I moved to New York on December 27, 2019. I’d just wrapped up a decade of working in the Australian media and my American Dream was still alive. I started 2020 with the promise of a new adventure, advancing my career, and expanding my horizons.
Ten weeks later this came to an abrupt halt. Yes, Covid-19 was ripping through China and Europe as I flew across to pursue my new life, but never did I expect the catastrophe that exists today.
The coronavirus pandemic all but destroyed modern life here in America, while political mistruths in the Trumpian age fueled an uncivil war. New York was cold and confused – and I was angry and helpless. To date, there have been 24.5 million cases and 406,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
I’ll spare you the details of what it was like being sick with the virus (yes, I had it and lost my sense of taste and smell for months), stuck alone in a tiny Manhattan studio while grappling with the very real possibility of losing my job, visa, and having to pack my bags at a moment’s notice. Still, I was one of the lucky ones.
Supermarket shelves, schools and offices were empty. Comedy clubs, galleries, museums, restaurants, bars and entire boroughs shuttered. The cultural fabric of New York had unraveled at the seams. But there’s something to be said about how the city reacted.
“New York Tough” was the catch cry. As summer approached, so did a newfound optimism. Inch by inch New Yorkers crawled out of their caves and started to fight. We clapped for the first responders each night at 7pm – hanging our heads out apartment windows, banging on pots and pans, whatever we could do to show our support – for months on end. We watched Cuomo’s daily updates, anticipation building for the country’s grand reopening. The numbers were trending down and our spirits were trending up.
Then came June. The Black Lives Matter movement peaked early in the month, sparking massive protests in the U.S. and around the world. This necessary, impassioned cry for racial justice was brought to the fore by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and characterised by a transformative energy.
America’s reckoning was this: will direct action against systemic racism, structural inequities and unjust police killings last or languish?
Let us take stock for a moment. Up until a few days ago the world’s largest superpower was governed by a man who was obsessed with exploiting a culture of fear. Trump’s Twitter blasts of fake news and lies fuelled tensions across America for his entire presidency. His tactics and growing desperation only exaggerated the trauma of the coronavirus, racial tensions and the growing economic disaster.
So many of us pinned all of our hopes for the future on the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. A change in leadership, we hoped, would bring into focus the country’s key pain points and work towards finding actual solutions.
The race to the finish line was an ugly one, culminating in a violent clash at the Capitol and the President being impeached for the second time. It was a truly anguished situation. ‘Trump predicts most corrupt election in US history,’ and ‘Trump’s voter fraud lies encouraged a riot,’ ran the headlines. The fire raged on.
America still wasn’t through the woods as the inauguration drew near. Would Trump or his supporters incite more violence? Would rash decisions be made? Thankfully, on January 20, 2021 we collectively exhaled. Lucky for us, Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rhetoric failed. Facts prevailed. Democracy won.
Today a new chapter has opened in U.S. politics. President Joe Biden signed executive orders on Covid-19, climate change, immigration and more on his first day in office. Vice-President Kamala Harris has entered the history books as the first woman of color to hold national office. For me and millions of others, it feels like hope is pulsing through America again. In New York City, we’ve exhaled collectively and are rallying around the glimpse of hope for some lasting change.
I don’t regret moving to America right before such a tumultuous time. There’s an immense privilege in being able to pack up your life, move to a different country, and live and breathe history as it unfolds around you. This privilege is not lost on me. The desire to affect real change is contagious here and it’s the spirit of people and place that’ve kept me going. I have faith a better world awaits because quite frankly, if all we do is return to ‘normal’, shame on us.
As Amanda Gorman articulated in her brilliant inauguration poem: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”