Wednesday, 24 June 2020

July 4th, Otherwise: A National Day of Mourning and Memory

On 27th May 2020, Spain announced the start of a period of national mourning to commemorate those who lost their lives to coronavirus. It lasted for 10 days.

Flags were lowered to half mast as the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez announced that it would be the '...longest period of mourning in our democracy, in which we will all express our sorrow and pay homage to those who have died.'

I've been waiting for a while now for the UK government to announce something similar. With the death toll continuing to rise (official figures now well past 40,000, although remember - we don't  count all deaths. 60,000 is probably more like it) we have the highest death rate in Europe.  Meanwhile, our prime minister announces the inevitable end of lockdown for economic reasons, Rishi Sunak tweets that he can't wait to go to the pub, and Matt Hancock states delightedly that 'our plan is working' whilst simultaneously failing to ever know how many people are actually being tested.

(By the way, it's ok to be simultaneously happy that the economy is starting up again and frustrated that no acknowledgement of Covid-19 deaths has taken place; the two things aren't mutually exclusive).

Poppies in a Whitley field
Memorialisation is important.  If we're not careful we can fall into a pattern of 'collective forgetting', whereby we minimise the impact ('it wasn't actually that bad!'), allow ourselves to have this forgetting done for us by the State ('it's over people, let's go to the pub!') or become immune to the impact of increasing numbers because we simply cannot picture the scale of lives lost.  (For more on the ethics of collective memory please read this fantastic blog by Anders Sandberg).

How we mourn and memorialise is up to us, of course. The impact will be felt differently depending on our relationship to Covid-19 and how it has affected our loved ones and communities.  It may be that we spend time documenting or journalling our thoughts and facts about what happened (lest we forget). We might want to do something creative; write a poem, paint a picture, compose a piece of music. We might want to talk about someone we lost, perhaps record an oral history. We might want to remember in the pub of course! That's ok too.  The Dutch philosopher Spinoza talked about having an ethics of joy and affirmation; the belief that we can take pain and transform it into knowledge in order to live better lives in the future. I'd love your ideas about how you'd choose to memorialise - perhaps we can share them and create a collective digital memorial? Perhaps you're already doing something and would like to share it? Please comment on this blog if you would like to, and let's make it happen.

Remembering is our moral duty.  One of the hopeful things to emerge from the pandemic was the rise of community action, mutual aid and the sight of people coming together informally, without waiting for state intervention. 

If the government won't hold a day of national mourning, let's do it ourselves. That's how I will be spending July 4th. Fancy joining me?