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Rethinking solidarity during Covid-19 times

At Sparknews, we believe that they can also be great opportunities to adapt and rethink our relations with the world. As a team who wants to ignite new narratives that can accelerate the ecological and social transition, we can’t avoid asking ourselves what will be the shape of the global collective story emerging from the current worldwide sanitary emergency. In this week #SparkMinute, let’s focus on solidarity with local examples, of businesses rethinking their models, and of articles and opinions that can nourish our imagination.

Volunteers at Covid Relief Bangkok - #herCOVIDstory © UN Women / Ploy Phutpheng

Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Nowadays, solidarity seems to have become the catchphrase of our time — often expressed by simple actions such as cheering from balconies, sewing face masks or making face shields for those on the frontlines, or even donating time or money to those in need. Solidarity demonstrations have swarmed in recent months, as the streets emptied. From Canada to Northern Ireland and Scotland, to Vietnam, to the UK or South Africa, some have discovered their new calling – volunteering. While lockdown measures prevented the voluntary sector from continuing most of its income-generating activities, has a new kind of solidarity emerged?

Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin in solidum, which means reliable, massive, forming a whole. Solidarity invites us to bind ourselves to each other by a mutual moral obligation. The planetary health crisis has, at least, given a new meaning to this commitment to others, particularly towards the elderly, who remain mostly under lockdown and depend on others for food, care and entertainment. At the same time, families in difficulties have seen their revenues melt like snow in the sun. But they are not the only ones in need right now. Working class families have been disproportionately affected by the disease, while homeless people have been fined for failing to stay at home and some asylum seekers are still locked up in facilities with appaling sanitary conditions.

It is clear we have not all experienced the same lockdown, nor can we all go back to our old normal lives like nothing ever happened. American writer and environmental activist Naomi Klein believes that, in the US, “racism and inequality [have] shaped the response to the Covid-19 crisis.” But it is hard to speak of an American exception when even in Geneva, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, there has been mile-long lines of people waiting to get free food. George Floyd’s brutal death, and the following protests against police brutality throughout the world, are another reminder of those harmful legacies that continue to shape our present.

If the health crisis has magnified disparities, it has also accelerated them. Also born of this crisis, new forms of solidarity have recreated links beyond prejudices. You will find in this 10th edition of our newsletter various examples of people who are doing this on a daily basis, and thus raising solidarity to the same level as the values of freedom, equality and fraternity.

When organizations go the extra mile

While organic, local produce is not your typical food donation, a wave of solidarity made it possible to provide the most vulnerable populations with nutritious food. In this piece by Civil Eats, you can discover how The Farm to Food Bank Movement is gaining momentum in the United States. Grassroots and regional programs are all paying farmers to harvest surplus crops to meet soaring food bank demand — a solution to both food waste and to making much needed fresh and local food accessible to all.

Also providing food where it’s most needed, the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is ensuring homeless people have meals while keeping local restaurants afloat during the pandemic. Restaurant owners that can’t open to the public are now preparing meals for local homeless shelters that can no longer use volunteers for cooking meals. The City of Cambridge committed to keep paying local restaurants to provide bagged or boxed meals at shelters, as long as social distancing requirements discourage volunteers. Read more on Route Fifty.

While cities worldwide have started a tough but necessary conversation on police brutality, we can also look at the US cities of Newark, New Jersey, or Flint, Michigan, where law enforcement has sided with protesters. According to The Guardian, these images are the result of years of building trust between the police and the population, including setting up a citizens’ police evaluation committee, hiring more ethnic minority officers and training them in civil rights concepts. These measures have been successful, despite initial opposition from powerful police unions.

Early March, the Portuguese government chose a radical path to stop the virus outbreak — granting citizenship rights to all migrants and asylum seekers who had residency applications underway. The move aimed to ensure everybody who needed it had access to social security and health care while the country was battling the spread and effects of the coronavirus. In May, the country’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva also announced Portugal was to take in 500 children from Greek refugee camps as soon as restrictions on movement are lifted. Learn more on Euronews and Reuters.

Parish councillor Morag Philpott delivers a coronavirus community advice pack Photograph Millie Pilkington / The Guardian

Local initiatives against global disorder

Everybody can show solidarity at their own level. Wiltshire villagers, in the UK, have shown excellent organization skills by coordinating to each volunteer their specific skill set to help people. The parish councillor Morag Philpott divided the village into 18 parts and designated 33 volunteers to each region. Volunteers from a range of ages and careers have come forward to contribute a variety of services, including finding tactics to combat boredom during social isolation, even kettlebell workouts over a video call. Read more.

To some, the idea of having a surplus of face masks just lying around may seem foreign. But in California, where wildfires have been particularly brutal in recent years, stocking your home with personal protective equipment (PPE) is akin to having batteries on hand. So when the Covid-19 pandemic fuelled an ever-growing need for masks, a group of tech-savvy volunteers created a website called Mask-Match.com. The site has enabled nearly 6,000 donors to send more than 666,000 masks to approximately 7,000 frontline workers. Learn more on The Philadelphia Citizen.

Illustration by Jamiel Law

Let’s imagine the future

What is solidarity? In this piece for The Conversation, American education professor Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández explains how solidarity may be a fundamental human need. Yet, its meaning and what it requires of us can still be quite elusive. Based on his past research, he argues that solidarity depends on education. More specifically, teaching solidarity requires relationships, intentions and actions grounded in explicit ethical and political commitments. Whether before, during or after the coronavirus crisis, it’s about more than just saying “we’re all in this together”. Solidarity can indeed be universalistic, civic, social or political. You can read more here.

In this piece for The New Yorker, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University and author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”, tries to answer an age-old and tough question — how do we change [the US]? She starts by stating that there is palpable poverty of intellect, a lack of imagination and a banality of ideas pervading mainstream politics today. Drawing from the history of rebellions against police brutality and the political lessons of the past, she insists on the necessity to stop using the same methods, arguments and failed political strategies that have brought all Americans to this moment. The unfolding revolt in the US today holds the real promise to change the country, as protests are shining in their racial solidarityRead more.

At Sparknews, are convinced that the coronavirus global outbreak will lead us to draw valuable lessons about our globalized economic system. Whether on matters like education, solidarity, biodiversity or our way of work, it will be up to us to return to the status quo once the health crisis is over, or to reshape everything. Discover our #SparkMinute on educationenergyworkour dietbiodiversitydemocracybioregionalism, and gender.

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