Materializing the Virtual: Engaging in Online and In-Person COVID-19 March to Remember Memorial Events

Mobilization around COVID justice and remembrance takes different forms and is propelled by a range of organizations, activists, and mourners. A prime example was the multi-sited COVID March to Remember event, organized by COVID Survivors for Change, Yellow Heart Memorial, and Faces of COVID Victims. The march and associated events took place over three days, August 4-6, 2022.

Five members of our team (Paige Gavin, Maura Kelly-Yuoh, Lauren Petree, Sebastian Sirais, and Sarah Wagner) conducted research jointly on virtual and in-person events related to the march. Maura attended in person the main march across the Brooklyn Bridge, while Lauren and Sebastian viewed its live streamed version; Paige went to a march held at a satellite site in Madison, WI, and Sarah attempted to attend another in Arnold, MD (which unfortunately never materialized).

Our aim was to document the forms of remembrance taking place and the participants’ calls to action. Here are a few of the questions we posed for ourselves in anticipation of the in-person events:

• How are people memorializing their loved ones?

• What kind of mourning rituals do you see happening?

• What objects did people bring or make use of?

• Recurring theme of recognition: what forms are being asked for and how are they being received?

A view from Brooklyn Bridge – virtual and in person

From Maura Kelly-Yuoh (in person): As we moved through the morning, the event remained extremely upbeat, almost like a celebration. The walk across the Bridge was where the group got the most engagement from passersby. Many people were stopping to look at and read the frames, some were recording the procession, and others asked what we were walking for.

From Sebastian Sirais and Lauren Petree (virtually): For those who were unable to attend in person, the organizers provided a livestream for attendees to watch virtually. Technical limitations prevented the entire event from being recorded, and ultimately only the pre-march speeches were captured online. However, it still provided a valuable place for people to support the event, even if they could not be there physically.

Top Left: Gathering place after the March across the Bridge in front of New York City Hall. Large tapestry titled “In Memory Of” so attendees could write the name of their loved one. Photo by Maura Kelly-Yuoh. Top Right: Justin Michael Williams on stage before singing the debut of his song “Forever Yellow.” T-shirts and signs can be seen by attendees, commemorating their loss. Photo by: Maura Kelly-Yuoh. Bottom Left: Start of the March across the Bridge. Photo by Maura Kelly-Yuoh. Bottom Right: A screenshot from the chat from the livestreamed recording. Photo by Sebastian Sirais.

A view from Madison, Wisconsin (Paige Gavin)

The march to remember at the Madison, WI satellite site was a much more intimate affair, where a small group of attendees reflected on losses of different kinds. 

The March to Remember Event in Madison, Wisconsin took place at the beautiful Olbrich Botanical Gardens. This place was chosen by these five women, because the mother of one of them loved nature and gardens and was also the place of another’s wedding reception. 

Photo by Paige Gavin 

“We knew the pandemic was coming and we wanted to get one last outing in before everything changes. I had them sit on that elephant statue over there for a photo. They were sitting on it, not knowing what is going to happen.” 

For one of the women in the group, the elephant statue symbolized the beginning of the pandemic, because it was the last place her family went before lockdown. It also symbolizes the opening of the society again, because it was the first place they went after lockdown. 

Photo by Paige Gavin 

A View from Arnold, MD (Sarah Wagner)

For some reason the march at this satellite site never happened. No one else appeared. Waiting at the designated meeting point, in community college parking lot, I was faced with an unusual question: How do you study ethnographically a non-event, or an event that failed to materialize? 

Materializing the non-event. Photo by Sarah Wagner 

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