By Kermit Hovey

The year 2022 does not bring as happy a birthday as I would like. That’s probably the same for many of you, and for more reasons than we have the time and space to list. However much things have changed, some painful things remain the same. Let me share a few of these here on the premise that meeting them with a commitment to action may set the stage for happier future birthdays for us all.

Race and racism. In the afterglow of the second celebration of Juneteenth as an official federal holiday, I note the continuing reluctance of our country to uniformly support a thorough education about our history of race and racism. It’s bad enough that such inadequate education let me get as far as a master’s degree without learning anything about Juneteenth. In the past decade or so, I became aware it was “America’s Second Independence Day,” the too-long-delayed day when Black Americans were freed from slavery.

One recent news report said it was the day Texas slaves received word that they were free. Of course, that brief recap glossed over the fact that it wasn’t so much the slaves who needed to hear the news, but the slave owners. Let’s just say that a mere telegram was insufficient. Federal troops had to deliver and enforce the message a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. To fix this and so many other omissions, we need to have a comprehensive American history education for all.

Gun violence. The scourge of gun violence and the need for improved gun safety also sadly remains the same. The size of the problem — whether measured by the number of horrific mass gun shootings, tragic individual gun deaths, or privately held firearms — has generally increased. By simple analysis across countries, the strongest driver is the number of guns: an absurdly large number of guns correlates with an absurdly large number of gun deaths. My aunt was added to that number when she was shot to death in her hospital bed by a stranger who had no business being there, or having a gun, or using it against her.

Research, articles, and analyses show the reality of the problem and the effectiveness of various strategies. We need to implement these, and where they do not accomplish what we’re hoping for, we owe it to the seriousness of the problem to find and implement strategies that do.

Voting rights. Depressingly for lovers of democracy, the desire of many to suppress voting rights, and the fact that in too many places that desire has been realized, remain the same. Not that many years ago, we saw Jim Crow, poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and more. Currently, we see gerrymandering, voter ID requirements and intimidation, polling place closures and roll purges, and more. We need to vigorously implement measures to improve and maintain voter access.

Corruption. Disappointingly, our democracy remains threatened by politicians who choose to go to extreme unethical and illegal lengths to keep political power. I have orbited the sun enough times to regrettably see the corruption and trauma of Watergate decades ago eclipsed by the events of January 6th. Fortunately, these most despicable episodes are relatively infrequent. Yet when they happen, they test our unity as a country and the courageous integrity of our leaders. We need to face the truth and hold those responsible accountable and protect our democracy.

Climate change. And need I spell out one last item that seems to remain the same — the inability of our own society and the global community to take the bold, decisive, necessary action to address the climate crisis? Climate change is really happening, really serious, really human-caused, and we can still really do something about it. The majority of the public has consistently grown in awareness, agreement, and political will to act on these truths, The political leadership of one of our country’s major parties has not. We need to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and increase greenhouse gas capture creatively and comprehensively. Here, too, we need to face the truth. We need to persuade or hold accountable — electorally and otherwise — those responsible.

In highlighting the lack of change in these areas, I don’t deny the reality of recurrent and incremental progress. I also don’t forget the sadly recurrent relapses and the resulting need for even more progress.

For each of these issues, the problem remains. The need for just, equitable action remains. The resistance to such action, frustratingly, also remains,

Do something. Do anything. Do more. Let your friends, family, and political leaders know that we can do better and need to do better. We have ways to do better to address these challenges that remain and have remained too long. We must — for the sake of justice in these issues, and for the climate that forms our common home.

If we steadfastly face the reality of our challenges and problems while we maintain the optimism that we can prevail despite resistance, inertia, and opposition, maybe my, and your, next orbit will include a happier birthday!

Kermit Hovey is a Climate Steward, Citizens’ Climate Lobbyist, Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassador, Advocate, and Middleton Sustainability Committee Member.

An earlier version of this post appeared in the Middleton Times Tribune.