Lockdown: An Opportunity to Review Our Approach to Activism and Social Change (Part Two)
What lessons are we learning from the changes forced upon us through the Covid crisis? How can we imagine a post-virus way of ‘life affording scope’? Perhaps, one is that we can and should live differently by accepting that constantly buzzing from one thing to the next is unfulfilling and damaging not to mention ineffective and unproductive.
Constantly ‘doing’, striving from one action to the next suffocates our creativity and makes us joyless, restless, flustered and empty. Yet, this way of being is treasured, revered and admired as that which we should all aspire to. It has developed almost untouchable credentials, not only amongst ambitious business owners and venture capitalists but also amongst inspiring, selfless, progressive activists who have inadvertently made relentless action into a badge of honour.
Making huge personal sacrifices and engaging in relentless activism has been the ‘normal’ for so many of us, for so long. This built us an unquestionable orthodoxy around heroic activism that is now beyond reproach. Overwork and zealous action became the distorted criteria by which we assessed integrity and credibility. That is isn’t sustainable; it not fulfilling at a personal level and our impact becomes diluted through constant juggling of projects.
By developing a measuring stick that only the most self-righteous and committed could possibly adhere to, we ensured the exclusion and disempowerment of the majority who will always be rightly unwilling to flog themselves with such worthy idealism. Our sense of ‘Self’ became invested in the politics of self-sacrifice. Self-esteem became measured by activist productivity as all else became secondary and irrelevant. In this misleading and all-pervasive logic, basic human requirements like having fun, relaxing, resting, and going on holidays are all elaborate forms of time-wasting. Something to limit, frown upon and apologize for to other erstwhile activists.
Nevertheless, the real-politick of the new circumstances created by this virus, have exposed this approach as infantile, self-limiting, counter-productive, and ultimately unworkable.
Our recent history has also taught us of the deeply traumatic legacy of conflict that inspired years of necessary active struggle. When the eventual calm comes after the storm, as we have seen with the peace process; our pain and trauma emerge without warning long after the most intensive periods of conflict have ended.
The levels of post-traumatic stress and inter-generational trauma that have become manifest in the mental health pandemic in our communities are proof positive of this phenomenon. Providing proper resourced support to those still suffering the impact of trauma from the legacy of the conflict, who will be further impacted by the covid crisis, must be central to the post-pandemic conversation. The many thousands of families suffering the horrific recent losses and bereavements in the current situation will also urgently require such specific supports.
Activism that is defined by self-love and self-value can arguably lay stronger foundations than activism emanating exclusively from pain and suffering which can often lead us to internal division and burn-out.
Therefore, developing a more sustainable activist tradition that is rooted in community healing and empathy may have a much more beneficial impact. Activism that is defined by self-love and self-value can arguably lay stronger foundations than activism emanating exclusively from pain and suffering which can often lead us to internal division and burn-out.
The extent to which our zealous activism had become embedded is manifest in how challenging our overactive and restless minds actually find the periods of silence and stillness in lock-down. Going with the flow of the day can feel like doing a marathon. With enforced practice, however, we are learning to adopt.
Imagining a new ‘way of being’
Hopefully, a lot of these old ways of being, that have been prorogued and made redundant against our will, will stay in cold storage. Maybe all these conversations about utopic ways of living can find their way into our normal conversations again. In truth, they already have.
Being allowed to exercise once a day has taught us the value of exercising for one hour a day. This has proved that given the time and opportunity to exercise, people will take it with both hands. Especially when, ordinarily, many simply don’t have the time; they are required to work two jobs and live hectic lives to get by and pay bills.
Many families have availed of the chance to shelve the ‘lean in 15’ and ‘cook once and eat all week’ cookbooks as we become accustomed to experimenting with cooking and eating as families on a daily basis for the first time. Taking time to plan and cook meals automatically leads to greater nutrition and better time spent together. That such a crucial ritual that is sacred in human history has been enforced upon us by a global health emergency is surely a wake-up call in its own right.
However, we also understand that the impact of the Covid crisis certainly isn’t being felt equally across our society. Those suffering on the margins will not have the same opportunity for reflection. Taking the time to cook a nutritious dinner when you’re dependent on food banks and living in sub-standard accommodation and/or living in an abusive relationship hardly takes precedence. Governments and powerful state actors that abdicate responsibility for such hardship and poverty now have no hiding place.
Government intervention and the immediate delivery of mass state welfare has proven clearly that the money was always there to build and cater for a fairer society. Our recent experience proves that a decade of government austerity and societal destruction based on a phantom deficit was always an illusion based on right-wing ideology.
Can we seriously tolerate our nurses being forced on strike for more humane staffing levels and our health service being continually privatized after this?
If homelessness could be ended overnight during the crisis, then can it be allowed to ever return?
Can we ever be expected to stand idly again when the sick and vulnerable in our society are brutalized of their rightful benefits and sent demoralized to food banks when we know the state can afford to give everyone a Universal Basic Income?
Can food banks be tolerated when this crisis has proved that plentiful food is available for all? Can we go back to working 5, 6 and 7 days a week when all this ends and simply return to the rat race?
Can we justify driving cars and polluting our airspace while commuting into office blocks to spend most of our lives self-destructing on desks when this crisis has proved that remote working is just as effective and productive for many of us?
Can we simply derail and suppress our new found and deeply treasured leisure and family time again like it was never worth it?
Surely, our taste of these new ways of being can ignite our imagination to a better and more fulfilling future? As we get to know ourselves better in this unique period, we create the opportunity for personal healing and growth.
For most of us, this growth provides the opening to really get to know our partners, family members, children, and neighbors like never before. This allows us to build meaningful relationships based on empathy and compassion. In this sense, everyday becomes what it should always have been; a journey of discovery.
By finding and discovering our true selves, we begin to see the real and untapped potential in others. Imagining, cultivating and developing our families, communities and societies as sustainable collectives becomes all the more possible.
Moreover, we recognize that this is essential and imperative for our very survival. Where love is the benchmark for how we spend our time on earth. Where solidarity and well-being define our activity and action. Where laughter, sadness, tears and joy define our stillness and solace.