Coronavirus Democracy

A Blank Page

It appears that, after major global events a new order develops, for better or worse.”

A 4th April article from The Washington Post says;

Across the globe, the coronavirus outbreak is slamming the brakes on dreams of social change, halting a season of civil unrest from Hong Kong to Lebanon to Chile. Stay-at-home orders issued by authorities, often enforced by police officers or soldiers and backed up by detentions, along with activists’ own calls to stand down in the name of public health, are zapping the momentum from pro-democracy movements, civil rights marches and protests for everything from women’s rights to more drastic steps to fight climate change.”

I had been musing on this for some time. The struggle of democracy across the world is largely on pause. This is unfinished business, and nobody wants to be sick, when there are still very real battles to be won for the democratic health of the planet.

As I took my daily exercise through the lesser used tracks and paths of Pollok County Park this morning, I started to imagine what the 18th Century Stirling-Maxwell proprietors saw. A beautiful quiet haven away from the disease and poverty of the outside world. A world that we are still battling to change in so many ways, some with more urgency than others.

It appears that, after major global events a new order develops, for better or worse. Our history books are swamped by accounts of change in terms of reward for sacrifice. Between the lines, lie the true stories of struggle. Strikes and protest, and great commitment and hardship. Nobody ever gave away power or wealth. Not in significant ways. What we have now is a blank page. We have to start a new chapter in our history. A much better one.

As the UK lockdown reaches its 15th day, after a gradual build up of social (or physical) isolation measures, we have seen a compressed version of Civilisation and Society. In episode one we saw the blossoming of community and the willingness of thousands, paid and unpaid, to put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

The goodness has not dissipated. However, as stress builds and the illness and death toll rises, along with loneliness and devastating financial losses, we see the gaps in the system that we always knew were there. A confusion of misleading statements about ventilators, testing and PPE permeate the choked atmosphere, along with the conveyor belt of runners, cyclists, walkers, joggers. Sometimes it seems as if there is barely enough breathing space outside, for our city dwelling home workers, families, displaced gym attenders. So we all have a go at each other.

The government are watching over us. Where we need good, consistent, well advised leadership, we have drones and Keep Out notices. We must adhere to the Lockdown. There’s no doubt about that, unless you’re in Sweden, or a Trump or Bolsonaro disciple, or have bought into one of the many conspiracy theories. But we’re on probation this week. A sort of nationwide naughty step. One false move and we’re all indefinitely grounded. Don’t be seen to enjoy the sunshine. Don’t be disabled. Don’t sit down to rest your weary bones. Keep moving plebs.

All good until the rules don’t apply to you. Step forward Prince Charles, Mat Hancock, Boris Johnson and, sadly the Scottish Government’s Chief Medical officer.

We have to start filling that blank page with a few ideas, and do it now. Eventually we will emerge into a dystopian, boarded up version of what we came to know as normality. The hotels and the student accommodation will want their rooms back. Before you know it homeless people will have the freedom of the streets again. This can never be part of our normality again.

We placed great hopes in the power of nature. That she can heal herself. In optimistic moments, it is indeed heartening to know that we really can have a different future. But if we don’t grasp the moment, the vacuum will quickly be refilled by the gods of industry and by economic smoke and mirrors. Our invoice for government concessions, loans and “hand-outs” will lie on the doormat for future generations.

There is pressure on the NHS and other front-line workers to step up to the plate with war-time zeal. Applaud them by all means, but remember that they would prefer fully functioning PPE, adequate tools for the job and living, healthy colleagues.

Applaud them, but don’t forget those “unskilled workers,” to use last season’s Brexit terminology, the home carers, the retails workers, the delivery workers. The bus drivers and many others, including the unpopular and unprotected Social Workers. Let’s not sleep-walk into a caricature of “Keep Calm and Carry On” UK, like the ritualised Union Jack waving locals, as they met the arrival of war dead from Iraq at Brize Norton base some years back.

For now, the stay safe, stay at home message is the most important one we have, and the only real assurance for a resumption of the activities and causes that we made our own. But every worker, or “whistle blower” who exposes a lack of equipment is doing it now. Every meaningful debate in either parliament, which is not crushed by “we’re all in it together” rhetoric, every delivery driver, Amazon or rent striker who takes a stand despite the uncertainly and fragility of our future; all doing it now for a better present and a better future.

If we scratch beneath the surface of our fragile, but essentially functioning lockdown, there are stirrings of action by pressure groups, think tanks, trade unions and many others. There is a quiet and persistent cry for Universal basic Income, compensation and safeguard for losses, and all of our human needs. There is an undercurrent. A strong drive for change, and a dawning that we cannot and must not let up.

As time goes on, we see that any one of us is vulnerable to the unpredictable Coronavirus, in any of its forms. We also find there, the interface between the Haves and Have Nots. The truly privileged just may stand a better chance of survival through opportunity and availability of resources. Nothing is guaranteed though, and at the time of writing, PM Johnson finds himself in the best place for emergency ventilation, should he require it.

I would not wish the virus on anyone, and I wish him a full recovery. I wish also that his experience could make him a better man. I am not holding my breath.

Val Waldron










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