The world seems to be on the edge of a transformative change. Is something bigger happening or am I just wishful thinking? And because of covid am I and others sidelined.
Like many of you, I have been watching the fervent social uprising of people around the world, mainly young, to challenge the abuse of our environment and people of colour. Demonstrations and protests in the last year have brought thousands of concerned citizens out onto the streets. They are saying the abuse of the environment and people of colour (particularly Indigenous citizens in Canada) must stop. Great!
The size and scope of these demonstrations look like revolt. Many of the people demanding the rights of Indigenous people are pointing to a history of colonialism and the need to change the Indian Act, for example. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations are similarly pressing for defunding and reframeing the police. This looks like there is more to the demonstrations than only a desire to expose past wrongs. In some countries, demonstrations are against government policies as in Hong Kong. Within the fervour of exposure are indicators of some direction for institutional or structural change, for reform.
But are these actions just a transition to some unknown social reordering, a ‘new normal’, or the foundation for revolution (in a Canadian way of course)? Understandably the street action is not going to bring down the state, or even push out those in positions of power. But the level of participation and scope of the protests indicate more is being expressed. There is a not-so-subtle critique of power in these actions. Governments are being challenged openly. The police particularly are being challenged for their racial biases and their authority over the security of society. Our governments are be called to account for their biases (it is great to see how Trump is being condemned in the US). These actions and events are indicating a political dissatisfaction going beyond the headline issues, that could be transformative or revolutionary.
The conditions created by covid-19 are possibly leading to a growing awareness that governments have consciously neglected major social systems and supports. Under funding of public health, care for senior citizens and people with a disability are a few of the major needs exposed. Low wages for front line and part time workers, kept low by business and government, is having a backlash effect on everyone. Some people have now put 2 + 2 together to understand what happened after the 2008 financial crisis – the banks were rescued with massive amounts of public money and citizens and workers have paid ever since for that rescue. In Canada, more people see how all three political parties have failed to provide leadership on addressing important structural changes facing us all. The Liberal government has flaunted the revised NAFTA that is partially responsible for the current crisis and reneged on a commitment to electoral reform.
Are the conditions ripe and the consciousness focused enough to stimulate political transformation? I would like to think so. There is certainly a growing understanding that collective action is necessary to protect us as a society. The public health message may seem naive but ‘be kind, be calm, be safe’ has clearly focused attention on our collective strength. The next step is seeing inequality as the underlining fault in our political system, seeing how inequality is economically constructed and maintained. Are we going to organize now to insist that equality is essential for public health, protecting the environment and promoting racial justice? Are we going to demand a living wage (higher minimum wage or basic annual income, ) and tax the rich to pay for it? Are we going to insist democracy work for everyone, not just those with property and wealth?
A return to past normal is impossible. Some say we need a ‘new normal’. But an opportunity for a ‘better normal’ is possible. Let’s seize the opportunity.