White Female Anti-Vax Protestors Compare Themselves to Black Civil Rights Movement

In an effort to prevent future measles outbreaks, California passed a law Monday restricting many of the medical exemptions parents in the state currently use to avoid vaccinating their children when enrolling them in public schools. The law was met with immediate protests from anti-vaccination supporters, some of whom are accused of appropriating themes from the black civil rights movement to further their cause, with one lawmaker calling their actions "borderline racist."

"This is misappropriation of a movement that really is not over and proves to be challenging to overcome," Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) told POLITICO. "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."

The anti-vaccination protesters stormed Sacramento, the state capital, over the course of the past week as the bill became law. The new law gives public health officials more leeway to revoke medical exemptions for children who are not vaccinated in schools where fewer than 95 percent of the children are vaccinated, the threshold public health experts say is needed to achieve "herd immunity" in schools. Anything below a 95 percent vaccination rate is considered a public health risk.

The mostly white anti-vaccination protesters who flooded the halls of the state capital sang the black civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcame," chanted "no segregation, no discrimination, yes on education for all" and many wore shirts that read "Freedom Keepers." During the debate over the then bill, one protester threw what many claimed to be a menstrual cup of blood on legislators from the gallery.

"I'm doing this for the babies that died, so their voices can be heard," Rebecca Dalelio said as she was arrested for throwing the blood. "Their blood is on your hands, you who make the laws."

Some lawmakers pointed out the double standard in the treatment of the anti-vaccination protesters.

"The Legislature is equating it to the black civil rights movement but to me, civil rights movements have happened throughout our history in the U.S.," Christina Hildebrand, president and founder of the anti-vaccination group A Voice for Choice, told POLITICO. "To me, do I think it is comparable to MLK and the civil rights movement? I think we're probably in the beginning stages of getting to something like that."

Hildebrand pushed back on claims that anti-vaccination supporters are mostly white, despite data proving otherwise. An analysis by POLITICO found that out of the 50 kindergarten classes in the public schools with the lowest vaccinations rates, most are disproportionately white. White students make up 25 percent of California public school attendees, but they make up 55 percent of the student populations in public schools with the lowest vaccination rates. Community Outreach Academy, a charter school with one of the lowest rates of vaccinations in California, is 98 percent white.

Hildebrand acknowledged that at the start of the anti-vaccination movement in 2015—when California passed a law banning personal and religious exemptions for vaccinations—most of the supporters were white, but says that has since changed.

"At that point, I agreed. It was people that could afford to come to Sacramento. The middle to lower class can't afford to take a day off," she said. "But now I'm surprised they feel it's white privilege. If you look at the pictures of who came and protested, there was every race and every color there."

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), two lawmakers who have been vocal supporters of the new law, have received numerous racist attacks by anti-vaccination supporters. Comedian Rob Schneider compared Sen. Pan to China's Communist leader Mao Zedong.

Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), chairman of the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, condemned the attacks in a statement.

"For too long, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been seen as perpetual foreigners and generations of contributions from our communities have been ignored," Chiu said. "We call on SB 276 opponents to publicly condemn the racism expressed by members of the anti-vaccination movement."

But fundamentally Sen. Pan is glad the bill became law, because in the end, it's about keeping "kids safe at school."

"Children who genuinely need a medical exemption can't go to school if their school is not safe, and that means that we need to be sure that the other kids who can get vaccinated are vaccinated," Sen. Pan told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We are just trying to keep kids safe at school."

Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement after signing the bill into law that it gives public school the tools they need to protect public health, "...and does so in a way that ensures parents, doctors, public health officials and school administrators all know the rules of the road moving forward."

White Female Anti-Vax Protestors Compare Themselves to Black Civil Rights Movement
In this photo illustration, a one dose bottle of measles, mumps and rubella virus vaccine, made by MERCK, is held up at the Salt Lake County Health Department on April 26, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. California anti-vaccination protesters this week compared themselves to the Civil Rights movement, eliciting criticism. George Frey/Getty Images
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