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Column: L.A.'s unvaccinated public workers go Ayn Rand, throw fit over city’s vaccine mandate

Protesters against vaccine mandates
Anti-vaccine mandate protesters at Grand Park, outside L.A. City Hall, on Nov. 8.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The big tantrum happened in front of L.A. City Hall.

Thousands gathered to protest the city’s mandate that all public employees vaccinate themselves against COVID-19, or lose their jobs.

Many of the assembled employees, including police officers and firefighters, owe their taxpayer-funded paychecks to the city’s alphabet soup of important public agencies: the MTA, the DWP, the LAPD, LASD and LAFD.

Some wore hats touting the extremist Proud Boys. At least one person held a sign in support of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

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Rally-goers held placards that hailed freedom of choice, assailed Mayor Eric Garcetti, claimed vaccines were “toxic,” and cited various constitutional amendments to justify their stance. American flags emblazoned with singular blue and red stripes — a representation of the idea that law enforcement and firefighters are the thin lines of defense that keep societies from descending into chaos — flapped all around.

The public workers gathered to protest, but also to offer a threat to the rest of us:

We’re ready to quit over this vaccine mandate. And if that happens, L.A. will suffer.

“It’s basic math,” a self-identified firefighter named Chris told one of my colleagues who covered the rally. “Response times are going to go up if they have to fire all of us.”

The show of force followed weeks of similar rallies across the country, and Instagram posts and YouTube videos by local police officers and firefighters who vowed to leave their careers rather than submit to L.A.’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. And it came just days after L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference to ominously warn the rule would create an “imminent threat” to public safety because so many of his deputies — only 42% of them are fully vaccinated — want to leave the force because of it.

All this jibber-jabbering over, well, a jab brought back college memories of a bad novel once gifted to me by either a faculty member, a friend with dubious taste — or a foe.

It was “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand.

Whoever handed me the copy of the book suggested I apply for an essay contest sponsored by the nonprofit devoted to the teachings of the high priestess of navel-gazing. I was a fan of freedom, I’d get to read a book by a famous writer, and there was a cash prize — win-win for me, right?

Cue “The Price is Right” loser’s horn.

I tried plowing through the 1,000-page-plus brick of bloated nothingness, before reaching for the less cruel — simply by virtue of there being less of it — Cliff Notes version. Even that was bad. The tome’s celebration of selfishness and scorn for the weak rankled my Catholic faith; the overwrought characters and dialogue offended my English.

But nothing bothered me more than the hero of “Atlas Shrugged,” a mysterious man named John Galt. Quietly, and then loudly, he urged the learned elites of America to go on strike to show the public how brilliant and essential they were as a feckless government slowly collapsed without their industry. At the end, Galt tells his fellow ubermenschen to create a new order where individual might makes right.

“I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man,” Galt proclaims in the novel’s climactic, mucho long speech, “nor ask another man to live for mine.”

It was all too triumphalist and agro for college me, so I moved on to the mopey existentialist writings of Sartre and Camus. But “Atlas Shrugged” is arguably one of the most important novels in post-World War II America because of the powerful people who embraced it: former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, talk-show blowhard Rush Limbaugh and most of the techbro class are just some of its more famous fans.

Now, we can perhaps add to that group all the wannabe John Galts who showed up to L.A. City Hall. They may not have read the book, but they sure channeled the spirit of it.

They view themselves as heroic loners, the embodiment of the eponymous Greek Titan of “Atlas Shrugs” who bears the world on his shoulders. That’s a fine philosophy to tout when you’re a 20-something undergrad, but not when you’re a public worker whose ostensible job is to serve the masses.

That thousands of L.A. public employees refuse to get vaccinated, and that some are now threatening to leave their well-paying posts — and not too shabby benefits — under the aegis of liberty, has caught a lot of liberal L.A. by surprise. The most recent stats show 78% of L.A. County employees and about 66% of city employees are fully vaccinated. Rallies like what happened last week might give pause to members of the public. who will rightfully worry about garbage piling up or electricity going out with fewer workers left.

But the city of L.A. and L.A. County should hold firm on their vaccine mandate. Listen, it’s one thing for private businesses to decide whether they want to continue to employ unvaccinated workers, or ask for the COVID-19 vaccination status of their customers. But it’s different in the public sector, where the bosses are us. Any worker that’s going to throw a selfish, silly fit over something that keeps their bosses — that’s us — safe deserves the dismissal that’s coming their way.

These public-sector pandejos are ranting against government tyranny despite gladly, willingly benefiting from the great tyrant’s public largesse. They claim their decision to not take the COVID-19 vaccine is about bodily autonomy — or whatever Green Bay Packers quarterback and self-proclaimed “critical thinker” Aaron Rodgers calls uninformed medical decisions these days — despite many city departments requiring workers to get multiple other vaccines as a condition of their employment. For instance, L.A. police officers need to take a needle for half a dozen other illnesses like tetanus and measles; L.A. firefighters require nine.

Anti-vax public workers are portraying themselves as freedom warriors, while also implying that those of us who are fully vaccinated — the majority of Southern California residents, by the way — are chumps or sheep. In the private sector, saying your boss is an idiot gets you fired.

If they can’t take something as simple as a shot that helps humanity conquer a pandemic that has brought so much misery and is being exacerbated by the unvaccinated, then we shouldn’t trust them with helping to keep Los Angeles running. Let the defiant move to Idaho along with other California quitters. But leave your pension here — you know, because it bears the stench of tyranny.

After seeing the City Hall rally, I decided to try to read John Galt’s climactic speech, which runs 60 pages. I couldn’t — it was as bad as I remembered it. But one passage did stand out.

“Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course,” he said. “And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality—you who have never known any—but to discover it.”

Barf.

Talk about a big shrug.


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