We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the weaknesses and deep systemic inequalities of our institutions to become glaringly obvious. Systems such as capitalism and neoliberalism have placed the burden of this pandemic disproportionately onto already vulnerable communities. While the demands of this pandemic are great, there is a very clear role for grassroots activism in these difficult and uncertain times.
In her book, Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit writes, “Your opponents would love you to believe it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.” Finding hope amidst a crisis can feel like an impossible task. However, hope doesn’t mean denying difficult realities or believing everything is going to be okay. Solnit describes hope as locating itself in the idea that we do not know what is going to happen and finding in that uncertainty a spaciousness that provides room to act.
In these times we must try to embrace the uncertainty, because trying to control the future is a futile act. Solnit says it beautifully: “It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.” Find hope in the small victories, in living your life in a way that you can be proud of. We must remember that our victories may come in the form of subtle changes and not the grand shifts that we hope for, they may not happen in the timeline we imagine, we may not even see them ourselves, but we must count them anyway.
Many countries have implemented policies that deny elderly patients and those with chronic illnesses access to medical services. This leaves these communities to suffer and, in some cases, succumb to this virus because of ableist and ageist policies put in place by their governments. While this is a global pandemic, vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by social distancing measures, barriers to health care, and economic challenges. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit has served to perpetuate these social inequalities in Canada by creating barriers to access for many vulnerable Canadians. There was no additional funding given to individuals unable to work due to disabilities or those relying on income assistance who receive a fraction of the $2,000 monthly that the government has set as the income floor for Canadians.
In addition, the pandemic has prompted a rise in racism and xenophobia. Violent attacks against Asian citizens and businesses have been reported across North America. These attacks are motivated by messages shared in the media and even by politicians such as Donald Trump who coined the term “China virus” to label COVID-19. This rhetoric of blaming Asian Americans for disease is not new in North America. Governments have been relying on these tactics to “other” these communities for centuries. This pandemic has shed light on how deeply racism and discrimination are ingrained in our societies.
So where does this leave us? Many of the responses to the pandemic are a result of political and economic systems that have left us vulnerable to situations such as the one we find ourselves in now. This is where grassroots activism comes in. Grassroots activism serves the purpose of creating alternatives to the systems we now have. We can start by imagining new ways to respond to this crisis, by speaking out against racism and xenophobia and by promoting equal access to health care and financial support.
Solnit writes, “The sleeping giant is one name for the public; when it wakes up, when we wake up we are no longer only the public: we are civil society, the superpower whose nonviolent means are sometimes, for a shining moment, more powerful than violence, more powerful than regimes and armies.” Remember that we have already overcome so much and there will be much more to overcome. Remember that success may not look how you imagined. And remember to listen to that glimmer of hope inside yourself that tells you that you have the power to create change.
This article was originally published by The Awakening Project, a collection of Canadian university students exploring the connections between faith and social justice.