Last week I attended the third in a series of Monday morning demonstrations by healthcare workers against vaccine mandates which are scheduled to begin on September 6th for New York State employees including hospital workers and scheduled to begin on September 8th for employees of Rochester’s primary health care providers. The Rochester protests occur in front of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and, while wholesome on their face, have a backstory full of corrupt personalities.

When I arrived about twenty minutes prior to the protest’s scheduled start time Shannon Joy wasn’t there and hadn’t shown up by the time I left two hours later. Merle McDonald, Joy’s mother, however, was there and we had a chance to speak.

Luckily I’d seen McDonald in a Facebook video of Joy’s taken at the previous week’s protest. I knew McDonald by sight and before approaching her I watched as officers met with her and other protesters minutes before the demonstration’s start time. McDonald requested of the other protesters that she speak to the officers alone. She seemed to be the person in charge as she worked out with the officers areas where the protesters could gather.

Merle McDonald (R) with Protesters

One of the organizers of the URMC protests, Shannon Joy, is a radio personality in Rochester and notable for her vaccine skepticism. She almost never leaves the topic recently. As covered in a prior UncoverDC article Joy is currently suing Monroe County’s Commissioner of Public Health Mike Mendoza. The details of Joy’s lawsuit against Mendoza have been laid out previously in UncoverDC, but to summarize: the legal challenge is due to the fact Joy’s family was uniquely harassed by a squad of four men – two contact tracers and two policemen – who came to Joy’s home acting under Mendoza’s direction.1 Thus far, the local press has not held Mendoza’s feet to the fire over the incident. Mendoza has suffered no repercussions over it in the form of the general public’s opinion of him souring. The success or failure of the URMC protests is, however, in some way a referendum on Mendoza and the number of protesters grew between weeks one and two.

While Shannon Joy is recognized as a pit bull in regard to her extreme attention to the topic of vaccines, I could see after talking with Joy’s mother how Merle McDonald’s resistance was in some way responsible for Joy’s more high-profile activism. As McDonald was dressed in blue scrubs I asked what her employment was with the local healthcare system. She answered:

I work at Highland Hospital which is a part of URMC/Strong (hospital), a group of us. At the hospital they are pushing for the vaccine. They tried to double-mask us, put a face shield up, and make us have the nose swabs. But we fought that five weeks ago. That went on for a little while. I was out of work for five weeks over it. I went in at first but then they sent me home because I wouldn’t do the stuff.

McDonald said the hospital only began to relent on its mandates when nurses began calling in sick after having been made to wear masks for eight, ten, twelve-hour shifts:

They made us wear a surgical mask, a cloth mask, and a shield. They were walking out of the OR because they were sick, so it went on for long enough that Highland gave up, or URMC gave up.

McDonald said, however, that URMC recently looks to be in a quiet process of replacing its more difficult staff with an offer of five-thousand-dollar bonuses to new hires and then another ten-thousand dollars after they’ve been with the organization three years.

Although the group of protesters had its fair share of healthcare workers, the crowd also seemed to come in all shapes and sizes and types and had caught up what I’d describe as a number of unique individuals: a large Alex-Jones-shaped man with an Infowars tee-shirt, a modelesque woman with a bullhorn wearing a flag-design skirt and standing with an elderly woman in a wheelchair, a chatty man who approached me and got around to talking about giants in America (a subject with which I am familiar and so the conversation was not as surreal as you might imagine). I asked McDonald how this network of nurses and others had formed. It turned out that its impetus was, in fact, McDonald being sent home by her employer (So, URMC, you can see how that worked out). McDonald told me:

When I went out (left work) I started getting email after email after email from people (other employees) that felt the same way I did. We didn’t know when we were there because you can’t talk about it. Once I did that, I got in touch with Devon who is a nurse at Strong. We’re all part of the same system so she and I teamed up almost immediately and we were told we should start a board. We should get a formal group—Shannon told us that—because otherwise, things die down.

McDonald continued talking the specifics of the formation of her group, for anyone else in the healthcare field with an interest:

We formed the group and we’re in the process of getting the EIN number. We started a Facebook page, a GoFundMe page. We have lawyers that are ready to start a class action. It’s going to cost five-hundred dollars a person if they decide they want to mandate the shot.

The organization seems to have developed quickly as I suppose it would need to in such a changeable environment. There is another protest scheduled for the following Monday but I’d say with three successful protests the group has already made its point, but this isn’t about a small victory you can live with. This is an all-in proposition. As McDonald expressed it:

It makes the work relationships at work toxic because you have those that have gotten the shot and they’re feeling bad because they don’t feel like they can stand up with you because then they’re targeted. Almost everybody I work with that got it are like, ‘Yeah, we don’t believe they should make you get it’, but it’s hard to come out because then you feel like uppers (managers) are going to then punish you. And these are young women who don’t want to get fired. They have their whole careers in front of them. Most of what I do is for our young people, our children, our young people so that they can get married, have a career, have babies, not worry every time they get sick, ‘Is this from?’, or, ‘If I can’t get pregnant, was this because I took a stupid vaccine?’”