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In his daily COVID-19 press conference on April 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a question about protesters against the restrictions to stave off the disease outside the capitol building at that moment, and the answer was astounding. He said, “The illness is death. What is worse than death?… Economic hardship? Yes, very bad; not death. Emotional stress from being locked in a house? Very bad; not death. Domestic violence on the increase? Very bad; not death. And not death of someone else. See, that’s what we have to factor into this equation. Yeah, it’s your life, do whatever you want; but you’re now responsible for my life. You have a responsibility to me. It’s not just about you. You have a responsibility to me, right?… It’s not just about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’ Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.” I think this is the perfect response to all the people waging protests about the stay-at-home orders and demanding to open the United States immediately.
The protests in numerous states— including heavily armed and armored people in Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania— were about opening the states up again in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are decrying government actions as tyranny and not a quarantine, some rallying cries of various conspiracy theories, and demanding their freedom from what they see as imprisonment. All of this makes Cuomo’s response much more fitting.
The preamble to the Declaration of Independence (which many government officials often confuse with the Constitution) clearly tells us that the government only “derives their power from the consent of the governed”; but equally clear is that “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” comes after life. The Constitution’s preamble mixes it around a bit, but the sentiment is the same: these rights are to protect all living members of society. The Constitution is also a balancing act between the various freedoms to (e.g. to speak and assemble freely) and freedoms from (e.g. preventing illegal searches and seizure of property), and yet these rights truly belong to the living. The ultimate purpose of a society is to protect the life of its citizens; without human life there is no society (and for full disclosure, I am pro-choice—a fetus is not a human life but a potential human life, but that’s a whole other blog post). In the middle of this pandemic where there is NO cure or vaccine yet and no sense if having caught this virus will keep you immune from it again, precautionary measures are being taken to preserve the life of those infected and at-risk (high and low) of being infected. These are not meant to permanently curtail freedoms, but to prevent people from infection and/or death until we can beat this disease. Anyone telling you these are a violation of your rights is trying to sell you a really bad right-wing agenda (and point of fact, many of the protests around the COVID requirements and reopening of businesses are being organized by the same alt-right that brought you the Straight Pride parade, The Charlottesville riot, and the Trump “presidency.”) It is morally reprehensible to endanger others for those who favor an ideology that does not represent everyone. And yes, we need to be thinking of everyone.
No one has to like the situation we are in (I don’t), but it is not unprecedented. The 1918 Spanish Flu infected about one-third of the world’s population (approximately 500 million) and killed 50 million people worldwide. It was a pandemic that came and went in waves, and such is the case with COVID. With the technology we have at our disposal we can better handle the situation, but ONLY if people cooperate in the best interest of each other. All those refusing to wear masks in public are only prolonging the course of a pandemic longer than needed. While Benjamin Franklin said “those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” we must realize that we are temporarily sacrificing some personal liberties to purchase essential life. Our lives and the lives of others must take precedent over needing a haircut, going to a movie/bar/restaurant, or the next party—and honestly always should. Those carrying assault rifles and chanting “give me liberty or give me death” en masse at state capitols are not real patriots. The true patriots have been at home, washing their hands, and wearing masks if they need to go shopping.