Finding Solidarity In A Pandemic
Writer and campaigner Heather Pearson blogs here for Common Weal, sharing her story of maintaining an All Of Us First state of mind, in Coronavirus lockdown and beyond. Head to our Solidarity page to find out more about Common Weal’s collective actions and how we can all get involved.
I heard an interesting podcast a few years ago featuring a writer called Mary O’Malley, who’d written a book sharing its title with her life philosophy – What’s In The Way Is The Way. O’Malley’s words have stayed with me. She talked candidly, radically, about profound openness, about facing into fear and vulnerability and seeing what can be done in the immediacy of difficult moments to change our personal narratives and political realities. It’s an approach we hear increasingly in social movements across the world; calls to braveness, courage, to leaning in instead of pulling away. Often these calls want to inspire us into ‘re-wilding’ - going offline whenever possible, aiming to reconnect us with our instincts and the planet, asking us to use feeling vulnerability as a hallmark of reassurance that we’re getting it right.
In answering these calls, those of us who needed the reminder viscerally experience what’s missing and what’s present meditatively. It’s a deep tissue, cellular learning – something that’s often quite alien to cultures whipped up by capitalism while simultaneously being as ordinary as breakfast in cultures that make time for the holistic connectedness of everything.
It’s been interesting (and sometimes frightening) to experience the wake up calls coronavirus presents, now here in a very much ‘in the way’ form. The virus’s omnipresence, (not yet in my body, as far as I know) has increased my online time and called a halt to all wanderings in the physical wild. Yet the wake-up call is here, too. Capitalism and dehumanising political orthodoxies have become starkly visible as the odd, greedily manifested things they are, gliding by the edges of our lives, shark-like. And so we regard them, and choose how we respond.
It’s been challenging to know what that response should be, at times, when the Coronavirus crisis is pressing into every area of life and self, restricting movement and stirring difficult emotions. There’s a part of me that’s on standby for all the worst case scenarios and another part, thankfully the bigger, calmer part, that accepts life is presently best lived day by day while balancing being a parent, partner and individual in freshly compressed family-lockdown fashion. Within that reframing, I’ve found there are opportunities for activism that comfort me and keep me able to engage with the world and the process of my current fiction writing, which is positive and utopian – a far cry from the news. They’re tiny opportunities in the greater scheme of things but, because they’re connected to long term change, way beyond Coronavirus, they offer sustaining light and purpose without wringing me out. It’s a difficult balance, isn’t it? Navigating that choice to help coupled with the knowledge that right now we all have finite resources and must self-protect against burnout, and it’s important to live the knowledge that if what others can offer right now is only self-protection, that’s perfect and important in itself. Not one of us is a burden and any virtue-signalling gone mad that would make others feel that way needs privilege checking, and fast.
Speaking of virtue-signalling, I’d like to say, of course, that I’ve singlehandedly achieved something amazing, something big, something world-changing. One-human lockdown activism that’s visible from space. But, what I’ve got instead is a collection of micro interventions, mostly visible so far on my laptop and phone and a few boxes which are waiting to be rehomed.
Firstly, I’ve been working out what we can give away, upcycling our ‘stuff’ into someone else’s income or opportunity, because we are going to need incomes and opportunities in the recovery period. A stash of old tech is readying to go to The Edinburgh Remakery, a project I’ve already seen in action making Edinburgh life better. Another stash of books is waiting to be rehomed with the children and young adult’s home I cherish as part of my street’s community. Next, I’m taking time to volunteer with Common Weal so I can feel the warmth of online too, connecting intentionally with a set of ideas that make the future feel full of wild, bright possibilities. Along with the regular parenting, I’m also engaging the kids to discuss and feedback on ideas that feature in the Common Home Plan, like a universal basic income, exploring their takes on what makes them and their friends feel safer in Scotland and the world’s future.
Thirdly, and perhaps most challenging for me given a less social comfort zone of recent years, I’ve been checking in with people. Reaching out to neighbours, family and friends, paying special attention to those who, like me, have been slamdunked by mental health challenges in our lives. I’m bearing in mind that fear and anxiety often look outwardly like extreme self-centredness or insensitivity, and can be critical tells on where someone’s at. Dialling down my reactions and finding compassionate pause when we’re all under strain is a recently acquired wellbeing and comms tool I’ve learned and it’s getting put to use frequently, with what feels like good effect.
Lastly, I’ve been using social media to amplify and learn from the voices of those who are being even more marginalised and squeezed out of view by Coronavirus’s impact. I’ve been writing to my MP to make sure issues like access to abortion services are given urgent attention and seeking out news of what foodbanks, refugees and people living in deep poverty globally need most at these times so I can understand where to orientate myself and my work in the questions and answers that arise.
All of these acts of micro-activism, I tell myself, are acts of radical life and love; love of the self, of others and our incredible world and potential, even in darkness. They are an expression of All Of Us First, and that feels instinctually right to deal with what’s in the way, right now.
Follow more of Heather's words at @betamother on Twitter.