It’s been an incredible year to cover politics.
Many people who may have been apathetic prior to the pandemic, suddenly saw the way policies made by politicians really had a huge impact on their life - whether that was being able to go to the gym or get their nails done or get a haircut, or have childcare for their kids or what kind of learning their kids would get if they were enrolled in public schools. Suddenly, residents across San Diego County were tuning in to the press briefings that at the beginning of the pandemic were daily.
People who may not have known their supervisor’s name prior to the pandemic suddenly had an interest in finding out who represented them and what their stance was on how to respond to the crisis.
One theme I heard repeatedly from politicians I interviewed over the course of the last year was how frustrating it was to have a lack of a unified response. Depending on where you lived, the posture of the federal government in many cases varied greatly from the way elected leaders at the state, county, and city levels wanted to respond to the pandemic.
Another challenge echoed by many politicians on both sides of the aisle was the lack of information.
The guidance coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed frequently. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were told wearing a mask was not necessary, but as more studies were conducted it became evident that the science proved that wearing a mask was effective in combating the spread. With more guidance coming from public health officials and the CDC, politicians in many cases followed suit, creating mask mandates in most states across the United States. But even the wearing of a mask, became a political debate, with many Americans saying the requirement of wearing a mask infringed on their personal liberties.
Of course there wasn’t unity, even on the local level, here in the San Diego area.
We saw many elected leaders whether that was county supervisors or mayors or members of different city councils who felt that the restrictions that were being placed on businesses were too severe. We saw “Reopen Rallies” that featured many business owners, employees, and elected officials.
Some pointed to other states where there weren’t as many restrictions and cases weren’t as high as in California. Other industries felt that they were being targeted unnecessarily when they felt that they had implemented safety and sanitation protocols that would prevent the spread from occurring in their establishments. Many business owners and employees questioned their elected leaders about how the restrictions were drawn up. We also saw some law enforcement leaders and business owners say they felt uncomfortable or were downright opposed to enforcing some of the mandates being enacted by politicians.
There were also different approaches as to how to categorize if and when different areas needed to have more restrictions. At some points this was tackled on a county basis, and at other times it was dealt with by region. There were different tiers and then the basis on how regions or counties made it into the various tiers also changed. There have been many different formulas and equations that have dictated what we can and can’t do in our communities.
We saw unemployment skyrocket across the country and we saw thousands of businesses close permanently. We saw the struggles of many Americans who were trying to get the benefits of stimulus bills that the federal and local governments had put into place to help them stay afloat during the pandemic. We saw local officials pass eviction moratoriums and rent relief measures, designed to keep a roof over people’s heads.
We also saw hypocrisy, unfortunately, from many of our elected leaders. Some of our representatives could not follow the rules and guidance they were urging their constituents to practice. We saw officials get on airplanes after they told people not to travel, we saw some attend dinners or go to hair salons after urging people not to do that and in some cases, there were even accusations that political favoritism was playing a role in how the vaccine was being rolled out in certain places.
In the midst of all of this, we saw an election.
It was a historic time in American history, with record voter turnout despite the fear some had of going to the polls. Some states made it easier than others. In some places, we saw records of voters exercising their democratic rights by mail. Many elected leaders who had to defend their office suddenly saw their response to the coronavirus being at the forefront of the election debates.
We also saw a national reckoning on racial justice in the United States. People took to the streets wanting to exercise their first amendment rights. We saw others want to exercise those rights after they believed an election was stolen from them months later. In both examples, people wanted answers from their elected leaders and there were intense discussions about voting practices and the interaction between law enforcement and communities. Many felt that we needed to fundamentally question and revise systems and enact policies to address failures from the past.
Moving forward, with the approval and rollout of several different vaccines, it seems like we are turning a corner and we can finally start rebuilding. Congress just passed the second largest stimulus bill in American history with the hopes that it might help Americans get back on their feet. There are still a lot of questions about how the vaccine will be distributed and how we are going to address the issues with supply. Again, different states have different distribution methods on how to prioritize who gets the vaccine first.
It was an unbelievable year in politics, but the one thing that stuck out the most to me was how engaged so many people across the country were. They wanted to have a voice and they wanted to participate and that’s what a democracy is all about.