Rochester, New York, if it isn’t the center for American protests against vaccine mandates, it is a definite contender. Rochester was home to all sorts of reformers at one time, including Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and the sisters who invented spiritualism (seances and such) in an era when women didn’t often take center stage. I’ve joked for a while about possible new contenders to the Rochester reformer throne, but I didn’t really believe they’d ever appear. I may have been wrong.
I attended as a reporter my second protest against vaccine mandates this week, taking place in front of the University of Rochester Medical Center, and was surprised at the change from a URMC protest I’d attended a few weeks before. At the earlier protest, the third in a series of Monday morning protests, I was happy that the attendance hadn’t seemed to have waned from what had been reported from the prior week, but this week, week six, was a shock to the system. The difference between the two weeks I’d attended was similar to wandering the back hallways of a stadium looking for your seating section (the earlier protest), and then that moment when you take the stairs into the grand hall to see the masses gathering, smell the smoke, and find the world laid out before you (the later protest). Week three’s polite demonstration had become a raucous event by week six as the clock wound down to the local vaccine mandate. Sizable groups of protesters left the main body of demonstrators that lined both sides of the street to parade around the campus grounds. The crowd lining the street was so dense the parading protesters were not missed in the least.
There are three women at the heart of this thing, maybe more, but three I’m aware of: Shannon Joy, Merle McDonald, and Devan Smalley. Shannon Joy is unquestionably queen bee, being both a loved and often-dismissed local radio host who has camped out on the topic of vaccines, but McDonald, Joy’s mother, I found during an interview with her at week three’s protest was a formidable protest organizer in Joy’s absence. And Smalley? I had the impression during my interview with McDonald that the unknown-to-me-then Smalley was, like McDonald, also a senior nurse and sacrificing what was left of her career for the sake of younger women in the field afraid to speak out against vaccine mandates. I was mistaken.
I’d only corresponded with Smalley, the group member who’d had the idea for the protests, by email just before the sixth protest and really had no idea who I was speaking to. When I arrived at the sixth demonstration, surrounded by swarms of people, I approached a man I’d met at the third week’s protest, which we’d discovered while talking knew my father back in the day. I reintroduced myself to the man, and at the mention of my last name, he joked, “Oh, yeah. The hockey player”, as there may have been a Canuck hockey player with the same surname as mine. By weird coincidence, in a crowd of hundreds, Smalley was standing near enough to our conversation to hear it and introduce herself as the person I’d been corresponding with. She was just a bit more than a kid. She’d mentioned in an email she would be resigning from her position soon. She wasn’t chucking a career in its last days; she was risking her career in its prime.
While on the face of it, the vibe of the protest was upbeat. You can’t get away from the local arrests that play out as the backdrop to the joyfully honking cars mobbing past the placards and flags lining the street. Where to begin with local arrests? Lawyer Chad Hummel, standing outdoors away from the other parents while watching his son’s baseball game, wasn’t wearing his mask. Bam. Arrested. Beautiful explanation by him of the event on a local podcast. Next up, what I’ve already explained in the Uncover DC article “Health Department Intimidation Squad at Broadcaster’s Home.” Radio host Shannon Joy was harassed at her home—specifically, Shannon Joy’s children were harassed at the family’s home—by two contact tracers and two police officers acting under the direction of local health czar Mike Mendoza. Joy’s now got a lawsuit going due to the incident, two actually, one for harassment and one challenging the constitutionality of quarantine orders on due process. Since covering the third week’s protest, Shannon Joy made news yet again when she took her mask off at a school board meeting. Arrested? Sure, you bet. If Rochester were Sodom or Gomorrah, you couldn’t find a single principled person worth saving without checking local holding cells.
This brings me to the crux of the thing: this isn’t a battle between anti-vaxxers and vaxxers. This is a battle between objectors to COVID restrictions and bureaucrats, or as I could refer to the bureaucrats derogatorily, “good Germans.” I know many of you may be thinking that the designation “good German” is overused. Your loss then that I have the chance to check myself while writing papers. It turns out that Eric Metaxas, the world’s premier authority on Nazi-resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, thinks the “good German” description isn’t entirely off-base in this instance. Here’s a relevant section of a recent Eric Metaxas podcast, following Metaxas’ acknowledgment that “there’s nothing that can really compare to what happened under Hitler”:
Metaxas: “We are being encouraged to hate those who aren’t getting the vaccine as though they are dangerous, as though they are selfish and murderous. It’s good to hate them for the sake of the country. It’s good to hate those people, and you and I are two of them.”
