Anti-Vaxxers Appropriate the Civil Rights Movement

Anti-Vaxxers Appropriate the Civil Rights Movement September 24, 2019

By now, you’ve likely heard about the anti-vaxxers in California singing We Shall Overcome, the anthem of the civil rights movement.

A chorus of mostly white women sang the gospel song “We Shall Overcome” in the California State Capitol, an anthem of the civil rights movement. Mothers rallied outside the governor’s office and marched through Capitol corridors chanting “No segregation, no discrimination, yes on education for all!” Some wore T-shirts that read “Freedom Keepers.”

But this wasn’t about racial equality. In the nation’s most diverse state, protesters opposed to childhood vaccine mandates — many from affluent coastal areas — had co-opted the civil rights mantle from the 1960s, insisting that their plight is comparable to what African Americans have suffered from segregationist policies.

White anti-vaxxers, almost all of them women, aren’t shy about the parallels they’re drawing to the civil rights movement. Here, anti-vaxxers carry a banner that reads “This Is the New Civil Rights Movement”:

If that weren’t enough, anti-vaxxers are doing their level best to draw comparisons between stronger laws requiring school children to be vaccinated and school segregation during Jim Crow.

Indeed, anti-vaxxers appear to be jumping all over themselves to get as close as they can to reenacting the iconic Ruby Bridges photo:

The above photos show a little blond girl standing outside of a building, directly in front of orange police barriers and a cadre of police officers. I think we’re meant to see them as keeping her out, but the barricades likely have to do with cordoning a protest area, and not with keeping a child out of school.

In case you think I’m exaggerating the connection anti-vaxxers are making here—or that it’s something I’m seeing but not something they were necessarily trying to draw—I’m really not:

“History repeating itself this week as 26,000 HEALTHY students will be denied entry into their schools,” the tweet reads, accompanied by an image of Ruby Bridges being escorted down a flight of steps by three federal marshals. In case it wasn’t obvious or something.

Lest you still think I may be exaggerating the connections anti-vaxxers are making, I’m so not. This picture, I presume, was taken in the California capitol building during one of the ongoing protests:

Oh, but then there’s also this, because the school segregation isn’t the only parallel anti-vaxxers are drawing between new vaccine laws and the historic oppression of marginalized groups:

Yes, that really is a meme of Anne Frank with the words “Anne Frank was denied an education and forced to homeschool” emblazoned on it, created and shared by anti-vaxxers. Apparently requiring children to have vaccinations to go to school is basically reenacting the Holocaust, or something.

Activists had earlier rolled out a sign during bill hearings that said “Welcome to Calabama, y’all” — a reference comparing Newsom, a liberal Democrat, to the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who was infamous for his defiance of racial desegregation. After the bills were approved, some held signs stating, “Welcome to Nazifornia,” complete with the Nazi symbol.

Last spring, during the height of the measles epidemic, I read articles that quoted parents who were beginning to homeschool their immunocompromised child, because the herd immunity rate at their children’s schools was so low that they couldn’t safely send their children to school. That is what this is actually about. Anti-vaxxers think they’re precious pseudoscience is more important than immunocompromised children’s right to go to school without, you know, having to risk dying.

Oh right. Anti-vaxxers don’t care.

Look, getting your kids vaccinated is not difficult. Millions of children in the U.S. get vaccines every year.

Your children being denied entry to school because you refuse to let them have routine medical care that saves millions of lives around the world every year is not the same thing as children being denied entrance to school because of the color of their skin.

This really has gone too far.

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