Oregon City officials said that organizers did not apply for a permit to use City Hall's parking lot for a "Medical Freedom Rally" Saturday, May 1.
Police were notified of the protest, which did not turn violent, although there were some shouts from protesters demanding citizens to "take off your mask." Police officers made sure that the protesters' march through about one mile of downtown did not block traffic.
Oregon City Records closed for part of Saturday afternoon as the business owners helped lead the rally that kicked off the march. Jessica Economou, co-owner of the record shop, addressed a crowd of about 200 mask-less people who came to Oregon City from across the state.
Economou said that she and her partner, Tory, closed their business for 45 days at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Oregon, but then decided to become a "mask choice" business when Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority imposed mask mandates for indoor public places, including reopened businesses, last June.
As a result of the "mask choice" policy, Economou said that Oregon City Records has not only faced dozens of public complaints and fines from state authorities, she and Tory have also gone, in her own words, from "respected business owners" to "pariahs."
In a statement on their Instagram page, the Economous wrote, "After 14 months it's apparent that the time has come for businesses and individuals to simply say NO to the ongoing lockdowns, mandates and other potential impositions coming soon! Whether you agree, or not, with what has been happening recently and how it has been handled, hearing the voiced concerns of your community has always been the foundation of a healthy society."
Other Oregon City residents called for rally organizers to face enforcement action for encouraging people to gather closely together without masks in public. But police throughout Oregon have not been fining citizens for failing to "socially distance," as recommended by health experts to help slow the spread of the virus.
Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band said that the city has been consistent in its approach to responding to political demonstrations. Band said that police considered the "Medical Freedom Rally" a protest, so officers did not plan to enforce anything unless it got rowdy.
"Law enforcement was directed to and has taken an educational approach to COVID rules," Band said. "The only direction given regarding enforcement has been to OLCC and OSHA; and those were related to employers and bars/restaurants."
Tom Geil, a business owner in downtown Oregon City, prepared for the protest by putting on his mask and grilling "freedom dogs" on Main Street. As he offered the hot dogs to-go for passersby, Geil was troubled by the apparent hypocrisy of having to endure chants to remove his own mask from "mask choice" protesters.
"For being a mask-choice protest, they didn't seem very tolerant of those of us who choose to wear a mask, when yelling and hassling us to remove our masks," he said.
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