Four years, and four hundred thousands lives

This week marks the end of a presidency that began with racism and ended with insurgency: a shameful, violent, and despairing time in our history. Four hundred thousand lives have been lost due to COVID-19 — a direct result of failures of leadership, willful mistrust of science, and politicizing basics of public health. In the words of Bob Rafsky, we are witnesses to a crime.

It is hard not to look at images of the storming of the Capitol and feel overcome with anger and shame. Peaceful protests for Black lives met with National Guard deployments, tear gas, rubber bullets, while an attempted coup for a fragile ego steamrolled a threadbare police presence and ended with a Capitol defiled.

I can’t stop thinking about the attack, and the threat levied on our democracy. And I can’t stop contrasting it with the Capitol Crawl — a thousand people who gathered in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the sixty activists setting aside their wheelchairs and crutches to crawl up the Capitol steps. The images and videos from that day still shake me. An action centered on their own bodies, a protest advocating for accessibility and equality.

The Capitol Crawl, a culmination of a gathering in support of the passing of the ADA 1990

And I can’t stop thinking in this moment of four years ago — the first Women’s March in DC, the day after Inauguration Day. We’d just come back from an offsite, and many Nava staff ended up attending the march. People said there ended up being half a million people in DC that day.

Women’s March in DC, the day after Inauguration Day in 2017

It is hard to understand what four hundred thousand lives lost means. For me, I think about how it felt that day: more people than I’d ever seen before in my life, no end or beginning in sight. An entire city, poured out into the streets.

The costs of the past four years are still being borne, with the pandemic still killing thousands a day. But this week is a milestone. People will process in so many ways. The last few years have been both unimaginable, totally predictable, utterly shameful, and exactly who we are. The last few moments have been filled with relief, despair, hope, grit, and fear. People are carrying so much hurt, so much loss. Some will process with laughter, some with skepticism. That’s okay.

My only hope is that we find a way to allow this moment to fuel us. There’s still so much work to do, so many lives still at stake, so much work to rebuild and repair. The cracks in our safety net widened and laid bare during the pandemic have existed for decades, and will require sustained and direct action to mend.

I think of Tamika Mallory, one of the co-organizers of the Women’s March’s words: “When you go back home, remember how you felt. What made you — that instinct, that gut — that said, “I gotta get on a bus, a plane, a train — no matter what — to protect my children.” That feeling — take it back to wherever it is that you came from today. You have awoken a new and renewed spirit, and I am so excited to be a part of this with all of you.”

Cofounder at Nava, a public benefit corporation working to radically reimagine government services.