The first email came in at 10:36 AM. The second one arrived at 3:00 PM. It was May 27. First JMU, and then CNU, were announcing COVID vaccine mandates. In the space of a few hours, the truth set in, that in 21st century America the Commonwealth of Virginia was coercing two of my children, on pain of expulsion from their University, into taking an experimental non-FDA-approved medical treatment with significant safety issues, with the stated goal of preventing a condition with 99.997% survivability in their age group, to protect a population for whom the same treatment is available free of charge to any who want it. It was a metaphorical kick in the teeth. I knew there were Ivy League schools that had mandated the vaccine, and Notre Dame. Maybe a few others. But that was just madness, a remote catastrophe, like a horrible train wreck you see on TV and think “It’s not going to happen here.” But it did.
I posted a few sentences on my Facebook page about it. I was still processing it, but I needed to just say what happened. I closed with a bitter observation: “We've become a nation of scared rats. It's quite likely this is only the beginning.”
One of my friends responded that I needed to gear up to fight this, and enlist others in the cause. He rattled off a list of things I could do. “Go to the mattresses. It will be quite an education for your kids, too”, he said. As I drove to work, I resolved quite firmly that I would not do any of those things. That would take over my life, and I needed my life. I thought of the family and work responsibilities that were already pressing in on me. There isn’t time for something like this. Maybe someone else will fight it. Maybe the mitigations won’t be so bad. I gotta hurry to make that 10:00 meeting.
That evening, I ended up on the CNU parents’ Facebook page, debating the science, decrying the attack on our children, and defending our freedom. To their credit, the admins let us have the debate, censoring posts only when people got ugly or political. The next day, I wrote a long letter to the Dean at CNU and posted it in the Facebook group. I asked the Admin to lock the thread, knowing that the salutary arguments were already out there, for anyone with eyes to see them.
But in the course of the debate, I had bumped into a few parents. We were messaging each other privately, asking what we should do. By the start of the weekend, I had just over a dozen parents in my chat. Everyone was distraught and feeling powerless, but no one was about to give up. These were all Moms in the chat with me. Most or all had supportive husbands who were 100% with them on the issue. But I was hanging out with the Mamma Bears who weren’t going to stand for anyone threatening their children. I was starting to think that staying out of the fight wasn’t really a viable option.
On Saturday, I decided to create a Slack team and move the discussion there, where we could structure it a bit and enjoy a richer interface. The Mamma Bears came right along. None of them had used Slack before, but they picked it up quickly. A few more joined us, and in a few days we had 26 people in the group. I really appreciated the mutual support, but 26 people against the rest of the world didn’t seem like very good odds. But then we started discovering that we weren’t alone, that there were other groups like us out there. And that changed everything.
I discovered a CNU parents group on Facebook, dedicated to opposition to the mandate. I messaged the admin and told her about the Slack group, and we immediately started working together. Within a few minutes, she was on our Slack team and I was in her Facebook group, and the members of both groups eventually started mixing as well. Meanwhile, I had previously gone to the JMU parents page and been very disappointed about the lack of critical response from the parents. There were only three comments on the post about the mandate, all of them just asking why they didn’t get the email. But now I had discovered a JMU parents Facebook group also opposed to the mandate, and I learned from them that the admins in the regular parents group had been aggressively censoring all posts speaking out against the mandate. I should have realized. But once again, there was a two-way transfer. The admins joined the other groups immediately, and the members began merging as well. We also discovered a Facebook group opposed to the mandates that wasn’t specific to a school, with university parents from all over, but mostly in Virginia. Again, a two-way transfer of admins and members ensued.
The Slack group was growing, and a few of us formed a leadership team to organize and focus our efforts. Just when we thought we might get a handle on it, there was another inflection point in the gathering of parents. UVA and Virginia Tech announced their mandates within a few days of each other, and almost instantly there was a flood of parents, which grew even larger as various other Virginia schools announced mandates also. The fat was in the fire. Many of these schools had anti-mandate Facebook groups too, and their admins discovered our Slack team and wanted to know if we could handle the influx. “Of course we can”, we replied, taking some liberties with the definition of “handle”.
Two weeks after thinking it was me and a dozen Mamma Bears, there were 325 members in the Slack group and multiple hundreds of parents in various Facebook groups, organizing for mutual support and action against the COVID vaccine mandates. The membership in all groups continues to increase and will likely be much greater by the time you read this. Facebook groups serve somewhat different purposes than the Slack group, and there are people who for various reasons only join one or the other. So we decided against consolidation of the groups, and instead we’re maintaining close cooperation through the leadership and broad mutual engagement among all the members. We’re raising funds, educating one another, coordinating letters to universities and health authorities, exploring various avenues of legal protection, exchanging ideas about obtaining vaccine exceptions and maintaining our children’s freedom during the mitigation regimes to be levied on the refuseniks, and much more.
One of our members introduced us to Marsha at Virginia Freedom Keepers, and so we’re discovering others who’ve been engaged in this same fight in a broader context than COVID. We’re learning that the assault on medical freedom was already here long before the madness that descended on the world in 2020. We’re not activists by temperament or desire, but we’ve been activated by the attack on our freedom. And now we’re learning that we are not alone in that either. The path to activism is not what I thought it was.
As I reflect on the groups that have spontaneously formed around this issue, there is one aspect of them that strikes me as extraordinary. Their need for leadership is purely functional—someone has to organize and focus the efforts. No one needs to be led in any other way. These parents are coming to us highly-educated on the facts, able to frame the issues fluently and cogently, clear-eyed about what is actually at stake, and committed in the depths of their minds and hearts to stand firm against the blind ambition of a public health regime that has lost its way.
But the outlines of a larger battle are clear in everyone’s mind as well. The relentless drive to give the COVID vaccines to younger and younger children warns of a catastrophic sequel, with mandates for the children likely to follow if we fail to oppose what is being done to adolescents and young adults. The regime of control is insatiable. To acquiesce in the usurpation of freedom over our own bodies, to surrender the bodily integrity of our children to the whims of the state, is to embrace the unthinkable. There is a dark and foreboding land on the other side of that Rubicon.
Thus we stand in the gap. Activists neither in temperament, desire, experience, nor skill, we are tutored by that greatest of all teachers, necessity. I rejected the mantle of activist because I needed my life. Now I realize that I must take up that mantle for the very same reason. And I am just one of many who have learned this sobering, but salutary, truth.