Now in the sixth week of lockdown, with strange new routines and social distancing measures the norm in our communities, it can seem farfetched to discuss or even think about life in a post Covid-19 crisis world. As governments across the U.K wrestle with the difficult decisions around when and how fast to lift lockdown, worrying about long term damage to the economy, keen to reassure the markets and populations that a bounce back to ‘Business as Usual’ is possible I would argue that it is vital that we start now to imagine and plan for different ways of doing things.
The current crisis has highlighted the severe faults and fragilities in our current systems and its impact on the most vulnerable. The precarious lives of so many, due to rampant inequality, have been exposed to growing scrutiny with the realisation that so many of the most disregarded and undervalued in our society are actually key workers crucial to our well being and a functioning civic life. It has also shown how vulnerable and ill prepared we are to tackle the challenges and threats of the ongoing and ever constant Climate Emergency.
Moving forward to a more equal and sustainable future, we will have to question and radically change every aspect of our current system at every level, from community to global.
Community activism has played a key role in the response to the current crisis with Mutual Aid groups, Community Food Networks and more setting up in their thousands across the country. It has been inspiring to see communities come together, identify problems and work together for the benefit of all. It would seem, that contrary to the musings of a previous prime minister, there is such a thing as society. This grassroots activism has an equally important role to play in tackling the Climate Crisis, both in building community resilience and driving the necessary political change.
Over the years, my engagement with grassroots campaigning, from anti austerity to anti fracking, from safer streets (20s Plenty) to polluted oceans (Plastic Free Communities) and more, has shown me the willingness and appetite within our communities to engage with the serious problems of social and environmental justice. In my time as Chair of Gwyrddio Penarth Greening (a community environmental organisation along Transition Town lines) I was constantly struck by the number of people willing to offer their time, skills and knowledge for the benefit of their community, for the common good. Building on this increase in community activism in response to the current health crisis, I am confident we will see higher levels of community engagement in the months and years to come. This will take place across a range of vital issues from food security to air pollution, both the biodiversity and the climate crisis.
However, this community activism and engagement cannot exist in isolation, constantly firefighting, trying to fix problems caused by an unjust and monolithic system. Any progress in tackling the challenges ahead will require our communities being given a meaningful say in decisions that affect us all, starting with an electoral system fit for the 21st century. Going further, Citizen’s Assemblies would play an invaluable role in creating a truly representative and deliberative democracy, creating an opportunity to explore new ways forward, a Green New Deal, Universal Basic Income and so much more.
The old politics has failed. Working together, within and across our communities, we can create the change needed.
Anthony Slaughter is the Leader of the Wales Green Party. He Tweets @as_penarth.