Last year, in July 2020 at the height of the governor’s first mask mandate, Corrine Rios of Rio Rancho went to the Albertsons pharmacy to fill a prescription for her child’s seizure medication.
Rios was not wearing a mask, on principle.
The pharmacist refused to fill her prescription.
“She told me, ‘It’s my right to not give you the seizure medication,’ ” Rios said. She was told to either put on a mask or leave.
Rios put on a mask in order to receive the prescription and left. Her husband returned and got the pharmacist on video admitting that it was her personal choice — not company policy — to deny filling the prescription.
Rios said she then wrote a letter to Albertsons corporate and warned it was medical malpractice to deny a life-saving medication based on a mandate that had no basis in the law.
“Two hours later, the manager called and apologized profusely,” Rios said.
If this is where the seed of Rios’ mask mandate civil disobedience was planted, that tree of personal freedom has only continued to grow.
On Tuesday, Rios upped the ante.
She and a group of ten other people walked into Albuquerque’s West Side Costco and shopped without masks, in defiance of the governor’s renewed orders.
“Friday the mask mandates went into effect again, and I’m like ‘Nope! I’m not going to wear a mask,’ ” Rios said.
As a Biblical instructor, Rios applied the lessons she’s learned teaching the “how” of Christianity. “We teach people to let the Lord be your strength, but people ask, ‘What do I actually say?’”
When it comes to unconstitutional mask mandates, the same problem crops up, she said. “We tell people to push back, push back, push back, but if people don’t know exactly what those words or actions are to push back, they won’t do it.”
That inspired her to enter Costco not merely as a member and paying customer, but as an instructor to show people the “how” of civil disobedience, to set the example, and to give people the courage to stand up.
When they entered, an employee at the door asked if they have their masks. “No, we don’t,” one of them answered.
“You guys need your masks,” the employee said.
“No, we don’t need a mask, thank you,” they said, and walked on.
Rios said a group of employees huddled behind them and talked for a moment before dispatching an enforcer. Here’s how it played out (the full video can be viewed at Rios’ Facebook page):
“Do you guys have masks by chance?”
“No we do not.”
“No, well I do need you guys to be wearing a mask while within the building. I completely understand, but if you guys choose not to, we can’t allow you to shop. It is a private company. It is private property, we do hold the rights to do so.”
“If you’re open to the public, you’re open to everybody.”
“Ok, I get it. Ok well, the governor mandated that we have to wear masks.”
“I understand that, but a mandate isn’t a law.”
“It’s not a law, but we still follow the mandate, we still follow everything…”
“We follow the law, and we follow the Constitution.”
“That’s fine. Ok, thank you. I’ll be having one of the managers to come over and speak with you guys.”
The manager never came.
Rios and her team finished shopping and actually received very courteous help from Costco staff at checkout.
Had they pressed further, Rios’ group was prepared to cite Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination in public places.
“All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation.”— Civil Rights Act of 1964
As she explained in a speech at Backstreet Grill in Old Town on Friday, “Any place that serves the public CANNOT discriminate.
“That includes: any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests. Any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises.”
“We actually got the feeling that the employees were rooting us on,” Rios said. “We feel like they’re all tired of it, of being tricked. They were told they didn’t have to wear masks if they got vaccinated, now they’re vaccinated but they have to mask up anyway.”
Rios is planning more events like this, in part because her actions have attracted like-minded residents to join the cause.
Her “resistance training” has five key elements.
- STATE YOUR CASE: Show people what to say. There is no law requiring masks in public, which is why businesses have such a hard time justifying their enforcement of the mandate. Without a law explaining what actions to take and what consequences violators will face, individuals can voice their objections and go about their business. Luckily, there is a law banning discriminating against people in place of public accommodation. Cite it if necessary.
- STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: It’s harder to target large groups than it is individuals. While Rios doesn’t know if the numbers quelled further confrontation from the employees, she does know that it helped her feel like she wasn’t alone. “I felt like I had power,” she said. “It helped me by having my friends keep me accountable. When you’re fighting, you want to be with like-minded people.”
- CREATE A RECORD: Live-stream or record the outing, for obvious reasons.
- LET THEM TALK: The moment Costco’s policy fell apart was when the employee admitted on camera that the governor’s mandate “is not the law.” He was right, and the “but” that followed doesn’t matter. It was allowing the employee to try justifying the company’s policy that led to the admission that ultimately ended the confrontation.
- BE POLITE: The key to civil disobedience is remaining civil. If a business wants to remove you for violating their corporate policies, go in peace. This puts businesses at risk of being sued for discrimination. Let them decide whether or not they want to fight for years in court arguing that a governor’s executive action supersedes the Civil Rights Act.
“Light is infectious,” Rios said. “The truth is infectious. We’ve been living scared for so long and we don’t know our rights.”
“The more (information) people have and the more we push back the more we will win.”
To join future acts of civil disobedience, visit Rios’ Facebook page or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Categories: COVID Counterpunch