Even as the Covid-19 lockdown rules are loosened, I am hearing many people say they believe things will never get 'back to normal'. Of course, we all crave a 'normal' where we can see our friends and family, and where key workers can do their jobs without fearing for their lives. But 'normal' was a state of affairs that was failing millions of people.
The people who have been put at risk without their consent during the pandemic include many of those who were already suffering under an economic system based on exploitation: Black and Asian people, disabled people, migrants with no recourse to public funds, and people in low-paid and precarious work. A report from Public Health England confirmed last week that incidence of Covid-19 and risk of death are both higher among Black and minority ethnic people and people in deprived areas. These are the same people who tend to suffer first and worst in all disasters.
Addressing deep and long-standing challenges
Many business owners and some MPs are clamouring for a return to 'business as usual'; but it is increasingly evident that we are in for a long and deep recession, and that the economic tools of the old days will not pull us out. It is extremely discouraging to see the government failing to convey any kind of vision for how we will address the deep and longstanding challenges highlighted by the pandemic: inequality and falling quality of life, systemic racism, ecological breakdown, and the future of work. It is more vital than ever that those of us with a vision of a society founded on peace, justice and equality work together to fill that gap.
A recent poll for the RSA found that just 9% of people want things to go back to the way they were before this crisis. This is a watershed moment. And it is heartening to see movements coming together at last: environmental organisations making common cause with groups working for workers' rights, racial justice, and public ownership. It is happening tragically late, but it is happening.
The Build Back Better campaign
It is happening partly under the banner of Build Back Better, which Quakers in Britain is pleased to be co-launching today. Build Back Better is bringing together trade unions, health workers, youth organisations, green NGOs and others to call for a green and just recovery from the pandemic. According to the campaign's core principles that means: an economy that meets everyone's basic needs, where public services are funded and protected; rapid action to cut carbon emissions to zero in a way that tackles inequality, creates jobs and improves people's lives; an overhaul of the financial system; and a commitment to global solidarity.
Quakers I have spoken to about Build Back Better have been enthusiastic, feeling that it brings together issues that we have been working on for many years, from the Sanctuary Everywhere programme to our work on climate justice. We look forward to working with allies in the peace movement to ensure the campaign also fully includes the need to foster peace and address the root causes of violent conflict.
As part of my role in the Economics & Sustainability team, I will be working with Build Back Better on bringing in more faith-based organisations and engaging with governments. As the campaign evolves, there should be lots of ways for individual Friends and meetings to get involved too – here are a few to start with:
1. Show your support
If you use Twitter, please tweet about the campaign and say what #BuildBackBetter means to you. Please tag @BritishQuakers and @BuildBckBetter. For a more low-tech way to spread the word, you could put a poster in your window (there's one you can download, or design your own!), or just tell your family and friends about the campaign (from at least two metres away, of course).
2. Learn more
As part of the QPSW Summer Series we're running an online workshop, Build Back Better: it's time for a new economy, on Tuesday 16 June. We'll introduce the Build Back Better campaign, and have plenty of time to talk in small groups about issues that particularly interest you, as we explore a Quaker vision of 'better'.
Build Back Better is also running a series of webinars looking at different aspects of a green and just recovery. More details on webinars are available on the campaign's website.
You might also like to look at this statement by the COP26 Coalition about Covid-19 and the climate crisis, which Quakers in Britain has signed.
3. Connect with others
Interested in how we Build Back Better? Why not hold an online meeting with others in your community to introduce the campaign and explore ideas for action? This could be with your local Quaker meeting, or you might want to bring in other faith groups or local community organisations. It's always best to try to find out what others are doing, and work together if you can. Build Back Better is producing a guide to working with others which might help you.
4. Create political pressure
As the campaign develops, it will be important to show decision-makers the strength of support. This aspect of the work is still being developed – there will be tools available to help you engage with your MP and council, so watch this space for more!