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The consequences of personal choice should not be mistaken for oppression

In the January 2022 issue of Works in Progress, “Cassandra” wrote a perspective piece objecting to vaccine mandates. She compared restaurants requiring proof of vaccination to Jim Crow and called abortion rights “the mantra of progressive left voters.” Here is my response to what I found to be a thoughtless and irresponsible “perspective.”

Last summer the last throng of tourists ripped through the small streets of my town in Michigan, one last final push before summer ended. A woman complained her cherry lemonade “didn’t taste like lemonade or cherry, it tastes like nothing – bland.” A recipe rarely strays from muscle memory—grenadine and lemonade. I had already made ten that morning. She left a dismal tip and my sister and I tested for COVID a week later, just shy of three weeks before my planned move to Olympia for school.

Rates of hospitalization are eight to ten times higher in those who are unvaccinated, statistics released by the Washington State Department of Health as of January 12th, 2022. As COVID-19 continues to mutate and disrupt us, we need to take serious consideration of its threat and our response. Not only is Cassandra’s argument careless and offensive, but it is also void of the threatening statistics which ravish our healthcare systems and disrupt every aspect of public life. What we don’t need is defense for selfishness, we need advocacy for competence and informed citizens. Cherry picked concern is not bountiful harvest.

Vaccinations are not cures. COVID-19 is a highly transmissible and aggressive infection with unknown long-term effects. Vaccinations are tools in which we mitigate harm and strengthen immunity. We are in the thicket of learning and understanding which demands cooperation. Vaccinations are not new—as Cassandra mentioned—but proven and practiced science which has in time eradicated disease. Fear mongering and hyperbole are weak charades which color any argument Cassandra presents with bleeding ink.

Abortions are not a topic of public health, whether a person chooses to terminate a pregnancy does not run the risk of terminating other pregnancies. Serving people of color presented no feasible to risk to service workers, who were unreasonably restricted from public life to bar them from a high quality of life. COVID-19 is a public health epidemic—which consequently restricts and disrupts public life. Not only are Cassandra’s comparisons to pro-choice written in coded language—they’re wrong. The prochoice argument is supported by a wide variety of voters, not a secular leftist ideal. For example, a very vocal right-wing activist, Tomi Lahren, admitted publicly she was pro-choice.

There is no use in polarizing debates based on left or right, it’s a futile mission. Cassandra argues for Reasonable Accommodation but sacrificing the ability to interact with mass society is consequence of personal choice amid a global pandemic. As a community we need to fully resonate with ideas of the common good. To compare hundreds of years of oppression to the threat of casual dining for a voluntary few is careless and disrespectful. It’s a rash comparison and an old tactic.

There is tangible danger in constant close contact with strangers during a global pandemic—Cassandra minimizes the risk to service workers and wrongly compares it to racist segregation and mass injustice. It is a growing and concerning trend which devalues the experiences and tragedies of those who experience actual discrimination.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. made similar remarks recently, saying we are worse off today than Anne Frank because of vaccine mandates. The U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum responded, “Making reckless comparisons to the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews, for a political agenda, is outrageous and deeply offensive. Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate.”

I am vaccinated and immuno-compromised. I remain juxtaposed by my physical and economic vulnerability, as are many in the service industry without insurance or paid sick leave. We cannot continue to demand customer service workers to subject themselves to the consequences of personal choice. The operation of choice is only equitable if it can move both ways. If you cannot take a prick for us, we cannot be compelled to serve you.

Jaina Elaine is a student at The Evergreen State College.

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