Nurses Honor Fallen Peers in Demonstration on Capitol Lawn: "Is My Life Not Worth Protecting?"

The nation's largest nurses union organized a moving demonstration to demand congressional action to address the ongoing pandemic. On July 21, members of National Nurses United placed 164 pairs of white nursing shoes on the lawn of the United States Capitol to symbolize the number of nurses who have died as a result of COVID-19. Two months prior, 88 shoes were assembled in front of the White House to honor the nurses who had died at that point. The demonstration is reminiscent of a 2018 tribute organized by Avaaz memorializing children killed by gun violence.

Stephanie Simms, a nurse at the local MedStar Washington Hospital Center, 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 on 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 Representatives. 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," Simms said. "Today we see 164 pair of shoes. One hundred sixty-four nurses' lives. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters — all gone." She 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?"