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We Can Learn From 2020, and We Must

It is easy to dismiss 2020 as an infamous year of tragedy that must be forgotten and moved past, but to do so would be a grave mistake.

2020 was a year where conflicts, protests, illness, twists, and turns overlapped and intertwined, creating a web of movements and events that are easily lumped under one title: 2020.

However, when remembering the year, it is important to avoid boxing all of the major happenings under the label of 2020 and thinking of them as just additions to the long list of things — from Megan and Harry leaving the royal family, sandwiched between protests, to Kobe Byrant’s death bordered by the explosion in Beirut — that all went wrong because “it’s 2020, they would.” We cannot shut them away as one unit in memory, a cardboard box with ‘2020 — The Worst’ written on it in Sharpie, never to be opened again. 

Many of the movements and issues that we experienced have roots that extend far before 2020, and branches that will reach into the future. They must be viewed as distinct and complex. If 2020 was what brought your attention to them, remember how you learned in 2020. Don’t remember what you learned as tied to 2020. Reflect on the magnitude or length of the struggles, and prepare yourself to deal with them going forward. 

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic illuminated issues in our country’s social systems and safety nets, as the US took months longer than Canada and other nations to give people their first stimulus check. Countries who acted quickly had pre-established systems through which to distribute this kind of payment. Similarly, healthcare in the US is tied to employment and distributed through private companies, making testing and vaccine distribution more complicated than in places where healthcare is provided through the government. The structural issues that left us unprepared to aid citizens when the pandemic hit will continue to exist and need reimagining once the virus is under control. 

In 2020, George Floyd was killed by a police officer, prompting huge countrywide turnouts of masked protestors speaking out about police brutality and racism around the world. This tragedy was far from outside the norm, with racism deeply rooted in all systems in our country, especially police. The Black Lives Matter hashtag was created in 2013 in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, and Black people have been speaking out since long before that. While in 2020 the Black Lives Matter movement gained dramatic momentum, the protests were a continuation of a centuries-long struggle. Being done with 2020 is in no way the end of the fight against racism in America. 

In 2020, before the coronavirus became a global issue, many thought the unusually intense Australian bushfires that were raging when January began would be 2020’s big news. California experienced the worst of its yearly fire seasons in 2020. The air quality reached levels near the worst in the world, and unsettling ash-darkened mornings and orange days spread across the entire state. Fire seasons of the scale seen in 2020 will become more and more common if we do not begin to make major changes to how we treat our climate. As 2021 begins, Australia’s fire season is once again underway, and residents hold their breath as they wait to see how it will unfold this year. 

And so with the end of 2020, the roots of these major issues tunnel ahead into the future. And they are intertwined — not because they occurred at the same time, but through the systems they are tied to. In health care inequalities we see systemic racism, and climate issues are exacerbated by the lack of a coordinated government response. It is important to look at the interconnectedness, while preserving the identity of each issue. Though we are finally done with the year, to assume that everything will quiet down is a mistake. Be careful not to put too much meaning under 2020 as an umbrella statement. Don’t equate all of these movements to one year when they are so much more.