There’s one thing we should get out of the way as we look forward to 2021: There’s nothing wrong with the year 2020, no matter how much we want to blame it for the troubles of the past several months. The ghosts of disease, isolation and seemingly intractable division were not released on this day a year ago, even if it often seemed that way.
No, 2020 was not cursed — even if it was cursed at plenty. The problems that hurt and challenged us in the last year weren’t caused by the calendar.
That means those problems won’t go away just because we’ve flipped the page to another January.
But it’s also a reason for hope: If we want a better new year, it’s all up to us.
It’s up to us to come together to bring COVID-19 to an end in the safest and fastest way possible. It’s up to each of us to take responsibility for how our own individual actions may prolong the struggle against the coronavirus, and it’s incumbent upon those with power and privilege to push others in the right direction, and steer help and resources toward the people who need it most.
It’s up to each of us to recognize that COVID has revealed further the deep inequities in our society. In the last year, unemployment, hunger and homelessness have all ballooned as the pandemic has hit low-wage workers and minorities the hardest. At the same time, the most well-off Americans have seen their wealth rise as the stock market and real estate prices have taken off.
And it’s on each of us to know that those inequities are not natural but the result of purposeful choices. There are solutions for each of those seemingly intractable problems — the expansion of federal nutrition programs, the full funding of affordable housing and housing-first initiatives, adequate relief for the unemployed so that they are not dragged into poverty, to name a few — we just have to have the will to carry them out.
For all the stress and suffering of the past year, we start 2021 on a hopeful note. The virus is still raging, and there will be some bad times to come. But safe and effective vaccines are now being distributed, however slowly. On Jan. 20, President Joe Biden will take office, promising to take COVID-19 seriously in a way Donald Trump never did.
Setting aside the hardship being experienced by many Americans, the economy itself has done better than expected in recent months, signaling that a robust recovery is possible once the vaccine has been widely distributed.
At that time, there will be a lot of people ready to resume the life they had at the start of 2020. In the restaurant industry alone, there will be a lot of talented people full of ideas and ready to start anew — we should make sure they have the capital to bring those ideas to fruition. In all industries affected by the virus, there will be exciting opportunities for rejuvenation and rebirth.
But just as nothing about 2020 inherently bad, 2021 won’t be a great bounce-back year all on its own. It’s up to each of us to make it so.