The ongoing tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic is overwhelming. We hear statistics day after day. Over 200,000 dead. Millions infected. They numb our conscience. So Bethesda, Maryland artists Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg acted. I asked her why and she said “We had to do something.”
So she designed an art project called In America. In a swath of grass 20 blocks east of the Capitol, she is planting row after row of white flags, one for each covid-19 death in the United States. She expects there to be about 240,000 of them from today until November 6.
The orderly flags remind me of the white headstones in military cemeteries like Arlington and Colleville-sur-Mer. So clean. So white. So much death. How could this happen in America?
To drive home the point, on the western front of the installation is a set of over 300 white flags. To the side are 26 more. The 26 flags represent the total covid-19 deaths in New Zealand. The 300+ flags show the covid-19 deaths that New Zealand would have had if it had followed the haphazard response that occurred in the United States.
There is something about this particular part of DC that draws the sad and the bizzarre. The last time I had ridden a bike to this space was to participate in a BikeDC event shortly after the attacks of September 2001. A massive crowd of bicyclists stood somberly. We were there to show that no matter what we would carry on. We sang God Bless America then rolled off en masse.
Three years before that I attended the Tibetan Freedom concert in RFK Stadium across the street to the east of the flags. In the middle of the concert I went to the concession stand. I heard a loud BANG. Lightning had struck a person some 20 rows or so below my seat. (She survived.) The concert was stopped and the massive crowd was told to leave the stadium in the middle of a raging thunderstorm.
And so here I was again observing another sad and bizzare moment in history.
Volunteers are welcome to come and install flags. Sadly, there will be about 1,000 new flags every day for the duration of the display. Wear a mask and observe social distancing, of course. Or just come and bear witness.