COVID Energized Justice Movements. Let’s Not Let That Momentum Slow.

Protesters near the White House on June 1, 2020. Photo by Kaiden J. Yu.

The past 18 months have been exhausting and stressful. In the U.S. alone, millions were infected with COVID-19, which disproportionately affected communities of color and essential workers, and more than half a million people died. But the past year also brought racial injustice to the forefront of national conversations, spurred unprecedented voter turnout and caused a surge in activist content on social media. 

Much of the momentum social justice movements gained can be attributed to the pandemic. For many Americans, especially more privileged ones, it finally became clear that there was and is injustice in this country. An inadequate pandemic response and widespread economic suffering—along with the footage of George Floyd’s death and the then-president’s refusal to condemn white supremacy—made that injustice impossible to deny.

People were at home, with more free time than usual, and directed their energy towards protests and activist efforts. Social movements had unprecedented momentum; according to an analysis by The New York Times, Black Lives Matter is estimated to be the largest movement in U.S. history, with upwards of 15 million people attending protests during the summer of 2020. 81 million people voted for Joe Biden in the presidential election, far more votes than any US president has ever gotten. It’s incumbent upon all of us to keep that momentum going through the end of the pandemic and beyond.

Sophomore Claire Simon told me, “I think the pandemic has done a lot for me, and I’m sure for others, in highlighting existing inequalities in America. It’s really important to recognize, and also devastating to know, how the pandemic intensifies almost everything from homelessness to trouble with access to healthcare and food insecurity.” 

And the energy for social justice has not slowed yet. After Texas’ extremely restrictive ban on abortion was passed on Sept. 1, social media was flooded with information about how to support women seeking abortions in the state, and social media users spammed a website meant for reporting women who have abortions with fake tips that rendered the site useless. 

Junior Grey Papageorgiou told me that they had to get creative when it came to being an activist during the Black Lives Matter movement because of the pandemic; they signed petitions, supported Black-owned businesses, found online resources to educate themself and protested when it was safe. “A huge challenge for me during this pandemic was making sure that staying home didn’t translate to staying silent,” Papageorgiou said. Now, we should make sure that moving closer to our pre-pandemic routines doesn’t translate to staying silent.

As more Americans get the coronavirus vaccine, the end of the pandemic seems to be in sight, at least in the U.S. But there is another risk: It might become easier to ignore injustice, especially when that injustice isn’t something you experience, without the sharp lens of the pandemic’s woes. But we shouldn’t let the momentum of social change die down. Even when this crisis is over, we will still need to fight injustice. Endemic racism, economic inequity and the lack of an adequate social safety net are as much problems today as they were before March 2020.

We have to be flexible and creative when we make change, and we must be able to adapt. The various ways in which people like Papageorgiou worked for social justice over the past 18 months were effective in keeping important, underlying issues front and center. Continuing that work is vital if we want to sustain progress. I urge you to spread awareness on social media when injustice occurs, go to protests when you can and, most important, not stay silent. Even with a Democrat in office and a Democrat-controlled Congress, we need to continue to push for real, fundamental change, now more than ever.