Happy New Year! 2020 is finally over! And now that it is, most of us are asking one question: what the hell was 2020? It felt like a freak accident, a glitch in the simulation, or a mistake by the universe where it crammed thirty monumental events meant to be spread out in this decade into a single year. But it’s over now! We can finally move forward. The vaccine has arrived, and over the next few months, they’ll be distributed. We’ll all be able to go back to our normal lives and not worry about Covid-19. 2020, the unprecedented year full of tragedy, can finally be laid to rest.
Wrong. The problem is that 2020 wasn’t a crazy dumpster fire that came out of nowhere. It was foretold, not in a prophecy or a legend, but in the pages of history. 2020 was as natural as a hurricane forming over the Atlantic Ocean and making landfall, destroying everything in its path. We like to say that 2020 was “unprecedented,” a word that means we could not have predicted it before it happened. Yet, it was all too precedented. Many signs and scholars forecasted the tragedies that occurred in 2020. Many patterns have repeated themselves over the course of the past 12 months.
One particularly disgusting pattern reared its horrific head on Wednesday, January 6. A mob of Trump supporters, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists were encouraged by the President of the United States to march to the Capitol and siege it. These terrorists marched into congress members’ offices, vandalized and stole from them, all while being violent and armed. This chaos erupted on the same day as the Georgia senate runoff election resulted in the Democrats winning, with Georgia gaining its first Black senator. The 2020 U.S. election results were also to be certified on Wednesday, sealing Joe Biden’s victory.
How do all these new and historic events fit a centuries-old pattern? The answer is quite simple. Whenever people of colour in the United States—or Canada—gain a shred of power, or equality, or humanity, it is met with swift and violent backlash from white people. After the American civil war, the black codes and segregation laws counteracted Black people’s emancipation and the amendments that codified their humanity and rights. When the civil rights movement took off in the 1960s, it was followed by the war on drugs, a campaign with the explicit purpose to disrupt and control Black communities. When the first Black President of the United States was elected, his successor was an orange-tanned racist that incited hate and violence. That same dangerous white supremacist has been spreading lies and undermining democracy—and reality—for his entire term. So I’ll have to heartily disagree with Joe Biden when he solemnly states that the scenes of insurrection and terrorism that took place in the Capitol are “not who America is,” because it is exactly what the U.S. is—and has been—as a country. Nothing illustrates this reality so clearly as the side-by-side images of the Capitol during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer and the riots on Wednesday.
There are other signs that predicted 2020, too. The global economy has spiralled into a vortex of poverty, enormous inequality, and oppression over the last few decades due to the policies and practices of countries and corporations. According to a United Nations report published last year, more than 70% of the global population live in countries where the wealth gap is growing. The report revealed that, “while international inequality has declined in relative terms, the absolute gap between the average incomes of people living in high- and low-income countries has doubled since 1990.” Top income tax rates have also fallen worldwide, with wealthier nations dropping their tax-rates from 66% in 1981 to 43% in 2018. In John Pilger’s 2001 documentary, The New Rulers of the World, he showcases how countries, like Indonesia, are forced to comply with policies from international financial institutions, such as the IMF, that force the country to acquire more debt and thus pushes the population to live in constant austerity. Such policies have left many countries stuck in a cycle of poverty while their leaders, corporations, and global institutions benefit off their backs.
In 1999, against the backdrop of the WTO conference, Seattle was filled with protests fighting for workers’ rights, sustainable economies, and socio-environmental issues. In 2010, during the G20 summit, and in 2011, Toronto and New York were the backdrops for protests against poverty, economic inequality, and neoliberalist capitalism. More recently, the farmers’ protests in India are also a product of the dire effects of globalization. All these movements have called out how unstable and dangerous the global economy is structured and operated. The very fact that one man can get increasingly richer during a global pandemic and economic crisis, such as Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, is a testament to a system that was built to allow the rich to disregard humanity for their own ends.
Even the Covid-19 pandemic was bound to happen. The continued destruction of habitats that force animals to come into contact with humans more often, and the widespread public health issues that plague healthcare systems worldwide, are but two reasons why a pandemic on this scale was not only likely but imminent. In fact, the UN has already warned that viruses such as Covid-19 will continue to become more frequent in the years to come.
2020 has been waiting to happen for a long time. It is the product of systems that are decades old. It would be deliberately ignorant of us, as a species, to write it off as a one-time, crazy event. The hard truth is that there is a very real possibility this will become our reality during our lifetimes. We can never go back to our “normal lives.” We shouldn’t want to. 2020 was the start of a new decade and era. An era where we will reap the fruits of the seeds planted by our predecessors, watered with blood, and fertilized with cruelty and apathy. Perhaps we can’t fix all that needs to be fixed, but we still need to try. There is extensive literature, research, and action that has already built a foundation for change to happen. The most important things we need now are the will and the actions to do it.
So, in 2021 and 2022, and every year after that, we have to remember that we are responsible for our collective futures. We should never go back to the disengaged and disconnected bubbles that were our lives before 2020. The only way to move forward is to work towards change, and the work starts now.