It seemed like the pain of 2020 would never end. At least the calendar year is over, but the overwhelming effects of the past 12 months will not diminish as instantaneously.
Metaphorically speaking, the mother of Baby New Year 2020 went to the hospital to give birth to her son on December 31, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. While everything would appear fine at midnight after the delivery, that child would quickly resemble the 1974 horror film “It’s Alive,” about a mutant child that goes on a monstrous rampage.
After lamenting at length about all of the upheaval in 2020, and summarized it with the weeklong Year In Review of features published by Milwaukee Independent, there is not much left to be said. The only symbolic solace with the start of 2021 offers us the chance to mentally disconnect from the previous calendar year. It would be hard to imagine 2021 actually being worse, but every week in 2020 expanded the boundaries of how bad things could be beyond the imagination.
The “Liar and Chief” who remains in the Oval Office will not be evicted for another 20 days. When he goes, kicking and screaming and frothing rabid conspiracy theories, he will have earned the shame of bankrupting the nation financially and robbing it of 330,000+ American lives. And yet, one-third of the Americans who aided and abetted his villainy will still love him.
So, 2021 starts as 2020 ends, with massive deaths, financial and political turmoil, and leadership supported by a chunk of the population with no interest to improve conditions except for their own selfish interests. But since the November election there has been the rekindling of hope, and the steps to its realization can finally begin next month. After that it will still be a journey through a long dark tunnel. But after four years of stumbling aimlessly in the void, there will be a light at the end that we can collectively walk towards.
American society stands broken and dizzy at the start of 2021. If all the national joys and problems could be boiled down and distilled into a basic essence, Milwaukee would be a fair representation. While New York may be a trendsetter, Milwaukee is a better bellwether. So goes Milwaukee, so goes the country. And Milwaukee has its work cut out for it in 2021. Winter, lost jobs, housing vulnerabilities, food sustainability, racial tensions, and community polarizations that weave an interconnected web of simmering chaos to resolve.
It is often the expectation that elected leaders will solve all our problems, but as citizens we cannot be passive spectators or actively sabotage those healing efforts. How can the economy recover if people fail to wear masks to stop the spread of the pandemic?
Instead of enduring the pain of “safer at home” for another couple months, a narcissistic portion of our population pushed for reopening, based on the false premise of being responsible adults. The effort showed those people either to be blatant liars or woefully incapable of adulting.
Because of their racist ideology, which could be summarized as political idolatry, the COVID-19 crisis has since exponentially killed residents of Wisconsin, stretched the hazardous conditions another six months in a the direction that consistently gets worse, and has needlessly extended the physical, emotional, and financial suffering of others.
Those actions stand as a testament to their hollow beliefs, wrapped in the mythology of patriotism. While hospital staff sacrificed their time and health to care for others in April and May, and many residents stayed in their bunkers to keep strangers safe, many Wisconsin residents felt that their privileged exceptionalism and personal liberty superseded the rights of everyone else. They claim the rights of citizenship and social benefits while making no contributions, and ruining life for their neighbors. Yet they justify their behavior for causing the suffering by claiming that the victims are the real parasites.
Elected officials can give direction and offer inspiration, perhaps even set and implement policy. But it remains the responsibility of individuals, families, neighbors, church members, and fellow residents of Wisconsin to start working together on the problems. During the AIDS epidemic, many groups of people did not care or had no sympathy for those gay men who were stricken, because the illness did not affect them and conflicted with their narrow beliefs. Only when HIV crossed over to the general public did the homophobic population begin to have shreds of sympathy.
When COVID-19 hit, we were “all in this together” in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Until a few weeks later – after White people had hoarded all the toilet paper – when statistics showed that the pandemic was disproportionately hitting urban areas, and people of color specifically. Then, we were not all in this together, because to White people it was not their problem. All these months later, it is the rural areas of Wisconsin, which are predominately White, that are being eviscerated by the health crisis. We are still not all in this together, because those suffering most are from the demographic that remains in denial about the situation and considers it either overblown or a hoax.
So, it is fair to say that the road ahead for 2021 will remain unpredictable, because terrible things always happen and are usually the product of our own actions. COVID-19 will not end tomorrow. The economy will not jumpstart tomorrow. But there will be less potential to move in a positive direction tomorrow if we, individually, fail to take responsible action today. Perhaps that will save the life of someone we know and are close to in 2021. If more people had shown concern for others yesterday, perhaps more of our fellow Wisconsin family would be alive today.