About 100 people made their voices heard Saturday at a rally to protest Self Regional Healthcare’s mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees.

Luke Rankin, chairman of the Laurens County Republican Party, organized the protest to share the message that people should choose, not be forced, to get the vaccine. It was a message that resonated with several people.

“Self’s policy is overreach,” said Morris Madden of Laurens County. “If an employer can tell you you have to get a vaccination, what’s to stop Social Security from requiring a shot for you to get your check?”

“That’s a very personal choice,” Morris said about getting vaccinated. “I believe in 15 to 20 years, we will see television ads saying ‘if you got a COVID vaccination, call this number.’”

“COVID will keep bouncing back,” he said. “Sooner or later, we’ll all have to deal with it. It’s not going away. It’s like the flu. We can’t live our lives being afraid of it. We have to live. We can’t be afraid of going to the doctor’s office or the grocery store.”

A lot of people in the area go to Self, so people have a vested interest in the vaccine mandate, Mark Madden said.

“There should be no mandate. People should talk to their doctors and make good, educated decisions,” he said.

The rally began at 10 a.m. and people brought homemade signs and banners that formed a message protesting vaccine manufacturers being exempt from liability.

Glenn Temple came to the rally to show support for people who don’t want the vaccine. “It’s your choice,” said Temple, who wore a shirt featuring a quote attributed to Ben Franklin: “Those who give up essential liberty for a little safety deserve neither.”

Americans have sacrificed a lot for their comfort, Temple said. He said he hasn’t gotten the vaccine. He is not against it, but against mandates.

“I have no problem with people who get the vaccine. I know people who got it. They’re still friends.”

He decried the situation that the vaccine issue has been politicized and weaponized by both sides. The truth is in the middle; it’s hard to get to it, he said.

Self employees who refused to take the vaccine need to know there there are people who back them up, said Gregory Rankin.

“The land of the free should be free. People shouldn’t have to be threatened with losing their job,” he said. This is about public control. COVID is the smokescreen.

Protesters shared opinions that ran the gamut. Some expressed theories that COVID isn’t all that bad, that the disease was created by pharmaceutical companies that then came up with the cure, that the vaccine is the biblical mark of the beast.

When a protestor was told someone had received the vaccine, he replied, “Then they got to you.”

But most expressed concern that people’s freedoms were being impinged.

“We need knowledge, not oppression,” Denise Schumacher said. People need to go to their doctor to make an informed decision.

Reaction to the protestors seemed to be positive. Drivers honked their horns in support and gave them thumbs up gestures.

About 85% of people have shown support for the protest, said Mark Burrick, a health care worker. He has been to between 30 and 40 protests. He attended a protest in Columbia where only about 30 people participated. Greenwood has done better, he noted as he looked down a line of protestors that stretched nearly the length of the block.

A few passersby made rude gestures. “I love that I got a thumbs down,” Burrick said. “It makes we work harder. I like getting F.U.’d. It makes me smile.”

Luke Rankin seemed happy with the protest. The support has been tremendous, he said.

“People are fed up being told what to do and what to have inside their bodies. ... Give health care workers the freedom to choose what is right for them and their families. Their jobs should not be on the line.”

He said he was proud the event was the first protest for medical freedom in South Carolina. It won’t be the last one, he promised.

“We’re not done yet,” he told supporters. Referring to Self and other health care agencies such as Prisma, he said, “We will come and we will come in numbers because the American people have had enough of being told what they should and shouldn’t do.”

Rankin invited attendees to tell people about what’s going on and invite them to protests, to get them involved.

Contact staff writer Robert Jordan at 864-943-5650.