In my last blog, I talked about priorities. That was posted at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK, and I mentioned that people were waking up to the pitfalls of capitalism and how unequal our society has become. Since then the effects of the virus have become more apparent, and it has become increasingly highlighted the injustices inherent within our country’s political institutions. This virus is not ‘the great equaliser’ as some have named it, but a reminder that disparities in wealth, class, and privilege are a matter of life and death.
What I want to talk about today is how we can learn from this going forward. Something I’ve been reading about recently is community development. There have been huge efforts in local communities in response to this situation, with mutual aid groups, neighbours helping each other with shopping, rainbows in windows as messages for passers-by, and community claps for the NHS amongst other things.
For me, being at home more has made me notice the connections I have with those around me, which I often don’t think about in my day to day - I'm sure I'm not alone. The lie that we can be completely self-reliant has been exposed. We’ve discovered how a little disruption can leave the supermarket shelves empty rendering us unable get whatever we want whenever we want it. We’ve learned that the success of big businesses relies not on CEOs or investors, but on customers and shelf-stackers. We’ve learned that underfunding our health service is just not an option, and we’ve learned that the real heroes among us are often low-paid workers in jobs nobody thinks to praise until they’re out of action.
This has brought me back to thinking about community development. It is a process of using the knowledge of everyone in our communities to learn about power imbalances and oppression, and to explore how we can improve society from the grassroots. It requires what Paolo Freire called ‘critical pedagogy’ – learning to see the contradictions and injustices in our society with fresh eyes, to be critical of our systems rather than accepting them as fate, or the problems of individuals. Critical pedagogy involves understanding our place in wider society, and making connections between the suffering of individuals and the failings of our system.
Attempts to make the best of this situation are difficult to hear. I can’t help thinking, when I see posts and statuses about how we’ll come out of this pandemic better as a society, about all those who sadly won’t survive the virus. But still, without making light of an awful crisis, I think that the lessons we are learning are a wake up call that could too easily be forgotten when life goes back to ‘normal’. Frankie Boyle put it perfectly in his recent column: ‘People sleeping in the streets wasn’t normal; children living in poverty wasn’t normal; neither was our taxes helping to bomb the people of Yemen. Using other people’s lives to pile up objects wasn’t normal, the whole thing was absurd… The world’s worst people think that everybody is going to come out of this in a few months and go willingly back into a kind of numbing servitude. Surely it’s time to start imagining something better.’
Let us use the things we are learning to ask the difficult questions about the kind of world we want to live in, the importance of community, and how we can work towards a more just society. What are some things you would like to see change in a post-lockdown world?