My partner just asked me if I’m happy, because I’ve been grumbling under my breath a lot for the past few weeks. It was the opening I needed for a 30 minute rant about how Covid-19 has brought up thoughts and feelings I thought I wasn’t able to have anymore. About how I have hope again, and how that hope is making it impossible to accept injustices that I sat comfortably with for the past few years. Comfortably, and very cynically.
I used to be that 20-something white chick that traveled to a poor place and then wrote a social justice blog about it. Somewhere around year 27 of my privileged existence I became self-aware enough to stop doing that. But I also almost stopped taking action entirely. My way of giving back to the social and environmental movements I care about currently is to work behind the scenes for one of them (I’m a resident data nerd at Greenpeace), but I did stop pushing myself to invest fully in issues I care about.
Now I find myself back at it because of Covid-19. We just can’t let the opportunity to build back better slip by, and bums like mine need to get off their couches, no more excuses. Abandoning activism when the fuel of my narcissism ran out a few years ago was never the right thing to do, and now I feel impassioned about supporting the rebuild. I always knew that doing good was hard work, that it probably paid nothing or very little, but when I discovered it wouldn’t allow me to be the centre of attention all the time, I was like ‘Nah, I’m out.’
But not being active now that history is practically holding the door open for change would be irresponsible on top of lazy. We have a once in a generation chance to rebuild our societies anew – I don’t want to say I slept through it.
I am now keeping a list of things I never thought possible that are happening because of Covid. France has discussed making the bailout of its airline conditional on not competing with routes that can be traveled by train (though they need to make moves to legislate this). Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has led her country through a data-driven Covid-response that is the envy of a bunch of arrogant Western nations. Spain decided on a universal basic income just a few weeks into the crisis.
If these system shifts are possible, things that social and environmental justice campaigners have been calling for for years, maybe some other shifts are too, such as paying essential workers a dignified wage or making corporations pay for the unseen costs they put on society. Imagine if fast food bosses had to factor in caring for those with cardiovascular disease induced by their products? Or if oil bosses had to grapple with a carbon tax for climate change impacts that come from burning fossil fuels?
I’m never going to be the perfect environmentalist, but I’m determined now to be better. For many of us, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do this. For many, what being better looks like is supporting campaigns that are already gaining traction on these urgent social and environmental issues. By supporting these campaigns through signing petitions, donating money if you have a few dollars spare, showing up for digital protests, or writing letters to politicians, we can all have a huge impact.
One of the greatest realisations I’ve had writing my list of ‘things I never thought possible,’ is that most people want a fairer and more just world, many just couldn’t visualise before now how we could ever get there. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc and done so much damage to many communities and lives around the globe, but as many have already written – it has also given us a genuine shot at building society back better.
It’s important we all play a role in that.
Sarah Hahn is a Data Insights Manager at Greenpeace International.