(RNS) — With the holiday season now behind us, the new year has begun in earnest.
In ordinary times, I would be feeling the glow of the season of light, the joy that came with celebrating Christmas with my children and the hope of the new year. But 2024 will not be an ordinary year.
Coming out of 2023, a year marked by escalating global violence, growing climate catastrophe and increasing threats to democracy, some might not be feeling overly hopeful.
In fact, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker counts 27 ongoing armed conflicts around the world. This does not include dozens of unrecognized or underreported violent conflicts or our plague of gun violence. As of Dec. 7, the Gun Violence Archive reported 40,167 gun deaths, around 118 a day, in 2023.
In the Middle East, more than 23,000 lives have been lost since Hamas’ horrific attacks on Oct. 7 and the corresponding indiscriminate bombing of Gaza by the Israeli government ever since. More children have died in Gaza — over 8,000 — in three months than were killed in all recorded armed conflicts around the globe in 2023.
Meanwhile, our planet is facing an existential crisis from climate change. No community is free from the impacts of extreme weather and environmental degradation, but some are impacted more than others. Indigenous, Black, brown, poorer and global South communities all experience greater impacts than those living in more affluent, white, global North communities.
Entrenched economic and racial inequalities, baked into our national and global policies, are proving even more difficult to undo than we imagined. Voting rights are once again under attack on the cusp of an election year. Our ability to continue building a just, resilient, inclusive democracy hangs in the balance.
Amid all this turmoil, our government remains paralyzed by partisanship, caught in its own cycles of conflict. Unable to complete the basic business of passing annual appropriations bills, Congress is once again facing looming threats of shutdowns and political infighting.
Beholden to the myth that war and violence can solve problems, the White House and Congress continue pouring more weapons into escalating wars that are costing thousands of lives and sowing the seeds of hatred and trauma for years to come.
As both a Quaker and a peace advocate, I struggle to find hope coming into 2024. How can we celebrate peace when the world is engulfed in so much violence? How do we carry on amid such fear and despair?
My inspiration returns repeatedly to people on the front lines of violence and injustice — those who are more desperate and threatened than I — who continue acting with vision and resilience for a better world. Palestinians and Israelis speaking out for a peaceful future together. Sudanese women advocating for an end to sexual violence and their inclusion in a peace process. Ukrainian and Russian conscientious objectors facing arrest and abuse. Indigenous communities protecting their lands from environmental destruction. This list goes on.
If these peacebuilders can find a reason to continue believing in and celebrating the possibility of peace, surely I can as well.
I believe in the power of ordinary people striving together for justice, for peace and for the integrity of our planet. They strive against great odds with a moral courage our political leadership should learn from.
I find hope in this growing witness by people of all walks of life — from religious leaders to congressional staff — standing up for a cease-fire in Israel and Palestine and demanding an end to the horrific bombing of Gaza. Millions of people have marched for an end to the violence. In our network, more than 100,000 people have written more than 460,000 letters to Congress urging a cease-fire.
Faced with the dysfunctional policies of Congress and the White House the previous year, and in the lead-up to another tumultuous election, people are standing up for democracy and ensuring their voices are heard. We are building peace and democracy through advocacy and action for the world we know is still possible.
We will have more work ahead in this new year. Critical policy and funding issues are now live before Congress. Ending wars in the Middle East, Ukraine, Sudan and many other places will demand sustained diplomacy and long-term investments in atrocity prevention, peacebuilding and reconciliation. Our work advocating for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world will need to be continually renewed, not just this year but for many years ahead.
In reality, finding hope amid the rubble of our world is not naive. It is necessary.
This new year, may we all find time to renew ourselves for the work ahead. May we prepare ourselves not just for a season of hope, but for a restored commitment to the ongoing witness and struggle of building the world we seek.
If not us, then who?
(Bridget Moix is general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and its associated Quaker hospitality center, Friends Place on Capitol Hill. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)