200,000 Flags in a Field: An American Memorial

A few months ago I wrote a post about what sort of memorial we should have to mark the COVID-19 pandemic. I noted that a few preliminary tributes had already started popping up, from the front page of the New York Times to Chicago’s Virtual Memorial Wall.

A powerful temporary memorial has now appeared in Washington, D.C., created by local artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg. She placed over 200,000 white flags around RFK Stadium, representing the American lives lost to the coronavirus. Flags will continue to be placed as the death toll rises, and families of victims have been invited to write the names of their loved ones on the flags.

The installation is in place through Friday, November 6. Given the timing and location, it’s hard to say the monument is apolitical. But at the moment, the coronavirus crisis is a partisan crisis. The Republican Party is abdicating its governing responsibilities in favor of crude power politics, and its leader and his enablers are spreading disinformation that’s getting American killed. Whatever qualms I have with the Democratic Party pale in comparison.

Maybe a future memorial can one day provide a space for truth, reconciliation, and justice. Maybe it can become an embodiment of a the shared narrative of this moment, even if it remains disputed. But we are far away from that point. Next week’s election is our opportunity to keep ourselves from getting farther from it. Let’s exercise our right to do so in honor of those we’ve lost this year.

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