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2020: The Year That Was ... and Wasn't

By Jhanvi Verma and Carolina Molina |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020

Every year comes with its challenges, but 2020 has really hit it out of the park with all of the events that have taken place -- and it’s not over yet. 

Walter J. Podrazik,  an adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Communication, summed up the year as an opportunity for self-rediscovery as people were forced to think about what really matters given the year’s circumstances. 

“This year has captured a generational and cultural realignment that was already going on but was kicked into overdrive because of the pandemic and its ripple effects,” said Podrazik, a television historian, analyst and media planner. 

From bushfires in Australia to adapting to a global pandemic, from protesting stay-at-home orders and police brutality to nearly record-breaking participation in the presidential election, 2020 has set a bar that’ll be hard to top. 

Timeline:  What happened to 2020?


The year started off with Australia still battling raging bushfires that had begun on Oct. 26 after lightning struck and burned over 17 million hectares of land across the country. Apart from the land, 3 billion animals died or displaced during the fire. Firefighters were able to control the fire on March 31, which ended the fire season Down Under. 

In the midst of the wildfire season, the shocking news of former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, dying in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California left millions heartbroken. Bryant died in the crash along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna Bryant, 13. 


After that, the coronavirus was making its way to the rest of the world as cases started rising in China. The World Health Organization announced the official name of the virus as COVID-19 during a press conference in mid-February. According to the WHO, China had reported 77,362 cases total and 2618 deaths as of February. 

The spread of the virus had not become a concerning factor for many countries yet. For example, India was going through riots because of the CAA Protest from December 2019 until the country went into a nationwide lockdown in March 2020 due to the virus outbreak. 


India was going through riots from the beginning of the year until the country went into a nationwide lockdown in March 2020. The protest occurred after the Modi government passed the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) bill in December 2019. The bill will grant citizenship to illegal immigrants who are Jain, Hindu, Parsi Buddist, and Christain who left India’s neighboring Muslim countries and immigrated to India before December 2014

However, the bill does not include Muslims which caused outrage in the country starting from Assam, India. A total number of 53 people were killed in February while the protest was taking place. 

During mid-March, the spread of the virus in the United States increased drastically which made schools and universities go fully online. Universities like Harvard University, The University of Washington were some of the first to go completely virtual

Harvard also asked students to move out and evacuate the campus within five days after their announcement. Many universities had to take drastic measures to limit the transmission of the virus which has affected more than 25 million students in the U.S.

“One-on-one interactions are undoubtedly better but the way the faculty took measures to make things work for students, really helped and made online lectures somewhat normal. It gets monotonous at times, but for the majority of it, we’ve got the liberty to study at our own comfort and that I believe is something we’re all privileged to experience,” said Chahat Arora, 22, a junior at Delhi University in India.  

As the spread of the virus increased, movie theaters, bars, and restaurants were closed and people began to lose their jobs. 


Illinois's unemployment rate grew to 16.4% in April, a 12.2 percentage point increase from the March.

Although the uncertainty that comes with unemployment is extremely hard to cope with especially in the midst of a global pandemic, it gave some people the opportunity to explore hobbies and find passions other than their jobs. 

“My workload, both professional and academic was extremely heavy,” said Nahomi Sanchinel, 20, “I left my house very early in the morning and I wouldn’t get home until very late. Being at home gave me the chance to explore new interests that I never had the chance to explore before. I learned how to make earrings out of different materials which is something I never would have had the time to do before quarantine.”

As Chicagoans faced unemployment, humor was was a coping mechanism. Memes of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot emerged throughout social media, which was used to encourage people to stay home as much as possible. 


Protests surged in May and continued into June with right-wing radicals gathering in several states in places like the Huntington Beach Pier and Chicago’s Thompson Center to protest lockdowns and call for states to reopen. 

Global Black Lives Matter protests reignited after George Floyd was murdered in police custody in Minneapolis after a store clerk alleged Floyd had used a counterfeit bill when paying. The incident took people throughout the country to the streets to protest police brutality in the middle of a pandemic -- protests that continued throughout the summer. Social media was flooded with street coverage of the protests and police brutality.

“What we have now that is different,” Podrazik said, “is if something upsets us, if something thrills us, we will basically be a one-person publishing company, a one-person television network, a one-person radio dispatch, a one-person wire service, and we will share the observations and that’s what definitely ignites a passion on a much faster scale on a national basis.”


Although this year came with limitations on the number of activities we could take part in, people came together to participate in large numbers when it came to events that would have long term effects. According to The New York Times, half a million people in almost 550 places across the United States participated in Black Lives Matter protests on June 6, 2020 alone. 

As states began to loosen restrictions, the U.S. saw a rise in COVID-19 cases with the number of new cases nearing 50,000 on June 30, and total cases surpassing 2 million.


According to the data released by Chicago Police, homicide rates spiked in Chicago, with 105 murders being reported in July of 2020, a nearly 139% increase from 44 reported murders in July of 2019. 

As businesses began to reopen and people started going back to work, the U.S. saw another spike in COVID-19 cases. Reopening, however, did not mean people were going out and spending money like normal. 

According to the Washington Post, the reason the U.S. is facing a national coin shortage is because people are still staying at home more and spending less money. With people staying at home, it is more common to pay using credit cards instead of cash. 

Major League Baseball announced the return of its season, but set out to keep stadiums empty to follow COVID-19 guidelines. 


Chicago saw more looting in the early hours on Aug. 10 on The Magnificent Mile. More than 400 police officers were dispatched to the area. The looting came after inaccurate reports were circulated about an unarmed teenager allegedly being shot by Chicago police. 

At the same time, Chicago had a rare F1 tornado in the Rogers Park neighborhood, as several tornadoes hit the state. Nearly 900,000 ComEd customers were without power as a result of the storm. 

While Chicago faced tornadoes, Beirut faced an explosion that resulted in 204 deaths and 6,500 injuries and leaving 300,000 people homeless. The explosion was said to be caused by a fuel tank filled with ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut. The explosion covered a 9.5-kilometer radius area. The massive size of the explosion was being compared to major cities like Toronto, London and New York.


The school year started for college students at the end of August with several options for virtual learning for some students, and twice-weekly COVID-19 testing requirements for others. According to NPR, students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were required to get tested for COVID-19 twice a week to get access to campus facilities. 

Chicago Public Schools opened at the beginning of September with a plan to have students do virtual learning with several options for returning to in-person school in 2021. Pre-K students will have the option to return to school Jan. 11, 2021 and K-8 students will have the option to return Feb. 1, 2021 while high school students will remain at home until further plans are made. 


President Donald Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Trump was hospitalized for three days and was later discharged to isolate at the White House. 

The early voter turnout in 2020 was record-breaking with more than 100 million Americans having cast their votes before election day. 

On Halloween, Lori Lightfoot announced that Trick-or-Treating would be allowed in Chicago with some restrictions. Trick-or-treaters were told to stay in groups of six or less, must wear a proper face covering, and maintain a 6-foot distance from other participants.


This month was very productive for Americans with the Nov. 3 presidential election and broke the record of reporting 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day. 

Joe Biden won the presidential election despite failed recount and legal challenges by Trump in several states.  Kamala Harris became the first Black Indian-American woman to be elected as the vice president. More than 150 million people cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, with votes still being judged into December.

A key aspect of what has made 2020 so unconventional is the speed at which everything changed and people adapted. With platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, information is spread at a much faster rate than in previous years. 

“We had more people engaged in the process [2020 presidential election] given the worst possible conditions to try to be engaged and they still did,” Podrazik said.  

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