The COVID-19 pandemic, now entering its third year, has strained mental healthcare infrastructure both across the United States and in Virginia. Mass infection and mortality, economic instability, and the disruption of routines and established modes of community-building have combined to produce a nearly perfect storm of deleterious effects. As of early 2021, the proportion of adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression had quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 36% of adults report that stress or worry relating to the pandemic has negatively impacted their sleep, and 12% of adults say the pandemic has led to increased alcohol or drug use. Even with safe, effective vaccines widely available, the recent Omicron surge serves as a reminder that the pandemic, and its accompanying detrimental effects on physical and mental health, cannot yet be discounted as a top-line public policy issue.
In July 1969, human beings set foot on another world for the first time ever when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent just under one earth-day on the surface of the Moon. Over the next three years, NASA conducted five more successful crewed Moon landings, with the last, Apollo 17, leaving the Moon in December 1972.
The Moon landings were a remarkable achievement for the United States, and for humanity as a whole. Apollo 11 traveled over 200,000 miles to land on the Moon just under fifty years since the first time humans flew 1,900 miles across the Atlantic and only eight years since the first human being entered space. What’s more, the landings were achieved less than seven years after President Kennedy announced before a crowd at Rice University in 1962 that the United States would go to the Moon by the end of the decade. However, the last Moon landing was almost fifty years ago. Since then, hundreds of people have gone to space, but no one has gone farther than low-Earth orbit. The fifty years between the first transatlantic flight and the first Moon landing saw unbelievable strife and social upheaval, yet unparalleled technological advancement. The same can be said of the fifty years since we last went farther than about a thousand miles from the Earth, so what, where, and when is our next great navigation milestone? The what and where are easy: Mars. The question of when, however, appears to be more challenging.
Last year, workers across the country organized their workplaces to advocate for stronger pay, benefits, working conditions, and collective bargaining agreements. Early in the year, Amazon workers attempted to unionize their plant in Bessmer, AL. Their drive received national attention, and it even prompted President Joe Biden to announce his support for their efforts. Other high-profile efforts included the recent successful unionization of a Starbucks store in the Buffalo area, which drew attention from national political leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders and has already inspired over 50 other locations to file for their own elections. Meanwhile, thousands of other workers banded together to strike their respective workplaces, including John Deere, Kellogg’s, and Columbia University. From “#Striketober” to the PRO Act, these direct actions have inspired activists and political leaders to rally behind unions and push for fundamental changes in national labor policy.
Dozens were injured and three people died as a result of the Unite the Right Rally on August 12, 2017. Four years later on November 24, 2021 a Jury found the rally’s organizers liable for Civil Conspiracy to violate Virginia Code 8.01-42.1, often referred to as Virginia’s hate crime law, awarding $25 million in damages. This verdict effectively bankrupts some of the most prominent members of the White Supremacy Movement (WSM). Defendants included main rally organizer Jason Kessler, alt-right leader Richard Spencer, car attack perpetrator James Fields Jr., along with several far right individuals and organizations like the Traditional Workers Party, Identity Evropa, and League of the South. The trial featured testimony from victims, experts on the WSM, and the defendants themselves. Additional evidence in the form of the Rally organizers’ chat logs and communications shed light on the ways the WSM co-opts mainline political and cultural issues like free speech and historical preservation as cover for recruitment and racially motivated violence.
March 24 of this year — amidst a backdrop of removing Confederate statues in my hometown of Richmond — a piece of legislation shocked Virginians. Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill to abolish the death penalty, making Virginia the first state of the former Confederacy to do so and the twenty-third overall.