One year into California issuing the first stay-at-home order, we find ourselves on the slow but hopeful climb out of the severity of the pandemic, which has killed more than half a million Americans and wreaked havoc on the lives of countless more. While we spent much of the first year watching the federal government fail to meet the basic needs of the people they serve and witnessing incredible division and disregard for human life from the political right, we also saw communities come together creatively, voices rise from the rubble, and collaboration redefined. And in these last months we have seen rapid political shifts on issues that have long stood still.
COVID-19 has offered a window into what is possible. One where community connection and deep unwavering commitment to the survival and success of someone outside yourself can be realized for the many, not just the few. One where governments at every level say yes to the people they serve and start to prioritize people-first funding, recognizing that we don't thrive until everyone thrives. This year we have seen devastating failures and a deepening divide. And still, there have been moments of hope, moments of recognizing ourselves in another—moments that help us remember that we can do more collectively than conventional wisdom would have us believe.
We still have a long road of rebuilding, reimagining, and reconciliation ahead, and right now is the time to ensure that the lessons from the pandemic become a part of our societal fabric, a part of our communal story, and a part of every policy and practice moving forward.
Yes, this looks like investing in affordable housing, strengthening the fair housing act, expanding Social Security, transforming public safety and the broken criminal justice system, increasing access to mental health services, passing the BREATHE Act, raising minimum wage, restoring the Voting Rights Act, adopting universal child care and equal pay for equal work, bringing to fruition the For The People Act, ensuring climate justice through the Green New Deal, reforming our immigration system, and enacting Medicare for all to provide everyone in America with comprehensive health care. And so much more.
People-focused policies are critically important to our resilience as a society. And it is the deeper and more complex work of confronting our disconnection, building relationships, and embracing nuance that is essential to our liberation and collective progress as a people.
White supremacy has taught us to stay separate, to stay above and outside of and disconnected from one another. It reinforces fear and doubt and dehumanization of the "other." White supremacy has taught us to see only two sides of every debate, pitting people against one another with a deep belief that we already know everything there is to know, so we stop listening rather than acknowledging our uninterrogated biases and entering into the nuanced space that is so uncomfortable for America.
While policy has the power to radically redistribute wealth, and defend equity and justice, it is the ingrained and self-obsessed supremacy we uphold that ultimately holds us back from adopting meaningful policies and creating communities oriented toward progress and belonging.
The hard and necessary work of true progress requires confronting our deep roots of supremacy by pushing against its many pressures and having the courage to see another person as a person. Seeing each other as human beings allows us to recognize the polarizing systems and structures that have made it almost impossible to truly make space for humanity. If we can take the time to make the space in our communities, we will allow for a different perspective, questioning what we are missing and who is missing at the table, and creating room to be surprised by discovering something new and unexpected about one another. By pushing against false dichotomies and stepping away from either one side or a directly opposing side and stepping into the gray area, we can embrace the necessary both/and thinking required for long-term change.
This moment invites us to leave behind the antiquated ways of perfectionism and performance and welcome the nuance. Communities and individuals rebuild and reconcile by befriending uncertainty through both embracing radical accountability and humanizing the other. If we can meet this invitation, it will create space for and demand justice, empathy, respect, and listening like our lives depend on it, which in turn has the power to liberate everyone. I believe this happens around tables, in line at coffee shops, and in classrooms and parks just as much as in boardrooms and government buildings.
The lessons from COVID-19 show us that meaningful progress will take adopting Medicare for all, but also the work of staying in the nuance, and leaning into one another to move our communities forward. Whether the lessons learned through this pandemic become just a moment in history or provide a springboard for long-term change is largely up to us. Δ
Quinn Brady is a community advocate and organizer and mother of three on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.