Ona Alston Dosunmu
“Nothing lasts forever.” “This too shall pass.” I know it. You know it. We all know, in our heads, that nothing lasts forever and at some point, many of the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic will end. They will end either because we learn to live with the virus just as we have learned to live with flu, the common cold and HIV, or because there is a vaccine or a cure. As much we have an intellectual understanding that these extraordinary, unprecedented and challenging times will not last forever, it is sometimes hard to feel it. The reality is that we human beings are not always rational.
Yet we have to find a way to see past today to a brighter tomorrow. And we have to find a way to help others do so as well. I believe that everyone, regardless of title or role, can be a leader during these times. Whether in our families, in our peer groups, in our churches, temples or mosques, or at work, we can all play a role in helping those around us focus on the positive in the current moment and focus on the transformations this experience may mean for the future. Two phenomena give me glimmers of hope—the anti-racism movement and the possibility that science and expertise may once again be ascendant.
While COVID-19 deaths lead the news most days, there is also an incredible reckoning happening around race and inequality in America. I have been struggling to understand, “Why now?” and I suspect generations of social scientists will be writing hundreds of books in an attempt to answer that question. Regardless of the answer, I’m cautiously optimistic that efforts to address structural racism are taking root and will bear fruit—if not for my generation, then for the next. This period of history may prove as significant to the country as Reconstruction or the Civil Rights Movement. I am not sure this historical moment would have been possible but for the economic shutdown in response to the pandemic. If people had not had the time and space created by the pandemic shutdown, they may not have had the bandwidth to organize and show up for protests, to engage in the debates happening on social media and to call out racism when and where they see it.
Science and expertise may be more respected now than before the pandemic. In a sophisticated, high-tech, interconnected nation and world, everyone cannot be an expert in everything. We need trustworthy people with deep expertise in a variety of disciplines to explain what is going on so we can make rational decisions for ourselves, our families and those for whom we are responsible. Despite the denigration of deep expertise and excellence in some quarters, I believe that most Americans have a renewed appreciation for experts in fields ranging from epidemiology and medicine to supply-chain logistics because the novel coronavirus has demonstrated that getting things right in these areas can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of our relatives, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.
For us as attorneys, I believe the emergence from the pandemic into whatever tomorrow holds will be one of the most challenging and important periods in which to be engaged in the practice of law. We will be tasked with arguing for a fair interpretation of new laws emerging from calls to reform the justice system. We will be charged with ensuring that both the spirit and the letter of reforms are adhered to. We, like the best members of the profession before us, will be entrusted with protecting the vulnerable against the powerful. We will have the opportunity to be social engineers and champions of justice in a nation and world significantly changed from the one in which we lived before the pandemic. And the California Lawyers Association will be there every step of the way supporting its members and the profession as we move into this brave, new tomorrow.