The world today is complicated. Technological advancements have ensured that we are more connected than ever before, yet in many ways, we have never been more disconnected. While we sit in the comfort of our homes, we have access to information from across the globe, literally within the palms of our hands. We are more aware than ever before of the problems faced by humanity in different parts of the world. Yet the distance provides a sense of security. What we fail to realize is that in a globalized world, every issue is a global one. The United States today is once again in the global headlines. People from all over the world are once again looking at us for answers. The year is 2021, yet the social justice issues we face today remind us, and the world, of our troubled past; and how we deal with them will decide our future as a leader of social freedoms and the land of liberty.
Our connectivity has made the world smaller. A lot of us can travel at will and with ease. We can rally around global causes from our living rooms. We can interact with one another on an unprecedented scale. Our voices and our words have more value today than ever before. A simple hashtag (#) can create a movement with a global reach. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are just two examples among a sea of others. We need to realize the power we have and trust in our ability to bring about social change. Racism, equity, education, healthcare, immigration, and LGBTQ+ rights are just some of the social battles that still need to be fought in the USA in 2021.
What is Social Justice?
The definition of social justice may vary in different parts of the world. It may vary from nation to nation, region to region, and, even, from person to person. While wearing a burka may be a basic right for someone, somewhere, it may be a matter of social justice for someone, somewhere else. However, there are some definitions that many find to be accurate and broad in perspective.
- The United Nations defines social justice in terms of equity and fairness in the achievement and distribution of the fruits of economic growth.
- The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) says that social justice can be achieved through equity and fairness in economic, social, and political opportunities.
- The Center for Economic and Social Justice considers social justice to be a phenomenon that guides institutional and human interactions towards the ideas of fairness, equity, and growth.
Social justice needs to be an all-encompassing idea that unifies us in the achievement of common goals. These goals include equality, freedom from discrimination, fair access to opportunities (social, educational, political, economic, etc.), participation, and the same rights and liberties regardless of race, origin, and socioeconomic status. The main idea behind social justice is the belief that all human beings have innate value, and that no one is more or less valuable in the eyes of society, the law, the constitution, etc.
The idea of social justice as we know it today is a product of our past struggles. Movements such as the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement have had great influence on our beliefs and ideas about what social justice should be. While the United States is considered a global leader in socio-economic liberties, there is still a long way to go before social injustice can become a thing of the past.
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The Biggest Social Justice Issues We Face Today
To say 2021 has been a year unlike any other would be an understatement. We’ve seen pandemics, social justice movements, natural disasters, celebrity deaths and so much more. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a historic downturn that has left businesses shut down, and millions unemployed. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought issues such as systematic racism, police brutality, and social inequity to the forefront once again. Issues such as wars, food security issues, poverty, and climate change are more important than ever. To cover all the bases, here is a list of some of the most pressing social issues Americans face today:
1 – Voting
Election officials’ responses to the Covid-19 outbreak severely hampered some people’s ability to vote in primary elections, but access improved by the November general election. A federal appeals court determined that people with criminal convictions in Florida must pay fines before they may vote. As media outlets predicted Biden would win the presidential election, President Trump raised unfounded charges of voter fraud and initiated lawsuits contesting the electoral processes of several states. Organizations such as the NASW, ADL, and ACLU are actively engaged in ensuring that voting is accessible to all US citizens to prevent a low voter turnout.
2 – Climate Change
The effects of climate change can be seen all over the world. From the bushfires in California and Australia to the acceleration in the speed at which polar ice caps are melting, the threat that climate change poses to humanity is more evident than ever before. Climate change, however, can bring with it social challenges as well. It can put a strain on natural and economic resources and harm the overall well-being of all humanity. However, despite all the evidence, there are still many who live in denial. Climate change has also become a political issue that is a source of great division.
While everyone’s attention was naturally drawn to COVID last year, the effects of climate change are still being felt across the country and around the world. Exacerbated by unusually hot and dry weather, wildfires in the West destroyed 10 million acres, displacing thousands and creating a poisonous fog that hovered over many states for weeks. A record number of named hurricanes and storms hit the East and Gulf coasts, including
Laura, which killed dozens and inflicted billions of dollars in damage in Louisiana, including $1.6 billion in losses to the state’s agriculture industry.
Extreme weather events cost the country more than $460 billion in damages from 2017 to 2019. As temperatures rise, storms are anticipated to become more frequent and intense. Rising sea levels are already approaching several communities along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
Over the last four years, the federal government’s reduced response to climate change has left a leadership gap that several cities and states have attempted to fill. Following President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017, a coalition of 25 governors, mostly Democrats, formed the United States Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance, following the Paris Convention objectives, has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the municipal level, 470 “U.S. Climate Mayors” have joined forces with the same goal.
However, local jurisdictions are hard to be as effective as federal ones. Recent Brookings Institution reports have found that there are currently just slightly less than half of the country’s 100 largest cities dealing with reductions in emissions. Overall, their reductions only represent approximately 7% of the United States’ objectives laid out in the original agreement in Paris. Another 22 big towns have committed themselves to lower emissions but still have targets to establish. Los Angeles saw the biggest emission decline, followed by San Francisco. Tucson saw the biggest increase in emissions, mostly because of the rapid growth in that city.
