Everything happened to us, all at once.
In St. Paul, COVID-19 claimed the young and promising life of social justice champion and school board chair Marny Xiong. Through tears, I looked into the eyes of my friends, neighbors, and her colleagues and family at her funeral. Nobody could hug each other. Just days before she was hospitalized, I had texted her about an AAPI community leadership resolution combating anti-Asian violence we were working on. One day you’re fighting together. The next day you’re at their funeral. I could not bring myself to look back at her text.
As the Councilwoman for the Midway, I hear daily from local business owners struggling due to long-standing policy failures exacerbated by the challenges of our current moment. Urban Lights Music record shop has been one of the first and only Black-owned record stores and community gathering spaces in Minnesota for decades. After the murder of George Floyd, white strangers began calling store owner Tim Wilson with racist threats of death and arson. In response, supporters and customers showed up outside the storefront to guard the shop all night and stand watch. Tim is still holding empowerment nights for youth at his shop and expanding free music production access for youth in the Twin Cities. You can directly support Urban Lights Music for all they continue to give here.
In 2020 I met Sharon at the former encampment at Snelling and I-94. She was an unhoused woman struggling with addiction and trying to eke out an existence with her boyfriend when he became abusive and dangerous toward her and they split up. Sharon was trying to simultaneously escape the dangers of being unsheltered while still living near the man who had become threatening. She couldn’t get into a lot of the shelters because too many facilities still refuse to provide basic life shelter to people unless they are sober. Sharon’s life was a fight on every front, with each battle unfolding simultaneously amidst the freezing cold of Minnesota winter. A group of city staff, outreach workers, and community volunteers were eventually able to help her transport her things and get shelter at the Luther Seminary site. She, like anybody else outside, deserves permanent housing right now and uninterrupted access to health care.
Any one of these examples could count as the most difficult moment of someone’s year, if not their entire life. Yet they are just a few examples of things that happened to my constituents, friends, family, and community in 2020.
They represent the human cost of the unstable world we have built at the expense of people in poverty, people of color, disabled people and everyone else exploited and left behind by capitalism.
Not everyone survived to see 2021. Those of us still here are left picking up the pieces of our lives and our community.
It’s a new year, but it isn’t a new world yet.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Throughout the pandemic, there’s been a lot of discussion of self-care. This discussion has centered on individual actions one can take to manage the relentless onslaught of traumatic experiences and information in order to not feel so bad.
I have spent the pandemic so far failing at self-care and becoming radicalized to the truth that what we need instead is permanent community care.
The problem with an individualistic view of self-care is that it fundamentally cannot address the overlapping structural collapses of systems that are each their own outgrowths of unrestrained exploitative capitalism.
It is not possible to manage the stress of pandemic-related job loss with a bubble bath when the material conditions of your life and this country’s broken economy are fundamentally unchanged after you drain the foam in the tub.
It is not possible to “take time for yourself” when you are forced to take care of your parents, your children, their education and needs by being the one person still employed in your inner life circle who can cobble together shelter and healthcare and other basic needs.
It is not possible to meditate until you’re healed from yet another act of racist lethal police violence or the countless other forms of racial terrorism on display in 2020 when their aggregate effect is to weave the very psychological fabric of the society we live in as people of color and indigenous people in America.
It is not possible to get help for the very real disturbances in your mental state if your health insurance is minimal or non-existent and you literally cannot get access to affordable therapy or other psychological care as a result.
We are unwell because we are inadequately cared for by an inadequate social safety net. We are unwell because violent, racialized capitalism has pushed our country and our planet to a tipping point with a death toll that will continue to mount from direct and indirect causes for years.
You are falling apart because it was designed that way. You should not have to organize for your life anymore. Government can and must act. In order to actually recover from 2020, the American people need significant investment in every area of life–guaranteed housing, full healthcare, family leave and childcare, employment, and retroactive and ongoing direct financial support from the beginning of the pandemic to its end.
We need to reject austerity politics and be willing to raise taxes and re-order costly priorities that aren’t working in order to fund basic life needs and community programs that are. There is no place in politics right now for people of any political persuasion who can’t or won’t advance this agenda.
In 2021, the intention I am setting is to get everything we are owed and avenge the lives lost with real change. It isn’t too dramatic to say our very society depends on it.