"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." -- Arundhati Roy
Last Thursday and Saturday, members of Extinction Rebellion (XR) Vermont and allies stood along Main Street and Putney Road in Brattleboro to create awareness that the COVID-19 crisis has presented us with the opportunity to envision and create a better world. The activists wore face masks and observed social distancing recommendations. Activism often seeks to disrupt the status quo, or the order of normality, with the intent of both raising awareness for a cause and to begin to implement change for the better. The current crisis is one of the largest disruptions we have seen this century, and has caused enormous suffering and uncertainty economically, physically, socially and otherwise.
While the hardships of the Covid-19 crisis have been severe, this will not be the only crisis, nor the most significant one, that humankind will deal with in the 21st century. Ecosystems the world over are collapsing and threatening collapse as the climate shifts toward greater extremes of temperature, weather and seasonal inconsistency. In many ways, our culture functions as if we were separate from nature, however the undeniable truth remains that our well-being is intricately linked to the relationships between sun, wind, water, soil, flora and fauna. As our sense of vulnerability over the pandemic increases, the climate crisis and its subsequent threats to world ecosystems continues unabated, and for the most part unacknowledged. Of course front line communities along with those who have been impacted by fires, flooding, drought and intensified storms already know this first hand. But for many in our society, the emergence of the first modern pandemic introduces an awareness of our almost universal vulnerability.
Our collective future is sure to be disrupted by an increasingly chaotic climate, and within most of our lifetimes, we will come to live in a perpetual state of vulnerability, in a world unlike the one we have known and relied on to provide us with so much. Yet all is not lost. The pandemic has shown us that change is not only possible, but it can also happen very quickly. Faced with the COVID-19 threat, communities came together to support each other and make radical shifts for safety, health and equity. Right now, we have an opportunity to consciously shift our patterns to address a larger existential threat. We must choose to direct our path toward a different future than the reckless trajectory we have been on. We lack control in this uncertain moment, but not agency.
Change can be extraordinarily scary, but at this juncture in history it is too late to live as we have in the past. We face inevitable disruption, but we can make a choice; prepare by altering our lifestyles as well as how we relate to each other and the planet, or, allow the unfettered pandemonium of nature out of balance to do it for us. The latter path will pay no heed to our welfare, the former will empower us to collaborate together in a meaningful response to the situation at hand, and to envision a new future together.
Extinction Rebellion collectively urges each of us to reflect on the lessons available in this moment, to internalize and embrace the fragility and vulnerability with which we live. Not fearfully, but boldly and with the resolve to seize the lesson and enact the change we so desperately must undertake. What world do we want to emerge from the current state of disruption? In what ways have our lives been changed for the better? As this crisis calms, there are certain changes that have been made that highlight a different way forward, and others that will take us a step further towarda more purposeful future. Some of these are:
- Continue to show respect for essential workers with adequate compensation and protection. In the richest country in the history of the world, nobody should struggle to survive.
- Re-establish environmental protections that have been relaxed, and make bold new regulations to protect ecosystem resilience and to combat the looming climate crisis.
- Provide access to healthcare for all, and establish universal basic income standards.
- Continue the trend of less vehicular traffic in air and on-road, while creating infrastructure for public transportation, pedestrians, and non-motorized vehicles.
- Support and strengthen local and regional economies; emphasize investment in local farms, goods, and services with less or no dependence on overseas manufacturing and exploitative global trade.
- Shorter work weeks, staggered work hours and family-friendly work situations.
- Teach the importance of community versus fetishizing individualism. Active and vibrant mutual aid groups have shown us that Americans love their communities, and that neighbors helping neighbors is smart, efficient, kind and foundational to our society.
- Enact legislation that limits the difference in pay between the top executive and the workers at the bottom. This crisis has highlighted the labor that truly is essential, and also the all-too-commonplace redistribution of wealth from those who create it to those who accumulate it. In fact, we want to see income redistribution, with the wealthiest Americans paying their share so that their fellow Americans can survive with dignity.
- End racist policing and attacks. Dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism and inequality in all forms.
What else can we envision together? What we do now, and next, is crucial. We need to ensure that the ideas we adopt, and paths we take will protect all life on earth. Unfortunately "business as usual" will not, does not do that. We need to reject any call for a "return to normal" and instead intentionally define what our new normal will be. Those who seek to subjugate the world for personal profit can no longer be running the show. There is no assurance that this will end well, but it could. Our next choices and actions will determine that. Please make your voices heard, act, and when it is safe, stand shoulder to shoulder with us and others to create the world we so desperately need — the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.
The Extinction Rebellion Southern Vermont crew including: Juliet Cuming, Maria Ogden, Ward Ogden, Richard Bissell, David Ramsdell, Candace Jensen, Elizabeth Bissell, David Shaw
Member of XR Monadnock: William Sandoe.
Abby Mnookin, Becky Jones, Dave Cohen, Julia Cavicchi, Marisa Keller, Mikaela Marmion, and Nancy Braus on behalf of 350Brattleboro.