Two-thousand and twenty is a year most Americans are in a hurry to forget. From a chaotic political atmosphere to uncontrolled riots and violence across the country, to a pandemic that revealed the worst instincts in our politicians, the year seemed to resemble a horror-house of our worst fears.
Because of all we’ve been through, most people would just as soon get on with ending this year of chaos, mobs, and quarantines and get on with the business of believing 2021 will be better. It has to be better, right?
If we pause, however, we’ll notice 2020 can be seen as a model of Americans’ passionate fight to overcome the adversity they’ve faced. Yes, it’s understandably easy to feel helpless and focus on the death counts and infection rates as they glare out at us on the news. It’s easy to point at the cities destroyed by mob violence and forget about the human cost after the cable news outlets leave. It’s easy to shrug our shoulders in disregard as communities are divested by floods, fires, and storms.
Indeed, the government has in some way superseded our responsibility to each other on a basic, human level. And now we see the most egregious violation of a government’s responsibility in its disregard for its citizens’ freedom. After government forced people to give up their livelihoods, these same “public servants” betrayed the loyalty and trust of the very people they stole it from.
In 2020, naked corruption and the practice of unabashedly prioritizing lobbyists and unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats over the needs of desperate Americans were exposed. The COVID-19 relief bill approved by Congress this week is an insult to those who continue to suffer — it’s a relief bill to help Americans in the same sense as giving a drowning man a brick.
Yet, just because I have little faith in government to right this massive wrong (considering public approval for Congress sits at 13 percent, I’m not alone) doesn’t mean I don’t have faith in my fellow Americans.
When FEMA is slow to respond to natural disasters, civilian groups formed to stand in the gaps. The Cajun Navy, an informal group of private boat owners, volunteer in search and rescue efforts in a hurricane-lashed Louisiana this year. Since entering the public sphere in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the group is credited with rescuing thousands of people stranded in dangerous waters.
Team Rubicon is another assistance group, founded by U.S. Marines William McNulty and Jacob Wood. The nongovernmental organization employs veterans and first responders to help disaster victims while maintaining a sense of service in the people who comprise the organization.
Earlier this year, they joined disaster relief efforts in Louisiana and are now manning the front lines of COVID-19 in under-staffed communities. On Dec. 1, members of the team are providing emergency medical aid to the Navajo Nation, where COVID-19 cases increased by an astounding 484 percent in November.
Even here in Minneapolis, communities took action where government leaders displayed nothing but cowardice and dithering. After the death of George Floyd and the destruction that ravaged the city, communities gathered to form watch groups. Neighbors helped each other clear the streets and clean the debris.
I’ve helped with People and Pets Together, a local food shelf for pets. It offers free pet food and veterinary care. Community organizations such as A Mother’s Love Initiative took to the streets to deescalate street violence and mentor young people away from criminal activity, while demanding more police protection from a city council and mayor more interested in satisfying leftist vanity projects than the safety of their constituents.
On a national level, charities and fundraisers started by individuals continue to put the government’s cumbersome, inept efforts to shame. In New York City, Kosher19 was started to link hospital staff working the COVID-19 frontlines with kosher meals, keeping nurses and physicians fed and restaurants in business. Simone Policano co-founded Invisible Hands, a nonprofit that organizes volunteers to deliver groceries to the elderly and disabled during the pandemic.
Usually mocked for his platinum-spiked hairstyle and bombastic demeanor, Guy Fieri has been a staunch defender and supporter of the restaurant business nationwide. Since he started his Restaurant Employee Relief Fund charity, Fieri has raised more than $21.5 million. Chef Andrew Gruel’s GoFundMe site raises money for a similar cause, with donations pouring in from Americans all over the country. Not to be outdone, in one week, Barstool Sport’s founder Dave Portnoy’s Barstool Fund raised $2 million to save small businesses.
It’s a testament that people would set aside their celebrity and use their platforms to help organize such an amazing display of charitable spirit. In his indispensable work “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote eloquently about the grassroots, philanthropic endeavors undertaken by so many Americans — efforts that still survive even in these dark times.
In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose words are heeded.
2021 will be better. But I also think it is important that we use these last days of 2020 to be thankful that the enduring spirit of giving is alive and well in America.
Year after year we continue to prove, whether amid a natural disaster, an unjust wrong, or political catastrophe, that Americans reach out to their countrymen when needs arise. Our collective sense of connectedness doesn’t allow us to just look away.
Instead of waiting for a cumbersome, regulation-riddled government overflowing with bureaucrats who can’t buy a pack of screws without a committee vote, we get it done ourselves. After all the tirades and trials of 2020, America is still a force for good and a beacon of hope for all of humanity.
When we gather together to ring in the new year with friends and family, let us bow our heads and be thankful for the sacrifices of those whose seats sit empty, and grateful for the new ones we welcome. 2020 will come to an end, but let us never let go of the kindness, strength, and generosity that helped us through it.