Melodies of the civil rights-era anthem “We Shall Overcome” echoed from the California State Capitol in Sacramento this week, where mostly white, affluent activists opposed to vaccinating their children gathered to protest the state’s efforts to strengthen vaccination mandates.
As reported by Politico, “mothers rallied outside the governor’s office, [then] marched through Capitol corridors chanting ‘No segregation, no discrimination, yes on education for all!’” while others donned T-shirts emblazoned with “Freedom Keepers” across the front.
Their hijacking of the symbolism of the civil rights movement, likening their plight to that of African-Americans who suffered under racist, segregationist policies, hit a nerve with minority lawmakers, including state Legislative Black Caucus member Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), who slammed the rally as “borderline racist.”
“This is misappropriation of a movement that really is not over and proves to be challenging to overcome,” Kamlager-Dove told the outlet. “The whole conversation around vaccinations is actually one about privilege and opportunity. It’s a personal choice. It’s a luxury to be able to have a conversation about medical exemptions and about whether or not you think your child should be vaccinated.”
A number of other critics agreed.
“Anti–vaxxers referring to themselves as “the new civil rights movement” is beyond tone-deaf,” epidemiologist Dr. Tara C. Smith tweeted.
“No, anti–vaxxers are not the face of a ‘New Civil Rights Movement’ and vaccines are not ‘Medical slavery.’ These offensive comparisons must stop because they represent a colossal misappropriation of the civil rights movement,” California Assemblyman David Chiu chimed in, adding #VaccinesWork and #SignTheBill
Another user called the comparison “breathlessly offensive,” adding: “No. You are no Martin Luther King, Jr. You are no Dolores Huerta. You are no Larry Itliong. You are no Harvey Milk.”
Hundreds of “anti-vaxxers” have descended on the state capitol this week to decry legislation that would impose limits on medical exemptions commonly used by anti-vax adherents to keep their children from getting immunized — their last line of defense after California did away with personal belief exemptions back in 2015.
Gov. Gavin Newsom offered activists a glimpse of hope when he ordered last-minute amendments to the medical exemption bill, Senate Bill 276, according to Politico. However, Newsom would go on to approve two legislative measures implementing the crackdown law.
The moves come after a wave of measles outbreaks across the country. In June, a seventh case of the highly contagious disease was confirmed in metro Atlanta from an unvaccinated overseas traveler.
“Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who have not been vaccinated or are not immune will also become infected,” state epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time.
An recent analysis by Politico showed those in staunch opposition to vaccinations are largely white and live in affluent coastal areas. Per the report: “While than 25 percent of California public school students are white, an average of 55 percent of students are white across the state’s 50 least vaccinated schools.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) also pointed to the irony of it all, noting how Black civil rights activists didn’t have any of the privileges enjoyed by anti-vax protesters. Just this week, a demonstrator hurled a cup of menstrual blood at state lawmakers after the crackdown bill was signed.
“I just want to point out, if constituents from my district waged months-long social harassment campaigns against a member, threatened them with death, harassed and threatened their family … then came to the Capitol and disrupted session for hours… they would definitely be arrested,” she wrote on Twitter.