Virginia joined almost a dozen other states in making a legislative commitment to a future of 100 percent renewable energy last April. However, states, like cities, have limitations on what they can accomplish. Budgets must be balanced at a time when cash-strapped states will be searching for ways to decrease spending as a result of the pandemic’s economic impact.
Federal assistance may be available. The COVID-19 relief bill enacted by Congress in March 2021 included the most substantial climate change legislation in a decade. The package includes billions for clean, renewable energy research and development, as well as extended tax incentives for existing technologies, which is a crucial component of Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion goals to attain 100 percent clean energy by 2035.
The new president’s goal to upgrade the country’s energy infrastructure is a critical component of his plan to resurrect the economy following COVID. Fans of Winter Fest in Caro, Michigan, can’t wait for change. The annual outdoor event, which was scheduled for February, was canceled the previous two years due to a lack of ice and snow. This year’s organizers aren’t relying on the weather to determine whether or not the event will take place. The event in 2021 was recently canceled, this time due to the coronavirus.
3 – Healthcare
Social justice and healthcare are heavily linked. An important aspect of social justice is the ability to have fair access to healthcare. However, healthcare in 2021 in the US remains a controversial subject despite the passing of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. There are still immense gaps in terms of coverage and access, especially where mental health issues are concerned.
Even though the USA spends more on healthcare than any other country, it has not translated into higher life expectancy and universal care. COVID-19 has highlighted the inadequacies in the healthcare system; the lack of awareness, inability to access tests and treatment and insufficient mental health care are all matters of great concern.
4 – Refugee Crisis and Immigration
Who isn’t aware of President Trump’s views on immigration? From building a wall along the Mexican border to travel bans for certain countries, the Trump administration’s immigration policies have been in the headlines constantly. You only need to log in to any social media platform and you will likely come across some abuse or brutality committed by ICE agents.
The refugee crisis dominated the headlines throughout 2019. UN figures indicate that nearly 70.8 million people have been forced to flee from home, of which nearly 30 million have ended up in refugee camps all over the world. Refugees face many social challenges such as in accessing education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. The current administration’s policies in dealing with refugees have led to much criticism.
5 – Body Autonomy
It may come as a surprise to many across the world, but body autonomy is an ongoing issue in the United States. While the US has its say in issues such as drug tests, child safety, euthanasia, etc., a part of society believes what an individual chooses to do with their body, may it be abortion, should be well within their rights. Whereas people from the other part of the debate are of the opinion that such acts are not an individual’s decision as it impacts another life, albeit unborn. Regardless of which side of the debate a person is on, abortion is one of the most divisive issues in USA in 2021. While it is legal throughout the USA, there are laws in many states that restrict access to abortion. It is a divisive issue that has even led to protests and rioting from both sides of the debate.
6 – Racial Injustice
Racial Injustice in America is a problem as old as the country itself. Perhaps, even older. Its impact can be found in education, business, media, and daily life. The ongoing protests and riots are a testament to the severity of the problems faced by minorities in America. It has had long-term mental, physical, social, political, and economic consequences for African Americans and others that have been subjected to discrimination and racial injustice.
The Covid-19 epidemic disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities, particularly Black, Latinx, and Native communities, who faced an increased risk of infection, major sickness, and death from the disease, as well as severe economic consequences. These gaps are associated with long-standing imbalances in health outcomes and access to care, education, employment, and economic position.
Some localities, as well as the state of California, acknowledged that these discrepancies came from the heritage of slavery and examined various forms of restitution to correct them. At the federal level, HR 40, a measure in Congress proposing the establishment of a commission to explore slavery’s impact and develop reparations options, acquired extraordinary traction, with 170 House co-sponsors and 20 Senate co-sponsors as of November.
Human Rights Watch encouraged state and local officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in May to compensate relatives and survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in which a white mob murdered several hundred Black people and demolished an affluent Black neighborhood.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, many persons of Asian heritage faced violence and racial discrimination. President Donald Trump has regularly used racial words to describe the virus.
7 – Gun Violence
Many consider gun violence to be a public health crisis. However, its impact can be felt across all aspects of life in the USA. While the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution, there have been many laws proposed with the intention to curb gun violence. These include more thorough background checks or banning certain types of weapons for civilian use.
According to 2017 figures, gun violence accounted for nearly 11, 000 deaths in the USA. The USA is one of the leaders in the rate of murder or manslaughter using firearms in the western world, while it is the global leader in terms of gun ownership – over 120 guns for every 100 citizens. Events such as mass shootings in schools have had a great impact on American society.
8 – LGBTQ+
Great strides have been made in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are still frequent victims of discrimination, harassment, and violence. They are often unable to enjoy fair access to the same educational, healthcare, economic, political, and other opportunities.
How to Support Social Justice Causes Meaningfully
It is easy to sit at home, like social media posts, and share hashtags. However, achieving social justice isn’t that simple. Those who wish to support various social justice causes in a meaningful way can:
- Conduct thorough research and educate themselves in regards to a particular cause or movement.
- Work on their own beliefs and behavior to start the change from within.
- Take action within the community and engage in meaningful discussions and awareness programs.
- Join peaceful protests and demonstrations.
- Join reputable organizations working for noble causes.
- Use the power of social media meaningfully.
- Volunteer time and energy.
- Donate to reputable organizations and important causes.