About 75 protesters marched up State Street and under the overpass, filling the blocks with their chants for freedom of choice on Saturday. | Credit: Caleb Rodriguez

After another deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic struck the globe, another wave of anti-vaccine and anti-vaccine-mandate protests arrived in Santa Barbara.

Echoing a similar protest in July, Saturday’s “Worldwide Rally for Freedom” comprised 75 people marching from Stearns Wharf to De la Guerra Plaza where more than 200 people convened for a Freedom Festival hosting several speakers and a live band. Similar demonstrations took place around the world to resist vaccine mandates enacted by businesses and governments. Since the beginning of a summer surge two months ago, global COVID-19 cases have tapered off, but an average of 540,000 new cases and almost 9,000 deaths per day continues to test the limits of health-care systems worldwide.

The event was organized by Stand Up Santa Barbara, a local collective that organizes resistance to vaccine mandates and lockdowns.

Anti-vaccination rally, State Street, September 18, 2021 | Caleb Rodriguez

“We’re advocating for freedom, bodily autonomy, community, patriotism, education, and family,” said Justin Shores, one of the lead organizers of the event and 2020 Goleta City Council candidate. “When we say no, we start to see change.”

Marisol Gutierrez, a board member of Stand Up Santa Barbara, emphasized the theme of medical freedom: “We don’t care if people wanna get a vaccine — we don’t feel we should be forced or coerced into getting it. We don’t want it to be ‘get a test or get a vaccine.’ It needs to be a choice.”

As protestors funneled down State Street, they waved American flags, raised picket signs, and chanted, “No vaccine passports,” “No segregation,” and “Coercion is not consent.” Passersby would either flip off protesters in indignation or applaud in agreement. Several firetrucks and even one ambulance honked to show their support. Memorably, one of the of the leaders of the march shouted into a megaphone, “Nicki Minaj was right!” referencing the star’s recent tweets concerning vaccine side effects, which Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others, termed misinformation; earlier, her “Super Bass” was used to pump up the group energy.

Participants ranged from concerned parents to health-care workers to those who view the pandemic as a portent of a global totalitarian regime.

“Do not allow another injection ever,” said Judy Mikovits, an activist and former virologist. During her speech, Mikovits gave voice to those who subscribe to conspiracy theories, discouraging blood transfusions in favor of natural remedies and claiming that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was planned. (The U.S. government response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic was delayed, due to widespread stigma against those vulnerable to the disease, but no credible evidence shows HIV was planned.)

While beliefs about COVID-19 and medical science ran the gamut, a common thread uniting many attendees was the perception that public health responses to the pandemic were a sham and ultimately produced profits for Big Pharma and the ultra-elite.

“People don’t know the truth of what’s going on. The hospitals, the health department, the CDC — they’re all lying,” claimed nurse Julie Roberts. “My eyes have been opened to the pharmaceutical companies. Now I’m wondering about all the other vaccines.”

Skylar Douglas, who identified himself as a father, explained his concerns about a totalitarian takeover. “I am here to stand against mandatory masks for children, which I think goes into a deeper place of global Communist takeover by the elites. This is straight Gestapo Nazi-style takeover of the world.”

The crowd spent the end of the afternoon signing petitions and dancing to music, all the while maskless. There was a spirit of celebration electrifying the air since many attendees rarely are surrounded by so many like-minded fellows. “We’re a family now,” one woman shouted during the rally. “We’re a family.”

The crowd gathered at De la Guerra Plaza listens to criticism of the government response to COVID-19. | Credit: Caleb Rodriguez


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