives… We can’t have more lockdowns.”

Pro-Trump activist, left, dangles flag in front of anti-Trump activist, as police keep a watchful eye, at Morristown rally protesting Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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  1. Jeff,
    Please stop mocking people and the feelings they express when they comment. It is not funny. A better way to describe it is cruel and insensitive. Thank you.

  2. Murphy is cooking the numbers to keep the schools open for you lunatics that don’t care about Coronavirus spread, transmission or death and you still complain about him. Good job organizing a Trump rally Heather. You’re a disgrace.

  3. Drew University did a great job of offering a comprehensive series of faculty development workshops precisely aimed at helping us meet the challenges of teaching online. All of us miss in-person teaching, none more than those of us in the arts, whose very nature calls for being in person. Yet we’ve managed, with the help of our outstanding students, staff and colleagues.

    While it may be easier to read the room when all are physically in the same space, it’s not hard to check in with students online, to allow for discussions with the group as a whole, in small breakout rooms, or privately, one on one. And if one tests positive it’s actually possible for those who are able and willing to still attend class, with little disruption and no risk to classmates.

    These circumstances have called on teachers at every level to be more resourceful, more creative, more resilient, more flexible, more everything. It’s intense and tiring and somehow for many of us it’s working if we make up our minds to make it so, knowing that we’re helping each other beat this plague back.

  4. Will Trump and his Trumpets eventually disappear? How many people lived in Morristown in 1918? How many gyms existed? I want my health and life to be spared, without it I have no freedoms to worry about. Its the Presidents mandate to keep citizens safe, not to spend time playing golf and spending our hard earned money. You’d think we’d be smarter in 2020 than in 1918.
    How many people must die before “you” decide it’s a pandemic?

  5. Kevin, this is a great article. Thank you for writing it and keeping our local community and its residents so well informed….Thank you for all the detailed information helping people to understand both sides of this conflict.. And Thank you also for all the great photos that help us better understand what the march was like. Morristown Green truly is our local newspaper. It’s also good that you post the opinions of many, many folks. To those who appreciate and read Kevin Coughlin’s work (a long time local resident), please consider the work and effort he puts into his article send MG a Contribution to help Kevin keep his newsletter alive…or take advantage of the opportunity to advertise your business…MG is great and we so lucky to have it.

  6. Reminds when in Morristown , people were protesting George Washington for insisting on small pox innoculations. Thankfully, by doing what he felt was best, lives were saved and he went on to become one of our most honored forefathers.

  7. With or without ‘protective measures’, Covid-19 will eventually pass from the scene. The 1918 Influenza eventually disappeared, without any lockdowns or mask mandates. The biggest danger is that officials now feel empowered to suspend individual freedoms and throttle the economy whenever they decide there’s another ‘pandemic’ or other perceived threat to public safety, for as long as they want, with no check on their ’emergency powers’. If voters meekly accept this, we will have lost a large part of what the founding fathers struggled hard to achieve.