Radical Presence seeks to promote discussion on a suitable memorial of the pandemic – not only for the sake of those who were lost, but to mark how their loss can change us for good.

Kelly Garbato, WWF

Covid-19 continues to be a cause of death on a tragic and bewildering scale. To fully honour those it has claimed, we must also see it not only as an ending, but also as a beginning. There will be no better way to weigh the loss of those who have died than to create a better world in their memory. It may still seem to early to make plans for the legacy, but now is the time to ensure we do not miss the chance when it comes.

In joining Radical Presence, you are contributing to our hope to emerge from Covid-19 with a new covenant for the future across our society. Covenant-20 seeks to make a claim in words on the future: a claim for the sustainable, just and compassionate society we have discovered is possible. But even words are ephemeral. We suggest there will need to be a physical memorial.

Writing in the Washington Post, Jay D. Aronson and Scott Gabriel Knowles argue that:

Covid-19 has reshaped millions of lives around the globe. And like tragedies before it — from terrorist attacks to genocide, wars to climate and weather disasters — we need to collectively remember and memorialize the loss of life we are now enduring. In fact, it is an essential part of the democratic process…

If done properly, these memorials will honor victims, teach us about why they died (and whether their deaths could have been prevented), but perhaps most importantly, impart what we learned during this pandemic…

Memorials are typically thought of as sites of contemplation and healing that are created after a catastrophic event. They are seen as end points and places of closure. They are this, but they also more: They serve as a forum for ongoing debate over the causes, long-term effects and meanings of a disaster. At their best, they also allow communities to engage in the long-term process of mending social ruptures, attending to survivors and families of victims and coming to terms with social failures. Memorials, like funerals and other death-related rituals, are more about the needs of the living than the dead.

To honour the dead and their legacy, international traumas of the past have had their memorials. Among those cited by our authors above are:

In the United Kingdom, the National Memorial Arboretum proposes to host a memorial to mark the service and sacrifice of NHS and key workers – an initiative which deserves wholehearted support.

What we envisage is something broader and more forward-looking – a site which plants in wood or stone the shared but tender dream of a better post-pandemic world, before it is obliterated under the noise and grime of the return to business-as-usual.

We call artists and craftspeople, landscapers, poets and architects, Fine Art departments of universities, civic leaders and people of faith. We invite proposals, but also questions.

Please contact us and we will bring you into the conversation.

Let us, as a nation, not forget.