On the morning of January 23rd, 2022, a diverse array of citizens converged on our nation’s capital in a momentous exercise of free speech and assembly. Defeat The Mandates, Washington, DC marked a re-awakening of public discourse in the face of oppression– the kind of political action envisioned by the founders of the American Republic. Thousands mustered around the obelisk commemorating George Washington, marched astride the reflecting pool on the National Mall, and united at the steps beneath the portico of the Lincoln Memorial, enduring the cold to participate in democracy at a time of both national and international crisis. For those opposed to COVID-19 lockdowns, quarantine, coerced masking and vaccine mandates, there was perhaps no better place to stand for individual liberty, and the nation’s ability to transcend moral crisis at great cost and sacrifice.

Those assembled were no stranger to sacrifice – many of them were the very frontline workers who had worked through the pandemic before any vaccine was available and when personal protective equipment was being rationed. These individuals faced unknown dangers to themselves and their families. Firefighters, doctors, nurses, and law enforcement officers stood out prominently on this frontline – all of them key components to the emergency medical response and transfer of care during the pandemic. Only months earlier, they had been elevated on pedestals, but now they faced coercive public policies ostensibly in the name of public health, that disregarded their interests, concerns, and sincerely held objections to COVID-19 policies in the workplace and in their communities.

Until that point in time, opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination faced these policies largely in their institutional or geographic silos. The convergence in Washington, DC marked a poignant shift toward coalition building across frontline workers to unite on common ground in order to challenge the status quo, and demand accountability on the part of the agencies, institutions, and associations whose responsibility it was to represent these interests. In the months that followed this historic gathering of frontline workers from across our nation, the sustained efforts to organize and give voice to these concerns strengthened in resolve and focus, and the National Coalition of Frontline Workers was born.

Lessons learned during this formative period will inform our efforts to organize broadly across disciplines as we expand our focus from the issue that brought us together – and build our unified frontline to address a broad range of issues affecting frontline workers across our nation.