I remember being very excited for 2020. The even numbers. The symmetry. The start of a new decade. I had made New Year’s resolutions – basically the same as the ones last year, but this year I promised myself I would do them (I have not). I had a plan for how the Barristers Club’s year would go: take last year’s events and make them better, and add some new programming.
Then, COVID-19 struck. The world turned upside down and I watched as my carefully laid-out plans for myself and the Barristers went out the window. But we pivoted to remote work, virtual Continuing Legal Education seminars and events, and programming to address these novel legal issues. We learned we could adapt, and survive. However, 2020 was not done with us quite yet. This year has brought us renewed and urgent calls for racial justice and to end police brutality. It has highlighted the dire consequences of global warming—in California, through wildfires, red skies, and smoke. It has expanded the already deep divides in economic disparities, political rhetoric, and racial and gender inequality. It has seen us lose icons of the civil rights and women’s movement in Representative John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This year is not over either, and with the election fast approaching there is sure to be more to come.
However, the point of this article is not to dwell on all of the tragedies this year has brought, of which you are all well aware. It is instead to ask a simple question: What are you going to do about it? If there is a silver lining to this year, it will be in how we react to the challenges before us. Will we sit back, throw our hands in the air, and fail to react? Or will we use these events to push us forward and enact real, lasting change?
When the Barristers’ year started, our plans were ambitious but familiar. We would do what we did last year, just better and more. But in the face of this year’s difficulties, we rose to the occasion and created new programming we have never done before. We created the Barristers’ Racial Justice Initiative, and have been putting on programming from How to Be an Ally to a Town Hall on Police Accountability, Discipline & Oversight. These programs have shown us that there is an intense interest and desire for change. With an average attendance of almost fifty people per program, we plan on having put on a dozen programs before the end of the year. The Racial Justice Initiative is not only an initial reaction to the killings of Black men and women, but an initiative that Barristers intend on continuing into next year and beyond. This type of programming was not what we had thought we would do this year, but the year’s challenges compelled us to do so—and as a result, we are better for it. So while I would never wish for the challenges 2020 has brought, I am grateful for the changes it has urged us to make.
In a sense, this year has woken us up. We always knew that the status quo was not good enough, that it did not work to the benefit of all. But for many of us, we did not do anything about it. With everything happening now, with the world reeling and the future unknown, this is our moment to act. This is our opportunity to make things better. Years from now when we look back at 2020, we will undoubtedly recount the unfolding of tragedy after tragedy—but we will also focus on what we did in response that, eventually, changed the world.
If this all sounds a bit big, ambitious, and cliché, you are not wrong. However, you are wrong if you think this means you should not do anything. You do not need to quit your job, donate all your money, or move to a swing state. The changes that you make can be small but meaningful. Choose something to do that makes sense for you, your time, and your budget. If you are looking for where to start, here are some suggestions:
- Help to get out the vote: check out the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection coalition
- Get involved in organizations and causes that you believe in
- Volunteer your time: the Justice & Diversity Center has many opportunities
- Donate to causes that matter to you
- Write or call your elected representatives
- Educate yourself on issues—check out the Bar Association of San Francisco’s programming or others’
- Speak up when you see inequality or injustice
- Use your position to promote diversity, equality, and inclusion
- Fill out the 2020 Census, and encourage others to as well
No matter what you choose, do something. Take the difficulties that this year has brought and turn them into action, and turn 2020 into a year of change.
As the late Justice Ginsburg said, “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” I am confident that we can do just that, and emerge from 2020 better and stronger than before.
About the Author:
Kelly Matayoshi is a senior associate at Farella Braun + Martel and the current Barristers Club President. Her practice focuses on business litigation and employment, with a focus on the consumer products industry.