Thoughts in a crisis

I’m finding it hard to begin this but I want to share some thoughts and an update, so here goes:

We are all reeling. We are what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick called ‘Paranoid Readers’, desperately searching for information and meaning across a digital landscape the equivalent of a massive rubbish tip, and anxiously fearing the worst.

Olivia Laing’s excellent piece published last Saturday describes Sedgwick’s alternative – ‘Reparative Readers’ who are “fundamentally more invested in finding nourishment than identifying poison… This is not the same as being naïve or heedless, unaware of crisis or undamaged by oppression. Instead it’s about being driven to find or invent something new and vital out of inimical environments.” That sounds so like community businesses!

Jericho Road Solutions is all about the two-way street between neighbourhood and nation, about learning from experience on the ground, sharing those lessons to support other neighbourhoods, influence government and funders to try to make positive local change easier, and bring snippets of useful resources and information back home to Hastings.

My first response, back on 12th March was a scribbled note:

The Meaning of a Virus in Five Parts 

  1. Plague. Divides, terrorises, anyone can have it so it’s “me” against everyone else. Worse than wildfires or floods or hurricanes or even tsunamis – because it pits us against each other

2. Isolation. The idea of ‘self-isolation’ as a virtue, a duty – what that does to a society already suffering loneliness and social isolation

3. Anxiety. Existential threats generate authoritarian regimes (cf Gilead). Introduces fear into the social bloodstream

4. Breakdown. Collapse of services, businesses etc. “This virus will bankrupt a lot more people than it kills”

5. Response and resilience. What can we do?

Once I got to thought #5, it became obvious – we would need safe spaces and social spaces more than ever. That transformed discussions into a focus on resilience, survival and ‘distancing together’ and I’ve been trying to support that both locally and by sharing at national level ever since.

Hastings

There are two big grassroots responses from this fantastic community and they complement each other perfectly:

HEART (Hastings Emergency Action Response Team) was formed very quickly by just two people and now has over 2,500 members on FB and 900 signed-up volunteers including 45 Area Coordinators (generally people with recent DBS and experience of managing volunteers). Aiming to go live on Friday “to make sure everyone’s looked after”.

(tech: Facebook, Google Forms, Nationbuilder, Google Maps)

ISOLATION STATION has emerged in just 6 days as a new online TV station to bring Hastings unique culture into people’s living rooms. Leisure & Learning, the charity to activate the Hastings Commons, has adapted its proposed summer season. Hastings Voluntary Action and The Common Treasury of Adaptable Ideas are also supporting the initiative which is being driven by a multi-skilled team of locals. Contributors are coming forward to provide all kinds of content – all safely from their own homes. “Soft-launching” this evening as a work in progress!

(tech: Zoom, Facebook, VMix, ordinary private technology – web-cams etc, plus Ko.Fi and Patreon)

 

Sharing nationally

Community businesses across the Power to Change and Locality networks are coming together weekly (as of yesterday) as a CB Mutual Aid network to discuss emerging responses and share out the work of rapid innovation in multiple fields at once. Coordinators are taking responsibility for different theme ‘rooms’, including me supporting ‘online social connection/entertainment’ and others looking at food delivery, crowdfunding, helping people get online, supporting micro-enterprises, maintaining community based health and social care etc

(tech: Google Groups, Google Docs, Zoom)

 

What happens after?

This crisis has been astonishing, smashing business-as-usual and taking chunks out of TINA (There Is No Alternative). It shows that there are always alternatives, there is enormous scope for change if only we recognise how critically important it is. It relocates change where it belongs, in the political sphere where it is possible to make choices (and to be held to account for them). The question will be whether such expanded thinking can be used to make big positive changes for the long term…

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