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We Can’t Go Back to the Status Quo

By: Michelle Angkasa

The thing I’ve been struck by time and again during this pandemic is seeing the brokenness of our system thrown into stark relief. Our current status quo was simply not designed to last: an inherently destructive “business as usual” protocol that only led to worsening socio-economic inequality, human suffering, and environmental degradation. The paradigm of infinite growth on a finite planet was a fuse, threatening to set off a bomb with terrible existential consequences. 

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been fortunate enough to have weathered this pandemic in the comfort of my own home. Since school ended abruptly in March, I’ve dedicated my free time to climate organizing and other activism work. However, I recognize that it’s a privilege to have been able to use these past six months as time to rest, recuperate, and volunteer. Not everyone was as lucky. 

Normal was a crisis. 

The pandemic was a global wake up call, as it highlighted the precariousness of our own society. Millions of people living paycheque to paycheque were suddenly out of work. Our hospitals were flooded. Homelessness and food insecurity were now key issues. 

Everything that we knew had been turned on its head. Suddenly, the grocery store workers and bus drivers we used to take for granted had become our frontline heroes. The government worked at an unprecedented pace to distribute food and funds to those most impacted by the shutdowns. 

Even more importantly, we found strength in each other. Never before have I seen so many people actively reaching out, spending their time and resources to help others in need, participating in caremongering, and looking after vulnerable neighbours. Though we’re facing unprecedented times, it’s uplifting to see all these wonderful stories of the goodness of humanity. 

It’s the family down the street that calls the grandparents next door and asks if they can pick up groceries for them. They’re the teachers going the extra mile to make sure that their students can pass their online courses. They’re the fearless nurses working overtime to deal with the influx of patients. 

Our rapid and relatively successful response to this crisis proves that we have the capability to rebuild back better, starting today. 

“We’re in the same storm, but not all in the same boat.”

It seems like our empathy capacity has been stretched to its limit in the past six months.  Between the barrage of bad news accompanied by any pandemic-related headline, the impending climate crisis, and the Black Lives Matter movement, we scarcely have time to even think. It seems like every time we log into social media or read the news, we have half a dozen new things to worry about. The exponential rise of educational social justice infographics on my Instagram feed has both inspired and exhausted me. When you’re constantly exposed to this seemingly endless supply of suffering and fear, how is it possible to stay motivated?

However, this is not the time to throw up our hands in frustration and give into the nihilistic dread (though it can seem pretty tantalizing at times). Though the cards seemed stacked against us, the unexpected benefit of living in these Unprecedented Times is that we have the chance to completely rewrite everything. 

The moment we’re in presents a unique opportunity to envision a better, more equitable future. Now, more than ever, we have the chance and impetus to collectively imagine a Canada that tackles all these issues simultaneously by uplifting people and the planet over corporate profits. 

Intersectionality cannot be ignored 

It is both impossible and foolhardy to separate these movements, as there is a clear intersection between social, environmental, and racial justice. These are complex, multi-faceted issues that disproportionately affect already marginalized communities, and require dynamic, radical, and inclusive solutions. 

While grassroots organizations and activists on the ground have been calling for these changes for decades, there has never been a better moment to act than now. We must capitalize on the momentum from the government’s pandemic response to demand these necessary and timebound systemic changes. 

Fighting for a Just Recovery 

On August 18, the Liberal government prorogued Parliament, a move that essentially allowed them to restart and create a new mandate for Canada going forward.  

As a rising tide lifts all boats, a “Just Recovery” is a chance to break down the systems that led us to this crisis, and replace them with something better. This Just Recovery framework, first championed by 350.org, has since been adopted by dozens of Canadian NGOs and organizations. Its principles include rioritizing the wellbeing and resilience of communities and enshrining social, environmental, and racial justice. 

I, along with the friends in my organizing circles, spend much of our time fighting for the Just Recovery cause, not just because we have a passion for advocacy work, but because it’s simply fundamental to our survival. It’s vital that we always remember that history isn’t something that just happens to us; it’s something we actively create. 

When we think about the legacy we want to leave a decade from now, how do we want to be remembered? 

In the next few weeks, we will decide on the fate and future course of this country. This is a powerful moment for transformative change. These kinds of changes are not only possible, but necessary. Will you join us on the right side of history?

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