2020: Just a number

My last conversation in 2019 was with my friends. We spammed our group chat with cheers about the end of the year and lamented the difficulties of ninth grade, deciding that no matter what would happen in 2020, it had to be better than 2019.

Yikes.

Sure, hindsight is 2020 (literally), but there was nothing I had misjudged more than what would come in the year ahead. Midterm grades ended up being the least of our worries as my friends and I were faced with a global pandemic, heightening racial tensions, a worsening climate crisis and murder hornets. It felt like at any moment, someone would yell “Jumanji!” and everything would be over.

While everyone knew the situation would not improve overnight, we got used to the idea that it was “just 2020, the worst year of our lives!” We embraced quarantine trends and practically drowned in dalgona coffee and sourdough starter. Many of us took the opportunity to educate ourselves about current events, but our activism remained mostly performative, as we watched bad new Netflix shows and counted down the days until the end of 2020.

Unfortunately, this resigned outlook will not yield anything, and it is counterproductive to getting out of the mess we are in. 2021 is nothing more than a different number; we have created the illusion of a fresh start to convince ourselves there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light will not appear unless we make it.

It might seem as though all of our problems are about to go away. The November elections and justice movements could make 2021 a better year. 11 COVID-19 vaccines are in Phase 3 trials, according to the New York Times, and it feels like we will soon return to the norm.

However, it is important to remember that these changes require consistent effort and that there are many problems with the old normal. Regardless of when a vaccine becomes available, we will still have to do our best to socially distance and protect each other before it can be distributed. No matter who wins the election, we will still be in the midst of global warming and the natural disasters it causes because of the gradual nature of climate action plans. Systemic racism will continue to preclude the possibility of justice. Los Angeles might not be shrouded in an apocalyptic cloud of yellow smoke, but the wildfires are still burning across California.

None of these problems will go away when the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31. So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Are we even in a tunnel, or are we in one giant loop without an escape? Our place as young people in this society can worsen the sadness and stress coming from feeling powerless and unable to solve long-term problems. Yet there is only one way the cycle can be broken and one reason why we should be so motivated to take action: us.

The combination of a generation with a strong passion for changing the world and tools like social media to give our voices power has not existed before. We are ardent advocates working to educate others about issues that will have a direct impact on our future. Movements like March for Our Lives are led by students like us and effectively brought problems to the attention of adults in power. These efforts were successful because of young leaders who knew how to make use of social media and their voices. As students, we are also developing our knowledge and skills to one day make change instead of just influencing it. 

Until then, we must do our best to contribute to the fight. We need to educate ourselves and those around us, so we can all make informed and productive decisions. This is the time to use our voices to influence others and promote meaningful action. We should adhere to COVID-19 guidelines to keep each other safe, so we can reemerge from quarantine and take advantage of greater opportunities to engage in activism. Even if we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, we have to keep digging with the knowledge that we are the key to getting there.

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