Speaking out about “progressive” organizations giving up on COVID

By | December 15, 2022

A progressive organization which I have supported philosophically and financially in the past recently sent me an invitation to an in-person holiday party. I wrote back and told them how disappointed I was with their decision to do that and that they had permanently tarnished their reputation in my eyes. They did not respond. A few days later, they sent me a second invitation. I unsubscribed from their mailing list and told them I would no longer support them. A few days later I got this:

I got your email a little delayed because it came to our general office mailbox, but I do want you to know I had printed it out and was carrying it around with me waiting to answer it for a few days so I could give it a thoughtful response (and, frankly, to make sure we were still going ahead with an in-person event).

I share your hesitation. Personally, I have been extremely careful throughout this whole pandemic and was one of the last people to start going out again. I still mask in grocery stores and big gatherings, have every vaccination, etc.

But, for the organization, I’ve been watching what’s been happening around us. Houses of worship are having services, galas, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc. Non-profits are all doing in-person meetings of all sizes again. I’ve been invited to house parties and dinners of over 1200 people. It feels like every similar organization to us is going back to live events.

We figured we’d try a small event and see what happens in terms of attendance. We are requiring vaccination and encouraging people to take a rapid test that day.

I understand you may not be comfortable in a group setting yet, even masked. I totally get that, and as I said, I err on the very cautious side myself. I definitely didn’t want [org] to be a leader in in-person events, but now it seems like we are one of the last organizations to go this route.

I understand if you still want to unsubscribe to our list, but hope that you decide to re-join to get our alerts.

And, thank you for writing. It’s important for me to hear what people are thinking, and not everyone shares what’s on their minds. I’m glad you did.

Here’s how I responded:

I believe that two of the cardinal principals of progressive activism are speaking truth to power and advocating for the right thing even when it is unpopular.

Simply put, what other organizations are doing is wrong, and joining the herd was not the correct progressive response. You could have been a leader. You chose to be a follower.

You can make a case that events with proof (because people lie) of current vaccination (in terms of susceptibility to infection and spreading, having been vaccinated more than four months ago is as good as not having been vaccinated at all), mandatory masking when not eating, and proof (because, again, people lie) of mandatory testing the day of the event are sufficiently safe. Anything less than that just isn’t, not under the lower community infection levels we were seeing before Thanksgiving and certainly not in the middle of the surge we’re seeing now.

The reason why progressivism as a movement exists is because capitalist society is regressive. Pretending COVID doesn’t exist anymore is regressive, and this is no exaggeration: it is destroying our society in slow motion. And now [org] is a part of that.

You could have organized an event with the precautions I mentioned above (or, at the very least, more precautions than you mentioned on the invitation, specifically using the invitation as an opportunity to educate about COVID safety). You could have organized an event in February or March, after the holiday surge. You could have done an online-only fundraising event and used it as an opportunity to educate people about why in-person events aren’t safe and ask them to support an organization that is taking COVID seriously and keeping the community safe (for the record, if you had done that, I would have donated, even though my wife and I aren’t making any donations right now because I just got laid off and don’t know when I will have a new job).

I frankly don’t care how much you much you angsted before making the wrong decision. Three years into the pandemic, I am all out of patience, kindness, or compassion for community institutions that have been making bad decisions and endangering us not just since March 2020, but frankly since 2016 when it became clear to thinking people that Trump was an existential threat to our democracy and community institutions as a whole failed to respond with anywhere near the aggressiveness they should have because they were scared of alienating Republican donors.

Congratulations! [org] is part of the establishment now. Enjoy it while it lasts.

If you’ve read this far and you’re asking why I’m not revealing the name of the organization, the reason is simply that, as its executive director indicated in the email above, what they’re doing is no different from most other organizations, and I see no value in calling them out explicitly. The problem isn’t one organization, it’s all of them.

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