We’re two months into 2021, a year of rebuilding and transition. We’re in the early stages of healing from the past four years, a time of growing inequality under an administration that spread lies, racism, sexism, and incompetence. And we are continuing to grieve the devastating loss of human life due to COVID-19.
With the transfer of power in the White House and the end of the pandemic hopefully on the horizon, many of us are eager for a restoration of normalcy. A return to grabbing brunch with friends, not stressing over the latest news or upcoming elections, and planning larger social events.
But not so fast.
While there is a new leader in the White House, we cannot simply reset and forget the events of the past. Racism, sexism, privilege, discrimination, and a long list of inequities and injustices remain in our nation. Many Americans took action on these issues in recent years. In fact, the rates of protest and participation in progressive activism over the past few years have never been seen before in the history of U.S. politics. The Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, for example, mobilized more people than ever on an anti-racism agenda in U.S. history.
Now is not the time to put away our protest signs. We must take the lessons we have learned from the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and the sheer turmoil of the Trump presidency to stay engaged and participate in ways that can both improve our lives and address greater societal issues.
To start, the very least we can do is to stay aware of what is happening in the world as well as in our community, and in the lives of our friends and family. When we are not engaging with information critically, it leaves us vulnerable to misconceptions and conspiracy theories. Although various media outlets do have biases, they are still significantly more reputable than your aunt’s latest Facebook post.
Secondly, the extent of our political engagement should not be limited to voting for the “least bad” presidential candidate every four years. Politics is not a spectator sport. In fact, everything we do is a political statement, from who we choose to spend time with, to where we work, to what we buy. It is impossible to disassociate our political lives from our social lives or our economic lives. As individuals, we have the power to influence others, and influence we must. The larger societal issues that we will solve will come from our collective participation in politics and from our social networks that remind us that we are not isolated in our fight for a better world.
Thirdly, we can make a difference by going offline and building real-world networks with people of similar interests, to whatever extent it is possible during COVID-19. Now is the time to participate in the process of rebuilding and reconnecting, more than ever before. Examples of what you could do to start making an impact could include anything from joining an amateur sports team to attending a city council meeting to advocating an agenda that matters to you (if able to do so safely with the pandemic). You would be surprised the amount of change you can influence if you get involved in local organizations or with local nonprofits. You could also volunteer to help your neighbors that may be more vulnerable to the pandemic, for example shoveling their driveway, bringing them groceries, or simply offering companionship through video calls to someone you know who might be lonely.
There are so many different ways that we can help each other and look out for one another. If you are concerned about police violence in your community, you could organize a neighborhood watch group to reduce calling the police for minor issues, and bring neighbors together to petition local legislators for justice and accountability. If you know someone who is struggling financially during the pandemic, you could rally your friends and community to drop off a meal, chip in for utility bills, or even offer interest-free loans. It is important to remember that even if it feels like you cannot make much of a difference on your own, you certainly can while working as a group and forming strong social ties.
The world we are reentering is forever changed by the past four years. And we are changed too. It won’t be back to brunch as usual, but it will be an opportunity to rebuild our world for the better. As the saying goes, it’s up to us to keep fighting the good fight.