By Shereen Siewert

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday in Mosinee to protest Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order, which was extended last week to May 26.

All photos by David Stenklyft for Wausau Pilot & Review

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Among the attendees: Former U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, who fired up the crowd with calls to reopen the state.

“What do we want? We want to work,” said Duffy, a Republican who stepped away from Congress last year and now works as a lobbyist.

The rally, held at IROW, drew both praise and criticism around central Wisconsin. The Open Wisconsin Now-Central WI Facebook page has attracted more than 1,440 likes and more than 1,700 followers since the group’s launch less than one week ago.

“Wisconsin citizens need our state to reopen with a solid common sense policy plan. Business owners and workers want to get back to work. We want our jobs – we have families to feed, bills and college tuition to pay. It’s time for unity,” the page’s “About” section reads.

Tens of thousands of comments on the page urge Evers to open Wisconsin for business, citing the financial and emotional fallout of the continued Safer at Home order.

“By the time May 26’th arrives, Evers will have inflicted far more damage and misery to Wisconsin residents and businesses than the Coronavirus ever would or could have,” wrote Tom Frisch, on the group’s Facebook page.

“So we allow our governors to DICTATE what is essential? abortion clinics, liquor stores, yet I cant go to the dentist or my chiro. thats my health!! Use common sense, THIS IS TYRANNICAL,” wrote Antoinette Hollander, another member of the group.

Emotions are high on both sides of the issue, with some residents calling out business leaders who appeared at rallies in Mosinee and elsewhere around the state, promising to pull their patronage and boycott their businesses.

Facebook screen grab, April 20, 2020

Your business is not more important than someone’s life,” wrote Christine Louise.

Others were sharply critical of the lack of social distancing at the event. On Friday, Marathon County Sheriff Chief Deputy Chad Billeb said organizers planned the event carefully and promised to maintain social distancing. But photos and video from the rally show no such distancing efforts.

“Common sense”? There appears to be little, if any, displayed in a crowd, standing shoulder to shoulder and not wearing masks,” wrote Cynthia DuChateau Schaefer.

Billeb, on Friday, said enforcing the law at the event did not fall on Marathon County’s shoulders, but with the Mosinee Police Department. Mosinee Police Chief Ken Muelling has not responded to a request for comment.

At least one law enforcement agency in the state is declining to enforce the state’s Safer at Home order. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling explained his stance in a statement released Friday.

“The overreaching measures taken by State government will have dire lifetime consequences for businesses, homeowners, and families,” Schmaling in his statement. “I took an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of our citizens and I can not in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution.”

For many, the issue is about personal freedom. Others doubt the need for the governor’s order and believe the rallies will force Evers to rethink his decision.

“Five bucks says Tony the tool will change this to may first by end of week,” wrote Pete Sagat, on the #Reopen Wisconsin Liberty, Community & Action Facebook page.