by Sarah Edgcumbe 

What a time to be alive. As Covid-19 rampages its way across the globe ravaging families and livelihoods, a medical fetish company has had to supply the NHS with equipment because the British government is a lethal combination of neoliberal, greedy and incompetent. While kink is contributing to saving lives, and while many people are faced with the prospect of trying to subsist and keep their families afloat on £94.25 per week sick pay during the lockdown, the British government has been putting together £1 billion of public funding to be doled out to countries who then intend to use this loan to buy British-made bombs and surveillance technology. British people die through negligence, people in other nations die through cataclysmic violence: welcome to Tory Britain.

Meanwhile in the US, Alabama state-issued guidelines on who should be prioritized for treatment suggest that people with downs syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism are not a priority for receiving life-saving ventilators. Oh, and Trump has accused medical staff, who are working tirelessly on the frontlines to save lives, of stealing surgical masks. The examples of the UK and US governments’ approach to the Covid-19 pandemic would potentially be humorous if they were the storyline of a political parody. Instead they are a glaring example of why we need to tear down the prevailing neoliberal hegemony and start again. 

There have been several articles written recently about how the prevailing response to Covid-19 demonstrates that capitalism is a failure. Paul Mason recently argued for ‘a new economic system which has people’s wellbeing and public health as its main priority’, and which stabilises our relationship with the planet.’ Three cheers to that. But “ordinary people” feel like macro, economic institutions are beyond their reach, often resulting in political apathy and increasing disenfranchisement at the individual level. 

As Covid-19 has effectively halted collective direct action and mass protests, governments everywhere must be cackling with glee and rubbing their hands together as they use the pandemic to justify increasingly authoritarian measures which post-pandemic will be difficult to roll back. But we are the many and they are the few, and I am holding on to the hope that the silver lining of this pandemic will be that after the destruction, the loss of life and the disruption, people will re-evaluate their understanding of their place in the world, their priorities and what they expect from their respective governments.

Let this pandemic be our collective wake up call. 

Imagine a Britain (or any other country) that awakens from its enforced isolation having measured up their political leaders and found them wanting. Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate. Some are certainly more vulnerable to contracting it than others and wealth certainly plays a role in this, but ultimately, you can’t work hard and apply yourself in order to avoid it, or apply any other right-wing capitalist rhetoric in order to expunge yourself from its grip. Similarly, you can’t buy your way out of it, though those fortunate enough to be able to afford a living environment which enables social distancing are surely at a huge advantage. Refugees, migrants, the unemployed and Muslims – the usual tabloid scapegoats – can’t be effectively utilized to distract from repressive and incompetent governments this time. Let this pandemic be our collective wake up call.

Post-Covid 19 resistance and rebellion need not be overtly contentious, loud or disruptive. James Scott, the much acclaimed anarchist thinker and academic, argues that thousands of acts of quiet, almost invisible resistance, accumulate to make a complete mockery of the system of power or doctrine that prevails over them. Ultimately that power structure will fall, but it necessitates large numbers of people subtly chipping away at it through acts of everyday resistance. In neoliberal Britain, demonstrating solidarity with oppressed people, building networks across social groups, educating people on mutual aid, shunning consumerism and putting both people and the environment before profit are huge acts of resistance and rebellion. As we begin to value each other and our public spaces again, as we unify and make collective demands, capitalist governments will become ever weaker, and people will realise the extent of the freedom and agency they always had but hadn’t recognised.

Let’s hit the ground running when we are able to move again. Let’s build strong, united, inclusive communities which celebrate diversity and welcome people regardless of their background. Let’s share our resources, proactively check we are all okay and help each other where we can. Let’s educate ourselves, our peers and our children on the principles and benefits of mutual aid, pushing past socially constructed divisions which only serve to benefit the government, and forming bonds based simply on our shared humanity and shared vulnerability. 

An important aspect of building strong, resilient communities will be the economic boycott of corporations and institutions that we don’t wish to share our space with. Take the British pub-chain Wetherspoons for example. Wherever a Wetherspoons rears its ugly head, several family-owned pubs often go out of business, unable to compete with their prices. As a result of the pandemic, Wetherspoons staff across the UK have been laid off without pay, whilst despite the millions of pounds the company makes in profit each year, the CEO has audaciously stated that the company will rely on a government grant to pay a percentage of staff salaries – but not with immediate effect. 

Adverts and billboards are worthless to us, but make millions for a few.

Capitalism is singularly about exploitation and profit: exploitation of staff, exploitation of resources and exploitation of wider society. Refusal to give corporations and big businesses a single penny will send them on their way and create space for locally-owned, community-based businesses which are of far greater benefit to the community, and which generally speaking, have a much lower environmental impact. Let’s boycott Virgin, Sports Direct, McDonalds, Burger King, supermarket meat, supermarket fruit and veg, Starbucks – every hegemonic, exploitative fucking company out there. And while we’re at it let’s go after advertising too, because advertising lies. 

Huge posters advertising brands, goods and other corporate nonsense need to go. They’re temples of consumerism and they’re insidious. Children are exposed to them from day one and conditioned into thinking their worth is equivalent to the amount or type of things they own – not only is this fostering superficiality, but it’s incredibly harmful for the rapidly increasing number of children living in poverty. Adverts and billboards are worthless to us, but make millions for a few. Tear them down. 

If Covid-19 has taught us anything it is that those ‘unskilled’ workers the government is so dismissive towards are the backbone of our nation. Binmen, carers, postmen, shop staff… without them we’d grind to a filthy, hungry, lonely, plague-ridden halt almost immediately. They are essential workers and deserve at the very least a living wage. We need to support workers strikes, demand the abolition of exploitative zero-hour contracts, and recognise the contribution that each and every one of us makes to society. We need each other and more importantly we need to respect and look after one another. Solidarity is key: solidarity with migrants, refugees, minority groups, those experiencing homelessness… our strength is in our diversity as well as our unity.

We need to reclaim what is ours. Reclaim our libraries, sports centres, community centres, parks. We should demand that houses be used as homes rather than investments and refuse to allow them to stand empty for half of the year while people live on the streets outside. When we boldly take back control of our communities we can fill them with art and music, trees and flowers, carnivals, colour and laughter. We can plant seeds and encourage nature to return to our lives. 

The NHS will not be more efficient if privatized, and just because a library doesn’t make a financial profit doesn’t equate to it being a drain on society.

When we next vote, we must encourage each other to push back on the political narrative that has been consistently forced down our throats. Refugees and migrants aren’t a threat to us, homeless people aren’t on the streets because they’re lazy. Welfare claimants aren’t costing the UK millions; big corporations which don’t pay taxes are. The NHS will not be more efficient if privatized, and just because a library doesn’t make a financial profit doesn’t equate to it being a drain on society. We need to vote for green, socialist policies which will ensure we are taken care of, and which prioritize learning, wellbeing and conservation, because we are all, every single one of us, in this together. 

Now, let us listen to some Pol Mac Adaim while we spend the next few weeks of social isolation quietly planning our revolution…

Featured image credit: author’s own image

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