Privilege means I get to stay home to work, live and play. Privilege means I am still getting paid, have a roof over my head, get to see the faces and voices of people I care about, have food in my cupboards, access to fresh fruit and vegetables, clean water, have fuel in my car, continued access to primary health care because not all the resources are being deployed to COVID19 … and the list goes on.
I am in South Australia in a seaside location on Kaurna land. The place is known as Sellicks Beach and in Kaurna language is Watiwali. There is hardly a place on earth that could be more safe. In South Australia we have one of the lowest infection rates in the world, our experience of distance is probably helping with that, our tradition of caring for one another is probably another help (we have one of the highest rates of volunteering in the country). We are also generous givers, the recent donations to the bushfires are plenty of evidence of that, and those with less household incomes gift more of a percentage of their income than those with higher incomes. 4 out of 5 Australians donate to the not-for-profit sector in time and/ or money. (There are plenty of reports to back up what I am saying, but for those who want the facts you can check here and here and here to get you started.) Activism can start at home – there are always letters to write, postcards to send, phone calls that can be made. I have an expectation that staying at home will give the activists less likely to march the streets, a chance to make their contribution in a new way. Instead of scrolling through your facebook feed or spending another hour on Netflix have a look at what you can offer to others and use this time to build the future we need on the other side, going back to business as usual is not an option for our shared home on this blue dot. That is one way to address the privilege people like me have.
I was reading Arundhati Roy’s take on COVID19 in India, I encourage you to read her reflections and test against your privilege. She describes this pandemic as a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. Her call to action is to walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
Like Doctor Who in the Tardis, what do you see through this portal? A more equal world lying on the other side where there is a guaranteed minimum income, where there is free child-care, where hotels house the homeless, where those stranded on boats get health checks and taken to hospital if they need care. I long for a world where no one dies alone and nursing homes are not concentration camps for the aged and infirmed. Gender diversity is celebrated into the tapestry of a mature society and we all get to appreciate one another without constant references to our sexual identity. Where isolation and quarantine restrictions are self-imposed because we go to our rooms when we need to take a breath and settle down so as to cause no harm to those around us.
I am pretty happy we have decided we can’t have it all. We can’t have a growth at all costs economy and roofs over everyone’s heads, health care and education. We have to make choices and in Australia, despite a neo-liberal government, through the power of democracy of organised lobby groups and advocacy like unions and business councils, the elected officials have been strong armed into turning our taxes, reserves and capacity to raise debt for the greater good. I think this is our best collective selves turning up to meet the virus and I am hoping it gives us all a taste of how quickly public policy can change things – we don’t have to have months and months of referendums and navel gazing to do the right thing. Organised collectives in touch with their members and the everyday lives of what matters working together is possible.
What I see through the portal, is more collective action, more radical generosity, more radical localism, more cosmolocalism. We can push reset very quickly and this pandemic has demonstrated that in some countries or we can ignore it and some countries have done that too. In the post pandemic world those countries who have been able to see a more collective future will be stronger and more agile. I fear for friends and communities in the USA where planes are still flying, and where the idea of the collective is generally weak, and collectives are not as well organised. We know that sometimes David can beat Goliath (deep bow of gratitude to Cesar Chavez and Marshall Ganz) and this is a time where individual actions build the collective safety net for this and future generations.
The humble soul staying at home is making the world a better place and that is the activism essential for this day and collective action needed for our times. We are being apprenticed into the a new way of thinking about what it means to support our most vulnerable and we will need the practice for a bit longer so it sticks and builds the collective muscle memory and we have a point of reference when we get to the other side.