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Beauty and the mess 

In 2020, we saw the resilience of our communities as we met the challenges of COVID-19 with creativity and collaboration. Neighbors leaned on one another, mothers birthed life into the world in masks, organizations formed partnerships to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. Activists formed mutual aid networks, creatives brought music into our homes, tech experts found new ways to help us connect, and scientists developed vaccines. Families spent time together, entrepreneurs pivoted, restaurants adapted, and teachers took on the herculean task of teaching first graders online. Local governments collaborated with community leaders to creatively prepare for worst-case scenarios, and front-line workers got up every day to serve and save us.

The pandemic drove a record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020, and Black Lives Matter became a global rallying cry. People across the nation voted in record numbers, electing strong local leaders, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris defeated the most dangerous president in the history of our nation. Communities stood up to injustice, and justice prevailed locally as SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow was disqualified from local protest cases for an "apparent, actual, and clear conflict of interest."

This year we witnessed the beauty of community and the human tendency to help, care, and create.

We also experienced insurmountable pain and fear. Pain of losing loved ones, losing businesses, losing income, losing housing, losing hope. Fear in how to school, how to shop, how to work, how to play, how to provide, how to survive.

In 2020, we collectively met the ongoing struggle of COVID-19, while the federal government left a gaping vacuum of leadership at the national level, failing to do the most fundamental of jobs: support the American people. We isolated and distanced, taught our children addition in our garages, celebrated birthdays over Zoom, and wiped our grocery bags with Clorox. Front-line workers carried us on their shoulders with long hours and less than adequate pay, health care providers risked their lives every single day while forced to fight for personal protective equipment, and mothers cried quietly in the bathroom.

Our shops closed and opened, and closed again, and the constant flux of restrictions tested every business and family, bringing most to their knees and many to their breaking point. The SLO Food Bank saw food insecurity go up by 154 percent, and an estimated 10.7 million undocumented people were left out of federal COVID relief efforts. Millions will owe back rent and utilities by January, as fear of eviction looms for an estimated 40 million people in America. Depression rates have tripled in the United States, and centuries of systemic racism have made the financial impacts of this crisis disproportionately worse for Black and Hispanic Americans.

Experts have been warning of a growing economic inequality in the United States for the past few decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought it to our doorstep.

This year, we faced our racism. A reckoning of racial justice asking the nation to reconcile with a violent and racist history that continues to impact communities of color every day. And in a predominantly white community that has cherished its comfort, we were asked to stand in nuance and discomfort as we held the truth of the lived experiences of our friends and neighbors of color; a bare minimum task that many failed at and some stepped up to.

We lost Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a tragedy with implications we don't yet know the bounds of. The federal administration announced it would be selling leases for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while wildfires displaced more than 100,000 Californians. The president of the United States normalized and exacerbated division, repeatedly gaslighting and lying to the American people. And police demonstrated a disdain for Black life, murdering George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dijon Kizzee, Elijah McClain, and many, many more.

In 2020, we witnessed the mess and the painful struggle for health, safety, and justice.

In a year in which we experienced both the beauty and the mess, we have been given the gift of fully seeing ourselves. We have seen the illuminated truths of how we meet fear in our most private moments, in public spaces, and in the comment section. We have seen our character in our own discomfort. And we have seen our resilience, too, in the eyes of our children, and in our ever-growing creativity, courage, and connection. Individually and collectively, we have seen ourselves.

As we enter 2021, how will we reconcile the beauty with the mess?

How will we let who we have seen ourselves to be inform who we are becoming?

How will we ensure equity and uphold justice in the solutions we seek?

How will we embrace the more complex and nuanced ways of responding to crisis and discomfort?

How will we rise, transform, and be greater than our suffering? Δ

Los Osos resident Quinn Brady cares about her community. Send a response via [email protected].

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