Lafayette, CA

Antivax Protests Return to El Curtola Overpass

Thomas Smith
Thomas Smith/Gado Images

Drivers who happened to look up into the sky in the vicinity of Lafayette’s El Curtola overpass while traveling down Highway 24 for their evening commute would be forgiven for wondering what was going on up there. Last week, the bridge was adorned with a motley (though admittedly colorful) collection of staunchly conservative signs and slogans.

The centerpiece was a long banner — clearly handmade, with cheerful kindergarten-like red block letters on big white posterboards— reading “No Jab 4 Kaiser John Muir.” That’s right: the El Curtola overpass protestors are back. And this time, their primary target appears to have shifted from Joe Biden (and Black Lives Matter before him) to the Covid-19 vaccine.

The El Curtola overpass has been a popular location for mostly conservative protests for over a year. Throughout former President Donald Trump’s fruitless attempts to overturn the 2020 election, protestors and counter-protesters gathered on the overpass at least weekly to express their grievances and engage in some good old-fashioned flag-waving (and allegedly, occasional flag throwing). Motorists on El Curtola road reportedly took the opportunity to drive past the protestors and shout expletives at them.

Lafayette’s city council, for its part, wasn’t happy about the ongoing protests. Politics aside, the city claimed that looking up into the sky and seeing a bevy of Trump flags was distracting to motorists on Highway 24. At least one person alleged that the protests caused them to get into a car accident. The city council ultimately asked CALTRANS, which controls the overpass, to remove the protestors… or at least stop them from attaching signs to the bridge. The protestors countered that they had a First Amendment right to gather there. What happened next isn’t immediately clear, but the protests did seem to die down for several months. Now, apparently, they’re back.

Last week’s protests appeared to be aimed at moves from Kaiser Permanente and John Muir — two prominent healthcare providers in the Bay Area—to either mandate Covid-19 vaccines for their staff or encourage those vaccines strongly. Kaiser reportedly took a “more assertive” stance towards vaccination earlier this month and said that it wants all employees to be vaccinated by September (as it stands, about 95% of its physicians are reportedly vaccinated, but total staff vaccination levels are closer to those of the general population). John Muir reportedly isn’t planning to mandate vaccines, but it is encouraging more staff members to get the shot.

Those changes are likely what prompted protestors to once again gather on the El Curtola overpass after their longish hiatus. In addition to the big red anti-vaccine banner, the protestors displayed Trump 2020 flags, banners calling for the recall of Governor Gavin Newsom, and political ads for gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder. The irony of displaying a banner referring to the vaccine using the British term “jab” while also flying a Don’t Tread on Me flag — which has its origins in the American Revolution — was apparently lost on the protestors.

Now that the El Curtola road protesters have a new cause célèbre in fighting the Bay Area’s increasingly restrictive vaccination requirements, drivers may see more of these overhead protests in the future. Or they may not. In contrast to protests in January — which attracted around 20 devotees each week — the protest last week appeared to be staffed by only a few people.

Hardcore protestors may continue to show up on the overpass. But it appears that others may have turned their attention elsewhere, and the protests may ultimately die down naturally, or move to the more damaging but less policed realm of social media. Until then, if you’re driving on Highway 24 in the evening, don’t be surprised to look up and see Trump supporters in the sky.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips:

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