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You saw it in 2020, now we can change it in 2021

15 mins read

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a difficult year. But if it is not the pandemic which has angered people, then it’s other events which have unfolded.

I believe that one positive to come out of this year is that far more people were exposed to political, cultural and social events online. With many people furloughed, or asked to remain at home, it is far more likely that these events will have reached our feeds on Facebook and Twitter.

We, as young people have the power to speak out, or change things for the better. As long as we are equipped with the information that we need to do it.

Being exposed to content online can make us want to do something about it. Let me take you through some of these events which happened in 2020, and what you could do in 2021 to fight for change.

Racism

On 25 May, 2020 a horrific event took place in downtown Minneapolis in the US. George Floyd, an African American who had been accused of counterfeiting a $20 note was brutally murdered by Derek Chauvin, who served in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).

For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck while three other police officers stood by and watched. He was eventually fired from the MPD, and after an investigation, charged with second degree murder and second degree manslaughter.

What was significant about this event was that, taking place during a worldwide pandemic, it quickly spread across the Internet, reaching far more people than other stories on racism.

Hashtags such as #ICan’tBreathe started to trend on Twitter, and the world turned all of its attention on America as enormous protests broke out across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

We have many resources at hand for us to tackle racism. So if you’re keen to fight against racism in 2021 here are a few listed suggestions:

  • Recognise white privilege, and understand the concept of white fragility and why it happens
  • Dropping words and phrases from our vocabularies
  • Signing petitions in support of BLM and anti racism
  • Writing to your MP and other elected officials
  • Reading books, articles, and content written by the black community and people of colour (POC)
  • Watching documentaries such as 13th
  • Campaign to decolonise education, and ensure we are aware of Britain’s racial history
  • Learning critical thinking – to identify arguments and subtle dogwhistles used by white supremacists
  • Boycotting companies which exploit POC. indigenous people and communities like Roma and Gypsy.
  • Understand antisemitism, and the conspiracy theories which allowed it to spread
  • Campaign against police brutality, ensuring that riot weapons used by the police are not sent by the UK government to countries involved in anti racism protests.

Plastic pollution

In October 2020, David Attenborough made his witness statement for the future of our planet. It included a warning about plastic pollution, which has become an increasingly more exposed event online.

Staying at home meant that we were exposed to articles online which documented the extent of the plastic crisis. In December, an article published in Environment International discovered the horrific presence of microplastics in the human placenta.

A huge problem with plastics is that they do not decompose. All the plastic manufactured and produced in the world is still in the environment. Made from oil, plastics make up 40% of single use food packaging.

The plastic that is dumped as waste in landfill, or on the streets is eventually able to find its way to the oceans, where it presents a huge danger to marine biodiversity. Once in the oceans, currents pick it up and transport it into ocean gyres.

The most recent report from Break Free From Plastic found that Coca Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo were the top 3 worst plastic polluters in the UK for the third year in a row.

Can we do something about this? Below are some suggestions.

  • Personal care – switch to safety razors and toothbrushes made from bamboo
  • Switch from supermarket bought milk to glass milk deliveries
  • Switch from laundry powder to liquids, which will reduce microfibre distribution
  • Say no to the plastic table in your pizza deliveries, and no to plastic cutlery from takeaways
  • Avoid plastic pack rings which hold alcoholic cans together – if you must use them, cut them up afterwards to avoid marine wildlife getting stuck in it
  • Donate to charities committed to reducing the tide of plastic, and challenge MPs and the government by signing petitions and writing to them.
  • Use non oil based plastics, such as those made from hemp.
  • Support zero waste shops, and local businesses such as farm shops and markets which use less plastic packaging
  • Watch documentaries such as A Life on Our Planet and read books on sustainability.

Transphobia

The rise of transphobia in Britain is attributed to multiple factors which began in the 70s under the feminist movement, eventually dying out by the 80s and 90s.

Some of these include the rise of trans exclusionary radical feminism, being allowed to say extreme stuff under the cloak of feminism, editorial choices which kept trans issues as a debate, and tabloids that outed trans people ten years ago.

The exact same arguments which led to a rise in homophobia, have now been used against trans people more recently, and policies such as Section 28, and GRA Reform have impacted a huge generation of people.

