As our experience with Covid-19 continues to unfold and change, we feel called to speak to why The Firefly Gathering (FFG) has chosen to require covid testing to come to our annual gathering in June.
We have solicited the advice of our staff, Board of Directors, Elders and a handful of other wise community members and leaders whom we respect and trust. We have read thousands of words from these folks’ heartfelt and earnest responses, ranging from one end of the spectrum of feelings and beliefs to the other. We’ve sat with this topic for hours, weeks, months, years. And so, before we offer our humble(d) perspective, we ask that you pause, take a deep breath, and hold this organization in love and compassion.
Can you empathize with our very challenging position? We know that no matter what we choose, some folks will be unhappy with our decisions. These words form adrienne maree brown have been our mantra:
I am living a life I don’t regret
A life that will resonate with my ancestors,
and with as many generations forward as I can imagine.
I am attending to the crisis of my time with
my best self,
I am of communities that are doing our
to honor our ancestors and all humans to come.
~Emergent Strategy, pg. 55
Covid has been one of the most divisive entities that we’ve experienced rampage our community, and our nation at large. At a time when we need to be banding together, practicing mutual aid, compassion and support, we have been polarized and politicized into camps with opinions so strong that it is sometimes frightening. We are experiencing the usual tactics of oppression to keep us divided, because if we truly stood together, we would be capable of anything. That frightens the few in control who depend upon our squabbling to maintain the status quo.
It is our intention to bridge the chasm that divides us, and appeal to the thread of unity that is stronger than the diversionary tactics that have been unleashed. As you read on, please suspend your own opinions, cultivating a neutrality that has not been encouraged by the media or our leaders. Try to read with an open mind and heart, honoring the perspectives of others. Thank you for participating in this exercise of tolerance, compassion and unconditional love.
Examining the many responses we received, we noticed patterns emerge on all sides of the debate. Here is a summary in hopes of cultivating empathy for viewpoints that might be different than yours:
Summary of Folks in Favor of Testing
- To protect at-risk folks from contracting covid.
- Our Staff & Instructors: Turns out, over half of the FFG staff are immunocompromised, and many of our instructors are, too. We have folks dealing with Lyme’s, Epstein-Barr, Cancer, HIV/AIDS, various respiratory diseases and more. These are all folks who hold crucial roles during our event. Without testing, these folks wouldn’t be able to come; without these folks, we couldn’t have an event.
- Our Elders: We center the wisdom of our elders in the FFG community, seeking their council on many topics. The majority of our elders have stated that they feel a deep sense of relief with testing in place. One beloved sent us this: “It’s a great comfort to think everyone around us has tested negative.” Without testing, many of our elders would not come; without our elders we are ungrounded and have no wisdom keepers sitting among us.
- Legal Obligation: Our lawyer pointed out that there are currently many active lawsuits pertaining to covid and its spread at events. By requiring testing, we are doing our civic duty to protect our patrons, and keep ourselves out of legal trouble, as well.
- Our Integrity. We said we would require testing when we started selling tickets and feel that if we change our mind, folks who’ve already purchased tickets to come to the event may feel frustrated that they thought we were going to test folks, and then didn’t.
Summary of Folks In Favor of NOT Testing
- Fear/Discomfort around the actual test: This seems to fall into a few subcategories:
- General discomfort around biometric testing, including fear of the collection of DNA for unknown purposes, the addition of things into the body from the swab being used, etc.
- The government has a documented history of abusing people’s rights (especially people of the global majority) through vaccines, forced sterilization etc.
- Loss of personal freedom/body autonomy: “My Body, My Rules” says a lot here. Folks shared wanting people to be responsible for their own health and encouraging a culture of personal empowerment that does not put our health in the hands of another.
- Inaccuracy of tests, or tests not actually being helpful.
- The waste produced by testing so many folks.
- Supporting the big pharma industry by using so many tests.
This is not exhaustive, as we received many responses; but in general this is an accurate summary of the main lines of thinking that folks are following. And, to be clear, the majority of folks said that they support whatever Firefly decides to do. We sure appreciate this vote of confidence, and we are taking that trust to heart.
We also want to highlight and celebrate the spirit of compromise, where all sides are willing to make concessions to reach an agreeable middle path. This is our goal in regards to covid testing; to not divide our community any further; but to sow seeds of compassion and concession to get to where we can stand shoulder to shoulder once again.
And so, we are currently sticking with our decision to have folks present a negative covid test to attend the annual Firefly gathering.
We know some folks will be disappointed, and maybe even upset. While we cannot help that, we can address a few of the most common concerns in hopes to ease people’s decision-making process a bit and try to help us get to the same page, or at least the same book.
- Some folks said, “If people don’t feel safe attending without testing in place, they should stay home.” For us, it is not that simple; we need our elders in community; we want our immunocompromised friends in community. Without Firefly’s staff (many of whom are immunocompromised) we would have no gathering, because if they stay home, everyone stays home! If we do not ask for testing, we are in effect saying that Firefly is for young, healthy, able-bodied individuals only; that does not feel acceptable to us.
- As for the garbage production, we agree; but many things we do create garbage. If we can help folks feel at ease while gathering and potentially prevent rampant transmission of covid, this feels more important.
- Yes, the money being given to big pharma is yucky; however, we will all drive to get to the event, and give money to big oil corporations that are speeding climate change and devastating the environment. We could name many other similar examples and recognise that we sometimes have to make compromises with ourselves, too, in order to move forward with our important work in the world.
- The idea of personal freedom is interesting and perhaps the most challenging to navigate. No matter what we choose, someone feels that their rights are being compromised. If we choose to not require testing, then we infringe upon the rights of one group to feel safer gathering with something they see as a simple step towards group health: collective testing to identify active carriers and help reduce transmission at our event. If we choose to require testing, folks say their rights of body autonomy are being infringed upon.
It is for this reason that we are not requiring vaccine cards. We see vaccinations as a personal choice that must be individually consented to. The difference may seem trivial, but vaccines are introducing something into your body, whereas a test is looking for the presence of covid already in your body. We are also accepting several forms of covid testing, including DIY at home kits, so that you can use your own cotton swab (nothing unfamiliar being put in your nose), and you can dispose of the materials as you see fit (no fear of labs collecting your DNA). Saliva tests are also becoming more available.
- As to the inaccuracy of testing, yes, there may be a small amount of inaccurate test results. However, what we are most interested in knowing is whether someone can pass covid to others, which tests are better at detecting than the presence of covid itself.
And so we ask that each person humbly put aside their own personal convictions and feel into your heart space and ask, “How can I best care for my community?” The answers we each arrive at will not be the same; but the spirit of mutuality and interdependence can be. Simply writing this statement has helped us to empathize with folks all across the board on this topic, and our ability to hold each point of view in a loving and compassionate space has increased. It is our invocation that each person can arrive in this space, and we can stand together at The Firefly Gathering as one people.
With my bones, my brain, and my heart,
Marissa Percoco | Executive Director
The Firefly Gathering