Signs of Insistence and Resistance: Clashing Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the early months of 2022, the United States was once again in the middle of a surge with the omicron variant sweeping through communities across the country. The Rituals in the Making team had the opportunity to observe first hand the clashing experiences and interpretations of the pandemic at that point in time through two public events: the January 23, 2022 “Defeat the Mandates” rally and the March 5, 2022 “Pandemic Remembrance Memorial.” Both took place at the same location—the Lincoln Memorial plaza.

Pre-rally staging area at the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Sarah Wagner

Despite the rising death toll, a galvanized group of physicians, politicians, and citizens publicly resisted government-enforced protocols intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In late January 2022, some 20,000 of them gathered to march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial for the “Defeat the Mandates” rally.

Protestors hold a sign juxtaposing American freedom and the vaccine. Photo by Anissa Ozbek.

“The CDC is withholding large amounts of data… it has weaponized public health for political purposes.”

–Dr. Robert Malone, speaker at the rally

“The minute they hand you that vaccine passport, every right that you have is transformed into a privilege contingent upon your obedience to arbitrary government dictates.”

–Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaker at the rally

Attendees gather to hear speeches at Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Jessie DiPietro.

A Pandemic Remembrance Memorial

Two months later, at that very same spot, an entirely different set of people convened in response to the pandemic’s effects. Rami’s Heart Memorial and the COVID Hope Quilt combined forces to host a candlelight vigil to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic. Also present was Martha Greenwald, poet and founder of The vigil was a much smaller, somber gathering than the rally two months earlier. We paid particular attention to the material elements of the event—the use of candles and photographs, letters and symbols.

The candlelight vigil included speakers Rima Samman of Rami’s Heart Memorial and Diane Canney, founder of the Hope Quilt. Photo by Emmy Numann

“To pretend this pandemic has had no effect on our nation and our world is only damaging.”

–Rima Samman, Rami’s Heart Memorial

Photographs of individual COVID-19 victims adorn the letters H-O-P-E at the top of the plaza steps. Photo by Emmy Numann

“While the immediacy of the Covid pandemic is fading for most of the country, every life lost or affected by chronic illness is one too many. There is a long road ahead to healing and recovery.”

–HOPE Quilt

Left: Battery-operated tealight candles were handed out to attendees. Right: The Hope Quilt draws on a long tradition of quilting memorials, including the AIDS Quilt, also displayed on the National Mall. Photos by Emmy Numann.

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