We’ll Never Be the Same

 Pandemic Anniversary spread from Moriah Simmons
1. lesson from the past year to reflect on right now – Queen of wands
2. what was most painful for us this past year – Queen of swords
3. what action can we take that will begin to heal – Empress
4. what hidden gifts has this year unearthed – Hierophant
5. how can we make the best of these gifts – 7 of cups
6. new lesson emerging for us in the coming year – 5 of pentacles



I’ve often thought about how 2020 was an infrastructure test for our organizations. I regularly felt, in high relief, where what we had built before the pandemic was falling short of meeting the moment. Anything extraneous and not immediately responsive was stripped away, and we scrambled to implement shortcuts with narrative & communications strategies. It felt fitting for last year to be an Emperor year (2020 = 2+0+2+0 = 4, the number on the Emperor card), as the Emperor corresponds to building institutions and meeting material needs of the people (or oppressive powers that do not). With 6 million renter households a total of 19 billion dollars in debt from putting rent on their credit cards or borrowing from friends and family,1 with 2 in 5 women (mostly women-of-color) out of work for six months or longer in the past 10 months,2 it is hard not to feel like we failed on many counts. What we could do never felt like enough. Not nearly enough funding available to redistribute to local mutual aid projects to meet the need. Not enough political will to get a truly effective recovery package passed at the federal level, after multiple attempts across different administrations. Not enough relationships already built in apartment buildings and neighborhoods to wage real rent strikes. Absolute fuckery at every level of government to protect people and not enough political development or a culture of collective care at the grassroots to call it out enough to be heard. 

The past year was all hustle, all fake it until you make it, pouring every last bit of energy we collectively had to make up for what we hadn’t been able to build yet. We were Queens of Wands doing whatever was necessary to protect our people and mobilize responses to the crisis that were just and equitable. Through sheer determination a number of seemingly impossible things happened like the popularization of Defund Police, the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the creation of countless new mutual aid organizations. We can’t take it for granted that we defeated Trump. We talk about shifting the political terrain, and it has shifted, people are in the streets in the U.S. openly in solidarity with the Palestinian people–an unpopular, niche leftist / anti-zionist concern a year ago. 

What hurts, deeply, is that what we could do in the past year was not enough and over half a million people died in the U.S. More often those were people in working class communities, and Latinx, Black, or Indigenous communities. They were elders and knowledge-keepers. People mobilized with clarity of purpose against state violence, but the waters were muddy when it came to demanding a humane response to the pandemic from the government. The heart of the truth, that the Queen of Swords is here to tell, is that there is so much work left to do. If our goal was to save lives, to come out of this mess with people in the same or better financial position, then by any cold, clear assessment collectively we failed. However, it was not just our responsibility–we, the people who concern ourselves with “social justice” work or “decolonial” work, or the work of building alternatives to the current system–it is not ours to try to do everything. Our organizations have a role to play. We need to evaluate our organizations differently than how we evaluate what society at large accomplishes or not. To carry the weight that it is our responsibility do it all is to set ourselves up for failure to never do what we can well (7 of Cups).

We need to decisively, strategically choose, and commit to our role.  How did we expect our organizations to respond in the past year and was that reasonable, based on the time and resources available, the level of experience of people doing the work? What systems or programs were we missing last year that tripped us up, that left us unprepared? If we hadn’t organized well enough yet to mobilize a response, maybe we need to double-down on real relationship-building. What did have impact but needs to be scaled up? Maybe there is a local success that could be built on and replicated. Now is a time to listen deeply and widely, consult the parts of ourselves and the people in our lives that may usually be quieter. The gift of the 7 of Cups is the options it presents us, but the lesson and wisdom is in actually making a choice. If we can trust that others can take on responsibility and we don’t have to do it all, this leaves us with the ability to choose what part of the work we are well-positioned and called to do. 

Care is critical to making good choices, and we don’t love on ourselves and allow others to love on us nearly enough. The Empress, to me, is about believing that the Earth wants us here and that it will provide for us (if we care for it) as our birthright. We run ourselves ragged believing we have to earn our keep, that we have to be useful, and we forget to be in relationship with ourselves and others. Community care is not about who is deserving of it, and we must extend this principle to ourselves as well. Believing you have to take care of everything and everyone is learned from the trauma of having that be absolutely true, of going through life having little to no emotional and/or physical support. But if you find yourself able to access more support in your life, and you can make a plan to do so, now is the time to take those steps. Now is the time to ask for help, carve out for time to yourself, lie in the grass and be held by the Earth. You absolutely deserve not to be miserable. If we don’t take steps, we replicate the trauma response in our organizations where we think we must take everything on and are the only ones responsible enough to do the work. This is a recipe for burnout. 

An unexpected gift is that through the hardship of this year many of us felt we had no choice but to take up some kind of self-care or spiritual practice. We also thought more about how others could have access to such tools and worked to further develop resiliency practices in our organizations. The Hierophant (which also happens to be the card of the year 2021), modeled after the figure of the Pope, is a conduit between “Heaven and Earth” and at a more basic level is the collaboration of structure and spirit, dealing with how spiritual traditions are practiced and transmitted across generations and continents. The Hierophant conducts their practice carefully because they have the wisdom to understand the consequences of a lack of discipline in spiritual work. We may have a role in transmitting best practices across our organizations and movements. These will be essential tools as we move forward toward recovery and response to the next crisis. It may not be immediately apparent, but honing our spiritual skills can aid in making better strategic choices.

The last card, the 5 of Pentacles, is a new lesson in the coming year. This is a hard card pointing to financial and material loss, but it also represents a reset, hitting bottom and bouncing back. It’s hard to know what will happen next, but we already know “going back to normal” was not justice and equity for many people. There will be further crises, but if we take the time to understand the shortcomings of our response to this one we might be better positioned for the next. What are we rebuilding now? What seeds have we planted to better take care of ourselves and our communities that we must continue to tend to? 

Unprecedented upheaval happened in the past year, with social and political implications we’ve only begun to understand. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for what we did or didn’t do in response to the global pandemic, and we should recognize how much we tried to move mountains with little preparation. The struggle is as much within us as without, and we are in a time where a diverse set of tools are available to support us on our healing journeys. We will need these spiritual tools to shore ourselves up for the fight ahead.

1: https://nationalequityatlas.org/node/63161
2: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2021/02/01/495209/women-lose-jobs-essential-actions-gender-equitable-recovery/

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