As trans people were given more of a voice, commentators in editorial positions started to react against being told to stop outing trans people. Because we have been taught as a British society how to think of trans people, journalists have evoked that picture.

There have been accusations of transphobia across most left and centre left political parties including Labour, and the SNP. In the US, a second strain of transphobia exists more in right wing circles which has been amplified by Trump’s presidency.

That’s not to say feminism is a problem; it’s not. In fact many women achieved great things in 2020 which we should all be proud of, such as Monica Lennon’s landmark bill which has paved the way for a period poverty free Scotland.

And plenty of older feminists understand transphobia as well.

The SNP has stated on its website that they are “committed to reviewing and reforming gender recognition law, so that it’s in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has stated that the trans community deserves “more protection that they’ve got” but stresses these difficult questions should be addressed in a “mature, calm way without taking sides”.

What can we do to fight against this growing issue? Here are some suggestions.

  • Conserve energy by not arguing with people online
  • Donate to trans organisations and charities
  • Campaign for access to support services for trans people, and ensure safety on the streets
  • Read books and watch documentaries about trans people, which are great way to eliminate the vulnerability of everyday people to vicious media headlines
  • Use personal pronouns, and do not deadname a trans person
  • Recognise that feminism includes intersections: this includes black and POC women who may also be trans, trans women, and many others.
  • Campaign against transphobia in your political party and support policies which are gender inclusive

Ableism

In 2020, disabled people saw a huge rise in online ableism as well as offline. In fact, ableism has skyrocketed to horrific levels, plagued by an inadequate response to the pandemic.

Leading charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response have released figures which show over 7,300 disability hate crimes were reported to the police across England and Wales in 2019/20, yet only one in 62 cases received a charge. Cyber abuse makes up 1 in 10 reports of disability hate crimes.

Many people who felt “inconvenienced” by the lockdowns, suddenly, and unknowingly, were put into the shoes of disabled people who have been looked down upon by our society for years. This only increased the determination of disabled people to have their voices heard.

A sunflower lanyard scheme in the UK allowed disabled people access to shops and public transport without needing to wear a face covering, either because of their disability, or because face coverings caused significant distress.

However, there were instances of this scheme being abused by able-bodied people in order to escape wearing a face covering, which played with the safety of other people in the process.

An article in Edinburgh Live found that greedy eBay sellers made over £300 selling the lanyards with one such seller having sold 31 of the lanyards at £8.99 and making £278.69 in the process.

This is a prime example of ableism in 2020: being inconvenienced by laws designed for the protection of others and for the accessibility of disabled people.

In the autistic and neurodivergent communities, the release of a trailer for the film Music by Sia sparked outrage, and led to attacks by able-bodied and neurotypical people.

And the response from the UK government was inadequate when it came to supporting people who were shielding during lockdown, as well as supporting immunocompromised people, including those who were working.

In 2021, make the changes. Here are some suggestions to combat ableism:

  • Donate to organisations and charities which support disabled people
  • Read books and watch documentaries and programmes from and about disabled people
  • Campaign for accessibility and inclusion on university campuses, and in your political parties
  • Get rid of harmful ableist language from your vocabulary. It’s possible to unlearn words and phrases.
  • Support disabled voices in the workplace, and in various industries
  • Recognise the individual needs of different disabilities – not every disability is the same
  • Recognise that not every disability is visible – campaign for accessible facilities for invisible disabilities
  • Recognise that referring to disabled people who rely on benefits as ‘scroungers’ in the context of the welfare state, is harmful and instead campaign for workplaces to hire more disabled people
  • Avoid speaking over or hijacking disabled voices
  • Write to your MP or elected official to pressure them to make changes within your local area such as funding for local councils, and more support services.

Take home message

2020 was a year plagued by prejudice and hatred for many. It was a year in which social justice was brought into the spotlight. A year that the extent of injustice was made visible for all to see.

With the power of knowledge at our fingertips, we are poised to fight for change.

We can and must use our own privileges to campaign for people, peace and the planet. The 3Ps which are integral to every aspect of my life.

By understanding each of the issues outlined above, and why they happen, we are in a far better position to fight for the change that is desparately needed.

So if there is one thing this pandemic has shown us, it’s that with so many people staying at home, exposure to these important issues has become incredibly important and widespread.

So let’s help. Be the change that we all need.

Feaure image credit: Pexels

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