Looking back, any hopes we had that 2021 would bring a welcome respite from the trials and tribulations of 2020 seem more than a little naive.
The list of problems facing the nation has lengthened, and many of the public policy solutions that are being tried as a result still feel largely inadequate in the face of some epochal challenges.
We’ve lost more than 815,000 of our fellow Americans to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, witnessed more than 100,000 overdose deaths across the nation since the start of the pandemic, and seen roughly 20,000 lives cut short because of gun violence in 2021.
If all of that weren’t enough, American democracy also finds itself under fire.
It has been nearly a year since supporters of then-President Donald Trump marched on the U.S. Capitol, attacked Capitol Police, invaded and disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory, and stalked the halls and offices of Congress while flying flags associated with secession, treason, and white supremacy.
In the months since, through the House’s Jan. 6 committee, America learned that the risk of overturning what many experts called the safest election in U.S. history was very much real — Trump’s attorneys even made a PowerPoint presentation highlighting various options for what they hoped would be a bloodless coup. Ultimately, five people died in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 because of the Big Lie.
Pennsylvania had its own role to play in the insurrection. Of the roughly 700 people who were arrested for their role in the Capitol breach, at least 63 were from Pennsylvania — second only to Florida and tied with Texas. State Sen. Doug Mastriano, now a likely gubernatorial candidate, was in D.C. for the Stop the Steal rally that preceded the insurrection, and photos show him on the Capitol lawn at the time of the attacks.
Well into the night, after the Capitol had been cleared, when Congress voted to certify the Electoral College vote, eight of the nine Pennsylvania Republicans in Congress still voted to overturn the election. Among them was Rep. Scott Perry, who according to new revelations, was part of a top meeting of Trump advisers on ways to reverse the election. Perry also had a role in Trump’s failed effort to pressure Georgia election officials once Biden’s win was assured.
None of these officials has so far faced any consequences — but we, collectively, are paying the price. Because when democracy is broken, it is incredibly hard to fix anything else.
If we want to enter 2023 feeling less anxious about our country’s future and better equipped to solve these seemingly intractable problems, it’s critical for us all to ensure our democracy is still in working order by protecting the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.
The good news is that there are people doing just that. Mark Nordenberg, the former chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and his Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission have released proposed redistricting maps that are an improvement over their predecessors.
The Committee of Seventy has hired Al Schmidt — Philadelphia’s Election Defender during the 2020 presidential vote count — as its new president and CEO, with a mandate to fight for democratic principles. Locally, Philadelphia voters interested in running for their local party committee seats, a crucial yet overlooked role in the democratic process, are able to turn to Open Wards Philadelphia, which can support them with information and access to resources.
Advocating for democracy, at even the neighborhood level, may seem like a limited response to the annus horribilis that we’ve all experienced. But it is only through the ballot box that we can ensure that our leaders finally begin to address the major issues that afflict our country, our commonwealth, and our city.