Four hundred years ago, a time of thanksgiving brought neighbors together to show gratitude to God for helping them survive a precarious year. Now, at the end of one of the most stressful years in modern history, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) is using Thanksgiving celebrations to turn neighbors against each other.
Brown has imposed harsh new COVID-19 restrictions on her citizens, calling them a “freeze.” As part of the freeze, Thanksgiving gatherings in private homes must be limited to six people.
How does Brown plan to enforce this limit? By turning neighbors into police informants.
Brown explained, “This is no different than what happens if there’s a party down the street and it’s keeping everyone awake. What do neighbors do [in that case]? They call law enforcement because it’s too noisy. This is just like that. It’s like a violation of a noise ordinance.”
Other governors have also put in measures to try to police Thanksgiving get-togethers, but no one has been more authoritarian than Brown. Under her rules, those found guilty of having too much family over for turkey dinner can expect to pay a fine of $1,250 and/or spend 30 days in jail.
“In terms of individuals, I am not asking you,” she stated when announcing the new restrictions. “I am ordering you.”
Brown also wants Oregonians to report on businesses violating her rules, but Oregon officials would prefer that those informants call the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration — not 911. Meanwhile, Portland Police “stressed that people who spot their neighbors having overly large parties should call the non-emergency dispatch line, rather than treating the violation as an emergency.”
Some local officials supported Gov. Brown’s crackdown, including Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who said that residents should expect to stay home until at least December 16 and to “cancel their social plans immediately.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “Many Portlanders have made major sacrifices during this pandemic. This freeze, while challenging, will help ensure fewer sacrifices down the road and a strong recovery. And, most importantly, this freeze will save lives.”
Not all officials agree with the governor’s decision, however. Sheriff Jim Yon and District Attorney Doug Marteeny of Linn County said that they “understand the realities of COVID-19, but we draw the line when we are dealing with decisions relating to individual residences, religion, or businesses. We are going to continue to educate citizens, as needed, and that is where we will stop. We trust citizens to assess risk and take precautions as appropriate given their individual circumstances.”
The Marion County Sheriff’s office said, “We recognize that we cannot arrest or enforce our way out of the pandemic, and we believe both are counterproductive to public health goals.”
But others are concerned that Gov. Brown is overstepping her constitutional authority and crossing a line with her latest order. “Now is the time to fight against Gov. Kate Brown’s government overreach and fear-mongering strategy to control this holiday and further destroy the fabric of our society,” said Republican State Sen. Dennis Linthicum in a statement emailed by the communications director for the Senate Republican Caucus. “We have the freedom to celebrate this holiday as we please. I refuse to give Gov. Brown the power to take away my freedom.”
Tootie Smith, the incoming chair-elect of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, went so far as to say, “We do not need to be treated as second-rate slaves in our own homes,” adding that she would celebrate, “with as many family and friends as I can find.”
Brown responded by saying, “Look, all of this is irresponsible. These are politicians seeking headlines, not public servants trying to save lives. My top priority as governor is to keep Oregonians healthy and safe. That’s where I’m focused.”
Thanksgiving, which is supposed to be a time of togetherness and gratitude, has become a highly polarized subject due to COVID-19 restrictions. Regardless of what Brown’s and other governors’ motivations are, this is a severe overreach of executive authority. Not only are governors like Brown signing a death warrant for compliant businesses, but they are also violating the sanctity of citizens’ homes and trampling on one of our most cherished traditions.
There are businesses all over the country that are defying executive orders rather than go bankrupt and fire their employees. There will likely be many Oregon homes that host more than six people on Thanksgiving. The governor’s order creates a precarious position:
Will law enforcement fine or arrest people for simply running their businesses or celebrating with their families?
Not only is this executive overreach a dangerous precedent, but asking people to inform on their neighbors for something as personal and legal as a family gathering is more than a slippery slope. At a time when our country is divided, now politicians want to pit neighbors against each other. This isn’t like a noise ordinance, where noise is intruding into others’ homes and disturbing them. In this case, the informant is the intruder.
One can only hope that this Thanksgiving will see family, friends, and neighbors join together and look out for each other rather than rat each other out to the government. If you’re about to pick up the phone and call the police because your neighbor has seven people in his or her home, think about who loaned you their trailer or that cup of sugar, who mowed your grass when you were in the hospital, or who lets your kids come over when you need a break. It wasn’t the government, it was your neighbor.
Check out the Falkirk Center Podcast with Representative Jena Powell on lockdowns: