The nation's largest nurses union organised a moving demonstration to demand congressional action to address the ongoing pandemic. On July 21, members of National Nurses United placed 164 white nurses shoes on the lawn of the US Capitol to symbolize the number of nurses who have died as a result of COVID-19. Two months prior, 88 shoes had been assembled in front of the White House to honour the nurses who had died at that point. The demonstration is reminiscent of a 2018 tribute organised by Avaaz memorializing children killed by gun violence.
Stephanie Simms, a nurse at the local MedStar Washington Hospital Centre, delivered a powerful speech at the gathering. "There are no words that could fully express the anger and the sadness I feel this morning," she said. Simms went on to note how the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States has now surpassed 140,000, whereas the number was at 70,000 at the time of the first demonstration. Simms added, "That is double the number from May 8, demonstrating a complete and utter failure of presidential and congressional leadership."
National Nurses United has been urging Congress to enforce proper workplace standards and provide more personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and those at the front lines of the pandemic. The union also called on the Senate to pass the Heroes Act, which has already been approved by the House of Representative. The $3 trillion plan would offer additional unemployment benefits, hazard pay, and a second round of stimulus checks, among other propositions.
"Is my life not worth protecting?"
"I ask you to look around today. Today we see 164 pairs of shoes. 164 nurses' lives. Mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, sons and daughters — all gone," Simms said. She later added, "Let us be perfectly clear: if we nurses are not safe, patients are not safe, and every one of us can become a patient at any moment . . . Are the lives of my coworkers not worth protecting? Are the lives of my patients not worth protecting? Is my life not worth protecting?"