Nancy Leifer and Nancy Maxson, co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters Missoula

A note from the writers: As we come to the end of the year, many of us are reflecting back and thinking of how we might remember, summarize and depict the events of the last year. We started working on a year-end summary and quickly realized we, Nancy and Nancy, had many things we wanted to say and different ways we wanted to say them. For this weekly column and the previous column, one of us has taken the lead as writer and the other provided editorial support. This week Nancy Maxson has taken the lead.

There is an old curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” This last year was definitely interesting, filled with social unrest and catastrophes. To help process life’s dramatic events, human beings often rely on creativity as a tool to understand, interpret and recount their experiences. People may use arts such as drawing, sculpting, music or dance or crafts such as pottery, weaving, carving or needlework to express themselves. Every culture has its own traditional forms of artistic expression that help people tell a story. That story can sometimes be silly, sometimes sad or sometimes sacred. 

There has been plenty of raw creative material in our newscasts in 2020. Some creative people have already use the news to produce stories through art. There will be more. I have some ideas how I might retell the tale of 2020. How would you, a reader of this newspaper, recount this year? 

Naming is a creative act. One of our League of Women Voters members resorted to Latin to name 2020 Annus Horribilus, the horrible year. I could characterize 2020 as The Year of Empty Store Shelves and Empty Schools. There was The Terrible Toilet Paper Shortage Crisis and Shutdowns to Unemployment. This was The Year of Lines: lines of cars waiting for Covid tests, lines of cars waiting at food banks and lines of voters  Most importantly, I think 2020 was The Year We Tried to Protected the Elders.

2020 was an election year. Flags were everywhere and what didn’t have a flag on it, was decorated red, white and blue to evoke patriotism. As in any election year, political satirists took center stage. Every form of media and social media abounded with comic commentary on our politics. My 93 year old friend became a big fan of the TV show Saturday Night Live and its spoofs on the presidential debates. Friends emailed me links to YouTube™ political satire videos that distracted me from the gravity of our political contests. 

Corona Virus dominated 2020. The image of the Corona Virus cell itself has become an artistic icon. It is flashed behind newscasters to signal reports on the latest pandemic statistics. This graphic was designed in Hamilton, Montana at the Rocky Mountain Lab, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The spiky orb resembles a beaded Christmas tree ornament.  As a repetitive motif it could be stitched as a row along the edge of tapestry or carved around a piece of pottery. I imagine some virus survivor somewhere has inked it on their body as a tattoo.

Masks were everywhere and were 2020’s most telltale form of artistic expression. People who sew used their favorite fabrics to fashioned masks in burst of creative variety. Drive through a parking lot and you will see an artistic displayed of masks hanging from rearview mirrors. We use them to editorialize and express our political views; anything you printed on a T-shirt is now printed on a mask, including sports team logos. We color coordinate them to our outfits. The big green dinosaur at the gas station wears a mask. 

We have lost and discovered heroes this year and found ways to celebrate them artistically. I have a piece of Ruth Bader Ginsberg memorial jewelry—a pin that says “I Dissent” and reminds me of her decisions as a Supreme Court Justice. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Health Infections Disease Program has been immortalized as a bobble-head doll and has been heralded as one of People Magazine’s Persons of the Year. Poignant, sad photographs of exhausted health care workers remind us those on the front lines of the pandemic are truly heroes.

Some of the most powerful artistic expressions this year have come from the darkest events. Muralists took George Floyd’s image and transformed a city block into a shrine. Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others were the victims of police violence in 2020; their images and names have been part of many public artworks used to remind us of our country’s systemic racism. People come to these sacred murals and leave flowers and gifts as blessings and hope for their childrens’ safety. 

2020 is ending and 2021 beginning. I hope the next year isn’t as interesting as the last.

The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16.  For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org 

Spotlight on Citizenship

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