The Opinion of the Smoke Signal Editorial Board
It’s no secret that 2020 has been arguably the most turbulent year in modern history. From COVID-19 placing us in quarantine for months on end to acts of police brutality raising a national conversation of racial inequality, this year has unveiled a great deal of systemic issues, however people often view these events as exclusive to just 2020.
However, the issues that we are dealing with today are not just specific to this year — they are problems that have been building up from years past and will continue into our future unless we implement change from the lessons we’ve learned this year. We must carry our awareness and advocacy of these issues into the future in order to learn from our mistakes and prevent them from arising again.
Though issues like poor government response to public crises and the deaths of unarmed Black people by police officers were brought into the spotlight in 2020, they have been prevalent for many years.
Take the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The #BlackLivesMatter organization was founded in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the police officer responsible for the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
From 2014 to 2019, more than 1,600 Black Americans died from police brutality; it’s clear that this problem, which can be traced back to lynchings in the past, has been rampant throughout American history — the 2020 protests were just culminations of the continued brutality.
Similarly, the flaws in the government’s crisis response have roots in the disbandment of the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit of the Nation Security Council — which would have been responsible for pandemic preparedness — by President Trump in 2018.
Moreover, the poor government response (such as a delayed stay-at-home order) and the inadequacy of our healthcare system has further exacerbated the severity of the pandemic, as rising numbers of infected people have overwhelmed hospitals, while many cannot access medical care at all.
The reason why 2020 has been so tumultuous is due to the years of ignorance and neglect towards societal issues such as racial inequality and overdue government reform. However, just one year of activism is not enough to resolve these long-term, systematic issues. To solve these issues from the root, we must consistently advocate and raise awareness for change we want to see in the world and not treat large events such as the pandemic or instances of police brutality as a one-time occurrence.
Despite these ongoing problems, many people have already left behind their advocacy and begun neglecting both BLM and COVID-19 in the past few months.
In the case of BLM, the movement saw a peak in the summertime following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Protests against police brutality took place across the world, and people flooded social media with petitions, educational resources, and donation links daily.
Yet today, the conversation around Black Lives Matter has dwindled significantly. The 72 Black people that have been killed by police officers since August have not garnered the same amount of support through petitions, protests, and media coverage in the same way that the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have this year.
In the same vein, many people have become far less serious about following COVID-19 safety guidelines even as the US is pulling through its third spike in COVID-19 cases that is the worst thus far. And despite CDC recommendation, AAA Travel predicted that around 50 million Americans had plans to travel home for Thanksgiving.
People have begun to go out with friends, travel for the holidays, and become more careless about proper sanitation, all of which is part of the reason as to why the pandemic is still ramping up. At a time when there are more than two thousand COVID-19 deaths per day, the rising cases and carelessness of the American public shows us what 2021 is going to look like if we don’t enact large-scale public health precautions soon.
The issues that we encountered in 2020 have not been fixed yet. Our advocacy cannot end when the year ends; these issues remain extremely important to combat in 2021 and the years beyond.
We must continue educating ourselves on important systemic issues, raising our voices for what we care about, and going further than just social media to fight these issues.
This positive change can be donating to drives, signing petitions, contacting local lawmakers, volunteering with local organizations, and much more. Not only should we be proactive with our advocacy, but we also have to keep in mind that the pandemic will remain a threat to public health in 2021.
Social distancing, wearing masks, and staying home as much as possible is crucial; unless we learn from our mistakes and take precautions now, it will be extremely difficult to recover as a country. The changes we have seen in the last twelve months taught us valuable lessons that we, as a society, must address and grow from as we enter the new year.
Our problems, though brought to light in 2020, are ongoing issues that we must continue working on and take with us into 2021 so as to bring a solution to the problems facing us.