A group of at least a dozen protesters staged a sit-in protest at Aeronaut Brewing Company, a brewery in Somerville, on Feb. 20. The unmasked protesters refused to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, violating the business’s COVID-19 policies.
The protesters insisted that the brewery was discriminating against their medical status and that they had the legal right to be there without being masked or vaccinated.
Aeronaut updated its COVID-19 vaccination policy to require all guests ages 12 and older to show proof of vaccination beginning on Feb. 2.
“We have also previously implemented an internal vaccination mandate, and are proud to say our staff is fully vaccinated,” Aeronaut wrote in a statement released on Twitter.
The group of protesters refused to leave after being asked by one police officer but eventually left after being confronted by additional officers.
“They have no power or authority to remove us,” a protester told a police officer when refusing to leave Aeronaut.
Willie Burnley Jr., a city councilor at large in Somerville, assured Aeronaut Brewery that they had the right to deny service to the protesters.
“I let [a staff member] know that the City of Somerville had her back on this,” Burnley Jr. said. “Businesses are allowed to deny entry into their restaurants, and therefore they should have the ability to peacefully eject folks who do not comply.”
Dan Elton, a Somerville resident, witnessed the protest.
“I talked to the guy who was sort of the leader, and he was very adamant that they had the legal right to be there, and he had a printout with some local law,” Elton said.
Elton said the protesters cited an anti-discrimination law that protects individuals against discrimination for categories like race, gender and religion.
“I was telling him, ‘I don't see anything on here about vaccination,’ but he was claiming that if you discriminate based on vaccination, it's a protected characteristic,” Elton said. “I don't think that argument really made any sense, but he was really adamant.”
Burnley Jr. said educating business leaders on what they can do in similar situations is a way the city council and mayor can support them.
“I was surprised to hear from the leadership of this business that they were unsure about what they could do in this situation,” Burnley Jr. said. “As far as I'm aware, they followed the protocol just as they were supposed to.”
Burnley Jr. denounced the actions of the protesters.
“The folks who have been intentionally and aggressively flouting these guidelines and rules, I do not believe [they] are doing so with good intentions,” Burnely Jr. said. “I consider them, for the most part, either bullies or people who have nothing better to do than to be outraged by things and to try to provoke outrage.”
Evan George, a patron of Aeronaut Brewery, said he is against the protesters and supports businesses like Aeronaut that respect public health measures.
“These protests are part of a much larger national anti-vax and COVID denial ideology that has been exponentially growing over the past 2 years,” George wrote in an email to the Daily. “Its reactionary compass is based on the notion that the government should not be able to do anything that restricts their rights as a consumer.”
He emphasized the importance of supporting restaurant staff during protests.
“Tip heavily. Service workers already do not qualify for the state's minimum wage and on top of that have to deal with people like this,” George wrote. “Second, reassure the staff you are there to support them.”
George also encouraged alienating protesters as long as it does not escalate the situation.
“It is very important for these people to be viewed as social pariahs, especially on social media,” George wrote. “This operates as a deterrent, and people who may be considering engaging in these anti-public health protests will think twice if they know it will be posted on social media.”
Burnley Jr. urged for the collective protection of the Somerville community.
“It's my opinion that these mandates not only are in place to safeguard people’s health but also just to … send the message that the kind of community we want to be is one in which everyone feels safe and comfortable,” Burnley Jr. said.