On Thursday night people said goodbye to 2020 and gave a warm welcome to 2021. There are good reasons for both: We haven’t seen a year like this since 1968, when one earth-shaking event followed another, and because years like this tend to only come around once per century, we have every reason to believe 2021 will be better.
As Colin Powell said, “Perennial optimism is a force multiplier.”
Few will argue that 2020 was anything but a bad year. We are living through a pandemic the like of which hasn’t been seen for 100 years. Unemployment is high and at least 20 million people are “food insecure.” We witnessed the worst stock market crash ever. The killing of an unarmed Black man brought millions of people into the streets in protest. We saw a presidential election in which the losing candidate has yet to acknowledge his loss.
1968 saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. North Korea seized the American ship the Pueblo. The North Vietnamese staged the Tet offensive. That summer there was rioting at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. That fall American Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their hands in a Black Power salute when the National Anthem was played. Richard Nixon won the Presidential Election. It was the year, said historian William Manchester, “that everything went wrong.”
Like 1968, 2020 was a year unlike any other. In 2020 we saw the most unrest in the streets in half a century. Like the long hot summers of the 1960s, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought thousands of people out in protest and the revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s death has forced us once again to look inwardly, at not only the way minorities are treated today but at how they have been treated in the past.
Statues representing public figures from history who are thought to be representative of past injustice to people of color have been torn down, vandalized, toppled over, and removed due to public pressure all across the country and the world. In Virginia a statue of Christopher Columbus was thrown into a lake. In Kentucky a statue of Jefferson Davis has been removed. Here on the Central Coast statues of Junipero Serra have been removed from San Luis Obispo and Ventura.
Then there’s the pandemic. As of this writing the COVID-19 virus has sickened 19.7 million Americans and killed 340,000. Scientists are predicting a post-holiday surge. California is the new epicenter, and we are told we must “shelter in place.”
The Central Coast has not been spared the ravages of COVID-19. San Luis Obispo County has seen 10,260 cases of the virus, and 74 deaths. In Santa Barbara County 16,732 people have been stricken, and 156 have died. Ventura has had the most cases, 37,572 and 255 deaths. There are rays of hope, however, as two new vaccines are being rolled out and administered.
It is unusual for an incumbent president to lose an election, but we saw it in 2020. In recent memory it has happened twice, in 1980 when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and 1992 when Bill Clinton unseated George H.W. Bush. And even though President Trump has yet to acknowledge it, he lost to Joe Biden by 7 million votes. 2020 also marks the first year a woman of color, Kamala Harris, not only ran for vice-president but in an historic first, she also won.
So, goodbye 2020, hello 2021. As Lyndon Johnson said, “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” Happy 2021!