It is hard to know what to say on a day like this, in a moment like this.
“We did it” or “there is so much more to do”; “finally” and “now what?”. With so many dangling promises to restore American democracy and decency, where does one begin? Where do we go from here?
Unlike my usual Thursday messages for you, this time I come bearing no answers.
What I do know is that yesterday, history was made in the form of our nation’s first Black and Indian woman taking the office of Vice President. I know that we are all waking up in a country where climate change is at the very least acknowledged by our top elected officials, and where the COVID pandemic is taken seriously. I also know that some level of celebration is necessary, as we welcome what is hopefully a return of basic government functions to our lives and our country.
And still, I know that progress will be slow, and that not all wounds can be healed. No ceremonious display of great American pride can change the situations in which many of us have awoken for the last 10 months, or four years, or much longer. These things will only come in time.
Regardless of yesterday’s events, we continue to go in circles, caught in a seemingly endless loop of fear and fatigue. COVID cases remain higher than ever and risks just as severe. Struggles for basic labor rights carry on, as even the most essential of workers fight for fundamental respect and fair pay that should be willingly given. Uncertainty remains surrounding the lofty promises of “100 million vaccines in 100 days,” increased federal minimum wage, and reforms to address systemic injustice and racism in law enforcement. These changes will come in time, but when?
For me, the luxury of patience is long gone. I have been working in a high-risk profession for the past six months, tirelessly waiting for some form of government support or guidance to come to the rescue of an industry that is rapidly disintegrating. The hope of a vaccine is enough to inject some faith into what has become a situation lacking any sort of silver lining, though there remains little guidance as to when it will be accessible to those of us who so desperately need it.
I had made an appointment to get the vaccine myself yesterday under the umbrella of being a public facing employee, a definition that remains inconsistent and leaves many of us wondering whether we qualify. As a direct result of this lack of clarity and a dwindling supply of doses, I cancelled the appointment, unable to shake the feeling that I was slipping through a morally ambiguous loophole. Can I technically qualify as a grocery worker? Am I taking this slot away from someone who really needs it? Don’t I really need it too?
These are questions I should have never had to ask, considerations of worth and value that should not be up for debate. When will I be able to stop asking them, or feeling selfish for prioritizing my own safety? Of this I am not so sure.
The harsh reality is that in the time since restaurants became corner stores and widespread curfews were enforced, next to nothing has changed. Similarly, waking up this morning I find that not much has changed—sure, we are bureaucratically freed from the burden of living in “Trump’s America,” but the real “Trump’s America” is far from gone.
Unsurprisingly, my own story yesterday about vaccination and the mistreatment of “essential” workers was overpowered by other more universal and uplifting news. In many ways, this is simply the nature of our modern media cycle, as each day brings what seems to be a never ending series of spectacles and big headlines. Just like a restaurant getting back on its feet only to be knocked back into hibernation by new restrictions, I feel myself continually lost in this shuffle of political theater, hoping to eventually surface for air.
And so, even with this recent and fairly peaceful transition of power, the uncertainty for many of us still lingers. While a vaccine cannot change the perpetual disrespect directed towards the restaurant industry, it can provide some level of protection and security in a job that has become emotionally and physically exhausting in ways previously unimaginable. While a new president cannot change the fundamental issues of injustice and inequality upon which this nation was founded, he can perhaps provide stable enough ground for new foundations to be gradually laid.
Promises have indeed been made, and will hopefully be promptly fulfilled. How soon they will impact the daily lives of people like you or me remains to be seen.
It was unlikely that any of our worlds would change overnight, and for the most part we probably did not expect them to. Instead, we distracted ourselves temporarily with fireworks and photos of Bernie Sanders in mittens, allowing the performative excitement of it all to take center stage. Like a bandaid covering a sinkhole, we found ourselves briefly relieved by a somewhat antiquated show of American democracy, happy that—if only for a moment—we could breathe a little easier.
And still, to the question of where do we go from here? For once, the answer is that I simply do not know.