A new year of sadness and hope

It is a beautiful afternoon, so I go for a jog to enjoy the winter sun, opening my phone to see a “coup” is taking place in Washington. This is my one outing of the day as lockdown and curfew measures are being introduced in Québec in response to surging COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

I scroll reports of explosive devices, of a woman being shot, of Trump supporters storming and breaching into the Capitol building following a rallying speech from the President himself.

This occupation of the Capitol postpones swearing in of the incoming President, Joe Biden. The images are incredible: a man peers through a small hole into the Senate chambers as guards draw pistols on him. Another bearded man with a Trump toque carries off a speaker’s pedestal emblazoned with an official state crest. Other men sit in Senator’s offices, feet kicked up on desks, as Senators themselves are forced to exit (flee) the building. Men sit at the speaker’s chair of the Senate chambers, taking selfies, laughing.

I enter 2021 feeling rested and optimistic about the future, but hope can easily be worn to dust by our present circumstances.

Our shared climate emergency looms heavily, too easily eclipsed by the pandemic and the wrenched state of affairs in America. Temperature records are broken again this year. The grass was green on Christmas Day in Montréal. Québec towns were flooded during the holidays.

The evolving pandemic is a painful daily tragedy unfolding unevenly in each of our lives. I fear for the wellbeing of my family, friends and colleagues on the frontlines (of hospitals and grocery stores). The unequal impacts of the pandemic based on race, class, colonial legacies are plain to see. The vaccine rollout highlights these disparities on a global scale, with many low-income nations projected not to receive widespread vaccination until 2023.

A sensible eye would have reason for concern for economic instability and austerity, as historic deficit spending will not go unaddressed. The deeply unstable political, social and economic climate in the United States affects us all.

Seeing the rise of fascist and authoritarian trends in the 1930s, Gramsci famously appealed in his Prison Notebooks for a “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

This seems the right frame of mind for the age.

The multiple crises and instabilities of our present time merit sadness, grief and concern for the future. But pessimism mustn’t lead to atrophy, despondency or inaction. We ought to assess concrete circumstances, collectively developing a course of action to address today’s truly wicked problems. This isn’t a shallow or empty hope, but one that requires action. My optimism remains for the year ahead, but we each have our part to play.

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