The Freedom to Assemble in Covid Times

Since the first case of covid-19 was reported in the US, Americans have had to face a new cause of illness and death.  Two years into the experience, society remains divided in its willingness to combat the virus, protect itself, and limit the harms that this pernicious, sometimes mortal contagion wreaks.  Covid is just dangerous enough to interfere with ordinary social pleasures, disrupt institutional regimens, and cramp habits of congregation outside.

Yet, we are intrinsically social beings.  Humans need to gather, interact, and be together.  The more this natural impulse (amounting to a necessity) is thwarted, the more frustrated and unfulfilled people naturally feel.  It’s one thing to forego society for the sake of public health temporarily, quite another to undertake indefinitely.  As omicron sweeps the nation and the world, it humbles the scientific pretense of human control.

While in the camp that takes every precaution, I appreciate the actions of those who, with a dash of faith and courage, are living into the moment as they normally would.  One can master the science and actuarial risks, yet remain befuddled about how to live with a threat that’s small but vexatiously variable.  It’s a quandary for rational, conscientious people: how to rejoin society while meeting the subliminal risks of covid-19.

Which brings us to the political point of this essay, which is that good Americans must become gregarious again, if only for the sake of good politics.  When federalism veered dangerously close to a meltdown in the final years of the Trump administration, most patriots were immobilized, balkanized, cooped up at home.  The elements threatening the polity remain at large, in part due to the complicity of the Republican Party.

Americans have always been a congregating people, freely combining for worship, self-improvement, and leisure.  They have voluntarily started and powered thousands of charitable, civic, cultural, and political enterprises.  When such informal associations flourish, reform and regeneration typically do, too.  Americans have been painfully slow to take steps to mitigate covid’s spread and severity, but, as a majority recommits itself to the ideals of health, prosperity, and community, a political renaissance could follow, too.

Image: from this source.

2 responses

  1. The scourge of covid has impacted the lives of everyone I know: my friends, every family member I keep in touch with, and the business people I deal with. They are all careful; most are very, very careful of where they go. Yet too many “out there” are totally the opposite, noisily and stupidly going on as they did before without taking any precautions. Thus, the virus remains. I miss the spontaneity of life, the freedom to “take off” somewhere for fun and pleasure.

    It’s a shame that Americans have not come together to tackle the virus. The nation has every resource to do it. Yet, sadly, the issue has become politicalized and polarizing. If we could just GATHER together as a nation under this cause–it is just common sense to do so–, I agree, a renaissance could and would occur.

    • In the meantime, people who are fully vaxxed / boosted and who follow all the recommended precautions must learn to face this risk. The US government can’t make it go away. Americans haven’t united around the practices that would stamp it out. As more people get sick and vaccinated, true, the risk will wane. Nonetheless, covid may be with us always (be “endemic”). This is why a matter-of-fact focus on living fully amid the risk is called for. This might mean rearranging how we meet and work toward political goals. Thanks, Harley.