By Toni G. Atkins
Summer sure is coming to a tough close this year. Parts of California are once again on fire and many of our neighbors in the state have had to flee with only what they can load into their cars as smoke and flames endanger their homes and communities. Sadly, we have lost American military members and Afghan allies, including Marines from our own Camp Pendleton to new violence in a 20-year-old war and refugees from that war now face an uncertain future—a future that depends on whether the rest of us are willing to tap into our faith and our humanity to help. And this is all on top of a rise in COVID cases across the nation, despite best efforts to convince the holdouts who still refuse vaccines and masks.
At times like this, it is easy to get frustrated and feel helpless in the face of powerful challenges. And, at times like these, I remember that I am blessed to be in a position where I go to work every day to help find and deliver solutions.
One of the things that has always made getting through wildfires and other disasters a little more bearable is looking around and seeing all the people who are helping: neighbors donating food and clothing to each other and showing support for weary firefighters and businesses; non-profits opening their doors to people who have lost everything; local, state and federal offices working together to cut red tape and get assistance out the door as fast as possible.
This September, I can’t help thinking about another late summer morning, when thousands of people fled flames and smoke, and thousands more were killed. As we approach the 20th Anniversary of September 11, I know there is still so much grief for those lost and the survivors who loved them. I also hope there is increasing resolve that terrorism and violence can never be allowed to change the course of our nation and its institutions. And, as always, I am filled with great respect and admiration for all the first responders who run toward trouble on behalf of all the rest of us.
I remain enormously proud of San Diego and the members of our military. And I am proud that, once again, our communities are stepping up and providing welcoming and caring arms to the refugees seeking safety as the war ends in Afghanistan.
Seeing people have to flee their homes – for fire or disaster or war – really puts into perspective how trivial some of our day-to-day problems may seem. But there are so many real concerns, too.
In the legislature, we have to keep an eye on every level of the problem. What can we do immediately to mitigate or end an acute crisis? How to do we enact strategies to make continued progress on chronic problems, over both the short- and long-haul? And how do we plant the seeds and fund the progress that delivers the light we need to see at the end of the tunnel?
We have been seeing a lot of that multi-tiered approach on some of the key challenges we’ve faced this year with COVID-19, with housing and homelessness, with police reform, and with climate change. So, once again, I think I want to focus on the positive—on all the people helping.
Thank you to Governor Newsom for leading California to one of the best vaccination rates in the nation. Thank you to the California Assembly for advancing SB 9 and SB 10 and other parts of the Senate’s vital Housing Package. Thank you to the families, community groups, and law enforcement for banding together to improve accountability and outcomes in public safety. Thank you to the California businesses who understand the urgency of climate change and recognize the benefits that behavioral changes can bring to their bottom line.
Just like the smoke eventually lifted from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the smoke will clear from the wildfires. Time will heal wounds and grief. This virus will recede. And every Californian will have the opportunity to have a safe home and a good job. But there’s a lot of work that has to be done to get us there. I think we’re up for it—and when I report back next month after we wrap up the 2021 legislative session— I hope to have some good progress to share on top of an already historic year.
And maybe it’s something in the air, but I also think that this particular September, I’m going to take some extra time to hold all my loved ones close.
— Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Visit www.sd39.senate.ca.gov/contact to contact her.