Dan Patrick’s comments on coronavirus serve as inspiration for DC memorial

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WASHINGTON – It is as remarkable as it is unexpected. A sea of ​​white flags, one for each victim, commemorating the more than 227,000 lives lost to coronavirus in the United States

Small white flags, the kind used as markers for landscaping, have transformed a rectangular green square 2 miles from the Capitol into a kinetic art space that moves with the breeze.

A flag for every life lost, decided Washington artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, who said the spark for the project came from an unexpected source: Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

“When the lieutenant governor of Texas suggested that the elderly should be prepared to risk their lives and die for the economy – that horrified me,” Firstenberg told the American-Stateman.

“It was so horrible to think that a public official would devalue people so much,” she said, sitting on a bench in the middle of her facility.

In a Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson in late March, Patrick said he and other seniors were willing to risk dying in exchange for reopening the economy for their children and grandchildren.

“No one contacted me and said, ‘As a senior, are you willing to take a chance in return for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? “And if it’s the exchange, I’m totally into it,” he said.

Democrats condemned the sentiment and public health officials noted young and old alike were getting sick and dying from the virus. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has put in place a month-long stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the virus. (In the months since it was lifted and as Abbott eased restrictions on businesses, more than 17,000 Texans lost their lives.)

In a subsequent April interview with Carlson, Patrick doubled down on his controversial comments and said he was right.

“What I said when I was with you that night is that there are things more important than living,” said Patrick. “And that is saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.”

“I was appalled”

Firstenberg, 61, who volunteered at a hospice for 25 years, remembers his reaction to Patrick’s words: “I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine sacrificing my mom for the economy. Firstenberg’s mother, 86, lives alone in South Dakota.

And from the first time she heard Patrick, Firstenberg, who is a sculptor, suddenly gave himself a mission: “I knew immediately that I would use my art in one way or another.

Messages left for Patrick seeking comment were not returned.

The idea of ​​using American flags was not feasible during an election year because they are in high demand. So Firstenberg opted for the white landscaping and engineering flags, which cost less than 10 cents each.

The result is a largely self-funded, short-term public art project titled “In America, How Could This Happen …”

The facility, which is up October 23 through Friday, and has webcams for those who can’t visit, sits in front of the DC Armory, federal land leased from the District of Columbia government.

At the entrance to the site, there is a notice board with the title of the project as well as the number of deaths from COVID-19 in large figures. It is changed daily to track the number of victims.

Firstenberg, visitors and volunteers plant more flags each day representing the previous day’s death toll.

A sea of ​​flags

There were only a handful of visitors on a recent afternoon, but Firstenberg, wearing a red broad-brimmed hat and wearing a mask, warmly greeted everyone. All visitors are requested to wear a mask and maintain a social distance.

Those who work on the site say the weekends are busy and some visitors, especially those who have lost a loved one, cry when they see the sight and will place a flag with a personal message.

“It’s awesome. It has the serenity of Arlington cemetery and the eccentricity of Christo,” said Karen Elkin of Alexandria, Va., Who stopped to visit him as she took a stroll. cycling on a hot day Arlington National Cemetery is the country’s first military cemetery and Christo was an artist who, along with his wife, created innovative environmental art installations.

As the news spread about the facility, more and more people are coming. Nullie Stockton left her home in Great Falls, Virginia to place a flag in honor of her mother-in-law who died of COVID-19 on October 17 in Georgia. “I feel very sad that there are so many flags,” she said. When asked how she felt when she placed a flag herself, Stockton replied: “I think comfort, maybe.”

Firstenberg said she could not have completed the project without the generous donation of design advice and 400 hours of installation assistance from Ruppert Landscaping, a Laytonsville, Md., Outlet with outlets. in several states, including Texas.

However, she gently refuses any monetary donation from visitors, suggesting that they instead donate to celebrity chef Jose Andres’ Global Central Kitchen, which provides meals during natural disasters.

Firstenberg’s concern now is whether she has enough flags. She bought 250,000 flags thinking that would be enough. But with the recent spike in deaths, she wants to make sure she has a flag for all victims.

Passionate about the project from the start, she was not prepared for its impact. “I never imagined the overwhelming emotion of this,” she said.

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