Everything is different now than it was in January. Everybody knows that. But what happens next is what nobody knows. And while that is terrifying, it is also an amazing opportunity. Some people want to open everything back up immediately and get back to doing exactly what we were doing before Covid in exactly the same way we were doing it. I understand why: if we can get our lives back to how they used to be then it will be as if Covid never happened. We won't have to work to heal the trauma of lockdown or loneliness or illness or unemployment. The horrible truths about our society that surfaced during the pandemic will evaporate back into non-being.
The main problem with that fantasy is: right now we can’t actually go back to doing all the same things we were doing before because the pandemic is still happening. Covid isn’t over, so neither is the isolation, illness, or unemployment. And once we are on the other side of the flattened curve, I don’t want to go back to living the life I had before. This pandemic has shined a very bright spotlight on many flaws in our societal and cultural systems and I cannot ignore them and go placidly back to business-as-usual. I want us to create new systems, and what better time to start discussing those new systems than right now when our lives are already in complete upheaval?
There is no better time.
Many people have suffered during this pandemic, we have all seen the news reports of death and devastation. Unemployment claims are the highest they have ever been and state unemployment agencies are overwhelmed by the volume of claims. Most of the suddenly jobless were low-wage workers who lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and social safety net programs are inadequate to feed and house and provide medical insurance to that many humans. And those stark facts are generally presented without nuanced detail to acknowledge the greater degree of suffering undoubtedly inflicted upon people of color, queer and non-binary folks, and other marginalized humans.
One of the strangest things about this pandemic is the vast difference in people's experiences. At the same time that hospitals in Italy and New York were like war zones, many people were experiencing just the break they needed from the daily grind and finding space for greater peace and well-being in a slower pace of living. Parents were appreciating teachers as they never had before. There has been a drastic decrease in air pollution over crowded cities that previously hosted a constant installation of smog. Many people have worked from home for months and been more productive and creative than ever. Some small business owners have been busier than ever after a transition to an online shop. All these beautiful things are happening while all these terrible things are also happening.
Just as it was before Covid came to be.
The same people who are suffering more now are the people who always suffer more; the people who suffer even when "times are good." It's really nothing new for a black person to get shot by well-connected white people while jogging and for it to take national media attention before local authorities bow to public pressure and arrest the culprits. The fossil fuels we burn to drive our cars and fly our planes are speeding us swiftly toward the certain doom of global climate collapse. The conservative political machine is working tirelessly to legitimizing the strange alternate reality haphazardly invented on-the-fly by the current head of this country.
I knew about those broken parts of our systems before Covid. Probably most people did. This could account for all the post-apocalyptic and end-of-times movies and TV shows: our collective subconscious knows what we're doing isn't working and that we can't keep going this same way for much longer. Maybe a lot of people simply cannot fathom a way out of the mess we've created for ourselves. I certainly felt that way. The entire system needs to change, but when we built these systems we did not include a mechanism for complete overhaul if and when they eventually stopped working. So I understand if it feels like the only imaginable solution is some outside source that causes our current way of life to cease being an option (like aliens, a massive natural disaster, or zombies).
For me this pandemic has highlighted the worst of the many issues in our current systems and made them feel tangible and personal. Before Covid, enormous issues like climate change seemed so insurmountable to me (as only one human) that they felt very far away; the distant tragedies of someone else's future. This pandemic experience has shown me that we can actually do something about all these societal ills. Suddenly they felt real, right now, and mine. Humans can make a difference in climate change. All it takes is for everyone to majorly shift the way we live our lives and conduct our business. That should sound pretty drastic (because it is). Just as drastic, say, as our response to Covid had to be. But we did it.
We have already up-ended our entire way of life for the past two and a half months. And if we can do that, then we can create an entirely different economic system that includes taking care of the basic needs of all people. We can create a different justice system. We can create a different political system. Cities around the world are already taking significant action to limit automobile traffic as they begin to ease Covid restrictions. We should look to the examples like Milan and London as we craft major adjustments to our own cities to reduce carbon emissions. The only limitation is our own imagination. We imagined these systems in the first place and they only continue to exist today because we all collectively (and unconsciously) agree to keep them running. Right now we are faced with a terrifying and amazing opportunity to let go of that which is no longer serving us and create space for something better.
Right now is the perfect time to reimagine our world.
- Jaydra Perfetti (she/her/hers)
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.