John Zmirak (show guest): “Eric, it is right out of Bonhoeffer because remember what the Nazis said about Jews and socialists and Christians who resisted. They said that they were viruses. They said they were a threat, a biological threat to the community who must be first quarantined and then later exterminated. You see, it’s a very, very powerful tool of manipulation to use the language of public health when you, in fact, are seeking control.”
The bureaucrats’ front line in the war against objectors to COVID restrictions is the objectors’ immediate supervisors who can threaten the livelihood of their subordinates. Nurse and protest organizer Merle McDonald, while having something of a motherly and forgiving nature, expressed her disillusionment with her supervisors during our talk on week three of the URMC protests:
“I don't trust them. It's sad. I have never caused trouble anywhere. I am an exemplary worker. I work hard. I always supported and respected the people that are above me, the Director of Nursing at Highland (Hospital), and I feel like they have so let us down that I don't understand it except they're all being told that they'll lose their jobs that they aren't looking at the right... I can hardly believe they’re not looking at the right information...”
When I interviewed Devan Smalley by phone the day after the sixth protest, I expected her to repeat McDonald’s sentiments about her own supervisors. She surprised me by saying that her supervisor had not received the vaccine, had been supportive of her, even referring various staff members to Smalley if they seemed to resist the idea of the vaccine. Smalley said:
“From the get-go, she has been an advocate and ally for me, which is not the case for the majority throughout the healthcare systems.”
You might wonder what life will look like for Smalley’s supervisor if the mandate takes effect and she’s still unvaccinated at that point, or I did anyway as Smalley was talking about her. It turned out Smalley was also wondering. She continued a few sentences on:
“She is so supportive, and I think her heart is bleeding with all of us though she is in a manager’s position, and I truly don't know what the future looks like for her, but I am thankful for the support.”
Due to URMC’s demands, it had been mentioned the week before in one of her emails to me that Smalley was preparing to resign from her position. I asked in our interview what job prospects would look like for unvaccinated nurses if the mandate went into effect, and I was surprised by the timing of what Smalley then told me:
“It's funny you asked this because I actually resigned today, and I feel so free, and I feel so good.”
I didn’t know what to say, so it’s good she kept talking. I hadn’t expected she’d resign before it was absolutely necessary. She continued:
“So, if there is anybody who is on the fence about what to do and they're fearful of that day coming as if it's doom and gloom, it feels liberating, and I choose to do it because I did not want my life to be controlled or held to the games they're playing, the psychological games they're playing. I just didn't want my life to be in limbo anymore, and I just needed to make that resignation on my own terms.”
Smalley then returned to my question of where unvaccinated nurses might find employment if the mandate goes into effect:
“In regard to jobs, I am using my platform on social media to help nurses find other jobs. There’s a lot out there. I know that law firms locally are hiring nurses to review medical records. I know that families that have previously left the NICU or other families are looking for home care. Home nurses, you can do it private duty; you can work just privately with the families. A lot of nurses are actually finding jobs remotely in other states to either review medical records or for insurance companies, and the travel agencies—which are not even spoken of—but a lot of the travel agencies (for nurses willing to move hospital to hospital for contracts that run eight to thirteen weeks) are not mandating the vaccine or requiring it. Go someplace warm. There are a lot of states that are not mandating this.”
Among the final topics, I broached with Smalley was a question about why nurses were left to protest vaccine mandates rather than doctors? Wouldn’t this all be a lot easier if doctors stood up?
As a listener to Tracy Beanz’s Dark to Light Podcast, I’d heard enough top-tier physicians and researchers to act as wake-up calls for doctors, and Beanz’s show is just one among many covering unintended effects of the vaccine. I knew through the podcast, for instance, that Dr. Robert Malone—the inventor of mRNA vaccines—revealed that the jab could lead to future disease enhancement (antibody-dependent enhancement, or ADE), or as he said in a clip played on the podcast, "The vaccine causes the virus to become more infectious than would happen in the absence of vaccination.” So why then weren’t local doctors spearheading the resistance at the street level? Smalley answered,
“I'm not sure. I don't know if it's the liability or the fear for their credentials on the line. I don’t know if it’s the nature of the nurses, of us spending our careers advocating for patients, that we now have that backbone of steel to advocate for ourselves. I did listen to a podcast that was extremely powerful with an interview with these allopathic doctors, and they did have answers as to why we do not see a lot of these doctors standing up against it. The takeaway I got was that it's the big pill to swallow of their five-hundred-thousand dollars of student debt and all their schooling to then kind of turn their backs on the mainstream medicine that got them where they are. So, I don't know whether it’d be ego or pride, or fear truly. I don't know if I have a clear answer to that.”
In Susan B. Anthony’s city, it’s been left to the women again.