KANKAKEE — People — at least 300 or so in Kankakee County — appear ready to put an end to the government-imposed “stay-at-home” order put in place in late March by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
On an overcast late Thursday afternoon, about 300 mostly unmasked people rallied in front of the Kankakee County Courthouse to voice the need to end the order and allow businesses to reopen their doors throughout not only Kankakee County, but the entire state.
Organized by Bourbonnais resident and small business owner Soleil Van Til, the “Let Freedom Ring” rally was put together only about a week ago and was designed to let state public officials know some have reached their breaking point.
The rally’s main theme was freedom — both personal and public. This rally marked the first organized display within Kankakee County of the frustrations regarding the government-order shutdown connected to COVID-19.
“Freedom is important. It’s everything. It’s essential,” Van Til said in an obvious reference to the advantage businesses and workers have who carry such a designation.
With flags waving and signs being held high stating “Work is a Basic Right” and “Reopen America Now!” the mostly well-behaved crowd broke out in applause when Van Til, the owner of the Van Til Chiropractic office in Bradley, said the time had come for citizens to regain their rights.
“The virus is real. ... I’m not minimizing any of this. [But] we can move forward with reopening and protect those that need it,” Van Til said. “We can do both.”
The nearly 90-minute event featured prayers, speeches, songs and at least one arrest. The one known arrest came when a demonstrator — who favored at least the wearing of protective face masks — began shouting to the crowd. That incident appeared to be the only moment of confrontation during the gathering.
One spectator, Kirk Kibbons of Bradley, said there is no question the government has become too controlling.
“We are adults,” he said as the event concluded. “I haven’t seen my grandchildren for a couple months now. I believe we are giving up our freedoms too easily.”
Another onlooker, Sarah Koerner of Kankakee, described herself as “outraged” by how Pritzker and the government are controlling people. She said the people’s rights are being trampled.
“I find this all very transparent. This is a man-made problem. The numbers [of sick due to COVID-19] are being inflated,” she said. “I don’t trust what I’m being shown.”
GRIPPED BY FEAR
Van Til, 31, implored citizens to take a thoughtful look as to what is happening in these times since the coronavirus’ presence here.
She said fear has gripped the United States.
“Fear has crippled our nation. ... Fear may be more dangerous than the virus,” she said. “I choose not to live in fear. Our businesses and churches need to be opened.”
What she labeled as real are the mental health stresses the national shutdown has caused. She said suicides are real, loneliness is real.
“I’m sick of government telling me what to wear going to a grocery store,” she said. “We need to restore self-accountability. You are accountable for yourself.”
For far too long, she said, people have stayed quiet. That obedience, she said, must end.
She said since people have begun to question what is taking place, the governor appears to be rethinking the restrictions in place. On Tuesday afternoon, Pritzker announced that outdoor dining would be added to the list of allowed activities in Phase 3 of his Restore Illinois plan. That phase, which Pritzker has said the state as a whole looks to be on pace to achieve May 29, allows for a number of businesses to reopen with limitations in place, including retail, beauty salons, barber shops, health clubs and more. Restrictions will also still include limits on gather sizes. Restaurants, for example, can only have outdoor seating, in additional to pickup or delivery service.
Van Til said people don’t need the governor’s guidance when it comes to how they should interact with one another.
“We can protect our friends and neighbors and the vulnerable. We can go to church safely and we should do that. ... Let’s open our city and county. Let’s encourage our local officials. We can open and protect people at the very same time. No more restrictions. Let’s be free.”
A mother and wife, Van Til said being on stage and rallying people to oppose government is about the last place she ever thought someone would find her.
However, the mother of four said someone has to rise up and say “enough.”
“It’s not the state’s right to say who can open and not. This has gone too far,” she said prior to taking the stage. “The state is infringing on the rights of the people. The government has done a great job of scaring people. My goal is to provoke, to encourage, to inspire people to reopen business, for churches to decide what is right and what is safe. It’s not the state’s job.”
‘LET’S WAKE UP’
Also speaking to the gathering were Theresa Raborn, a Republican seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Chicago. The district includes all of Kankakee County.
Mark Curran, an attorney who served as Lake County sheriff from 2006-18 and is running as the Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate against incumbent Dick Durbin, also spoke.
“Who wants to live in a country without liberty?” Curran asked. “We are under attack. What’s going on right now, people are not hearing. We need to be a little bit louder.
“... We are here today for many reasons. But we either stand up right now or this goes on. Let’s wake up, folks. Who do they think they are messing with?”
Another spectator, Neelie Panozzo, who operates the Village Grill in Bradley, said after the event’s conclusion that if businesses such as her restaurant which she has operated for 17 years do not open soon, no rally or protest with save them.
“I’ve had to lay people off,” she said. “I never thought the closure would last this long. I thought maybe a month. ... This is beyond belief.”