Updated 12:30 pm
A “freedom and liberty to work” rally at Five Corners for Wednesday, April 22, from 3 to 5 pm, was canceled by its organizers, which included members of the family that owns the popular Black Dog restaurants, cafes, and shops.
The idea for the rally started as a discussion of the biological and economic issues the Island was facing, Robbie Douglas told The Times Wednesday morning.
“Our idea was to have a gathering or a rally just to ask some questions, which we thought were important to address,” Douglas said.
Douglas stressed there were no demands, only a desire to have an open dialogue about a “smart and safe” reopening of the economy, protecting the vulnerable, and letting the healthy work to support the nation.
After the rally post went up on Facebook, Douglas said he started to get a significant number of calls about why the rally was happening and decided the best thing to do was to cancel it.
“We received a significant amount of calls questioning why we were doing it and it just seemed like it got out of control. I’m not so sure our original message was read, but if it was going to put more distress into the community — that’s never what we were about.”
Douglas said they were concerned about the potential effect on business, but didn’t anticipate India Rose’s website calling for a boycott of the company.
Douglas said their main concern is to discuss what the community could do to address the long-term effects on the economy.
“The great unknown to us is the economical, which will lead back to our families and to our communities,” Douglas said. “We see it as an ecosystem that works when we’re all healthy. If we’re not all healthy biologically or economically, what are the consequences?”
Kenny MacDonald, a friend of the Douglases and a Navy Seal veteran who helped organize the rally, said he volunteered at the food pantry and saw many families showing up for assistance. The rally was a way to bring up these issues.
“I’m seeing a struggling community,” MacDonald said. “I’m seeing my neighbors that are struggling, I’m seeing small businesses that might be going under and there’s no jobs to go back to for those workers that don’t have a job currently … Losing a job is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person.”
For now, Douglas said they will pull back and reassess how to have a healthy discussion. He also advocated for his 190 employees whom he furloughed.
“When you look into the eyes of these people who have mortgages, daycare payments, car payments and you say ‘hey, thank you for your 20 years of service, we’ll talk to you in two or three months and we hope to be able to bring you back.’ That’s a painful experience that I personally had to deal with. We wanted to continue to have the discussion so I can bring these individuals back. The employees succeed, the businesses succeed, and then the economy succeeds and the community succeeds.”
Douglas’ brother Jamie Douglas said he is used to being on the frontlines with customers, and it’s important to maintain the summer economy.
“I believe through smart measures we can do that and afford ourselves some type of an economy for the summer, which is so vital and critical to every single person that lives out here,” Jamie Douglas said. “This is a tourist resort Island driven by a seasonal economy 90 percent. It’s essential that there’s a semblance of that that remains.”
While the Douglas brothers and MacDonald stepped away from the rally, they want to continue a dialogue and discuss reopening the Island economy in conjunction with healthcare professionals.
“This is not political for us. This is about economic survival,” Robbie Douglas said.
MacDonald’s Facebook page includes posts about the tyrannical approach of the U.S. “America, you’ve been robbed of your money, your liberty and your dignity,” he wrote on April 13. “Your governments have declared you unable to make responsible decisions. This should insult any freedom loving person. But instead of revolting, we applaud and defend our oppressors.”
On that same post, Robbie Douglas commented with a link to one of the highly publicized and politically charged protests in Michigan.
After Douglas told The Times Wednesday’s rally was off, Ben Ferry wrote on the Islanders Talk Facebook page that it is still on. “This has never been about Black Dog nor will it be in the future,” he wrote. “This is about the crippling effect this shutdown has had on working class families in our community.”
Ferry’s post ignited a raging debate on the Facebook page between those who want a return to some normalcy and those who say it’s too soon.
When the Douglas family was still involved, the initial call for a rally was kicked off in an April 19 Facebook post by Jamie Douglas who called for people to “get back to work and restore our freedom” and to “save M.V. economy.”
The post says everyone will practice social distancing, and calls for a “smart and safe reopening of the economy” and that “the cure can’t be worse than the disease.”
Douglas’ brother Robbie Douglas was also tagged in the post.
There was almost immediate backlash to the proposed rally, which follows highly publicized events in Michigan, Ohio, and a more modest one at the Bourne Rotary on Cape Cod.
India Rose, a business consultant from Vineyard Haven, created boycottblackdog.com, a website encouraging people to stop patronizing the company.
“The CEO of The Black Dog company is planning a ‘liberation’ type of protest at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday April 22, 2020. In protest of current safety and stay-at-home orders. This is an act of selfish greed and the Island of Martha’s Vineyard does not want this nonsense here. We encourage everyone to boycott all of their restaurants and shops and support other Island businesses that are REAL small businesses that care about this community,” the website reads.
In a phone conversation with The Times, Rose said her call for a boycott was in counter protest to the Five Corners gathering.
“I think what they’re doing is dangerous and counter productive,” Rose said, adding that she and her family have made sacrifices like everyone else. “It’s not good for anybody, it’s not good for our community. All of us are making sacrifices. My parents live in Vineyard Haven and we don’t go to their house. We’re all doing our part to keep each other safe.”
She said it followed a similar trend across the country of groups holding rallies and gatherings demanding the reopening of the economy.
“Hopefully they [will] just really reconsider the reasoning and what they’re doing,” she said.
Updated to include an interview with the Douglas brothers and their friend on Wednesday. -ed.