An Open Book: Needles And Flags

Los Alamos

If you haven’t visited the Roundhouse during the legislative session, I very much encourage you to do so next year presuming that this COVID craziness is behind us.

Bees working in a beehive is an apt analogy, people running around from committee room to committee room, alternating with long periods of just buzzing in the hallways.

However, if you are not a legislator or a lobbyist or other interested parties, just peeking into the House or Senate galleries is often interesting, and if the political droning gets to you, there is always the incredible art displayed all over the building.

As one of your County Council members, I have attended almost every session, for there is always some item of interest going through the legislature, from bills especially relevant to Los Alamos like the taxability of activities at Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, or state-wide issues such as support for adequate school funding.

During the 2015 legislative session, we were interested in particular legislation that would permit us to support local retail businesses, something that has finally come to fruition six years later, and as committee meetings tend to run long and often rescheduled, I stumbled into a meeting of the House Health and Human Services Committee that was discussing an item of special relevance these days, vaccinations.

The issue was how to handle religious exemptions from mandatory school vaccinations, and as is often the case, religious exemptions are regularly used by parents as a surrogate for a personal, non-religious objection to vaccinating their children. This bill, eventually unsuccessful, was proposing to tighten this “loophole.” 

Once a bill comes up on the agenda, there is a regular order of business very similar to our Council meetings: a presentation by a sponsor or expert, a Q and A by the legislators, and then public comment before a motion. For this particular bill, the bulk of public comment was against, as anti-vaccination groups are well known to be highly organized (and effective), but what I did not expect was that the preponderance of the “No” comments was by Los Alamos County parents.

As expected, no one used a religious freedom argument, but rather a call to parental rights argument and individual freedom, sprinkled with “My spouse works at LANL so we know the science” pseudo-logic. The argument was expected but the advocates, not so much. Los Alamos is against school vaccinations? 

Given this memory, I was not surprised when the topic of encouraging businesses to require vaccination or testing of their employees came up at last Tuesday’s County Council meeting, the room was full of local residents against this action. As in that long committee meeting, religious issues were not the main objection, but rather references to individual freedom sprinkled with some theories about lack of effectiveness and even Chinese conspiracies. No one mentioned where we would be if most people had followed their logic and inclination. 

The very next day, being poked with needles came up again in my in-box. I received an email from LANL encouraging us to participate in an upcoming blood drive. I was struck by the similarities between the two topics. Vaccinations and blood donations both involve long needles, they are both actions with some risk and discomfort, and they are both examples of mutual assistance. In fact, donating one’s blood has almost no personal benefit. I have never received a transfusion, and that is the case for the vast majority of blood donors. What would happen if blood donors had the same inclination as anti-vaxxers?

I am not going to argue about the effectiveness vs. risk of vaccines, nor whether we should impose restrictions or any inconvenience at all on those who voluntarily decide against vaccination. I would just point to all who do give of themselves solely for the sake of others. There are many such people, and not all are military, not all are police officers, or firefighters or nurses, or doctors. Many are citizens like you and me. Who is more patriotic? Someone who flies the American Flag, or stands for the National Anthem, or can recite the Bill of Rights by heart, or someone who puts out their arm and gets poked for the sake of their fellow citizens?

Most schoolchildren can recite the first few sentences of the Declaration of Independence, with its call to inalienable rights, but I don’t think many can remember the closing sentence, where our Founding Fathers declared their unity in purpose and destiny. Just above John Hancock’s famous signature is the assurance to “… And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Our Declaration is a call to inter-dependence as well as in-dependence. That America is based on self-reliance and on collective action at the same time is as much a part of our American heritage, history, and founding documents as the cry for individual freedom. Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, was adopted in 1782, before the Bill of Rights and even the U.S. Constitution. That “From Many, One” has never been more relevant, or more urgent, than today.

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