People all over the world are calling for a more reasonable approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is primarily happening in countries where public health measures have been entirely lifted, even in the context of widespread infection and deep uncertainties about long-term consequences.
The justified concern about the removal of all public health measures is best understood as a movement. It does not presently have a name, but for the sake of creating a vantage point for this discussion, it is here called the COVID aware movement.
Outline of a movement
The COVID aware movement includes disabled people, healthcare workers, parents, scientists and researchers, racialized people, and all manner of communities and people with concerns about COVID.
They are unhappy with what is often called “learning to live with it” or the “return to normal.” They want things to change. But the question on the lips of many is, “What can I do about it?”
In a nutshell, and as will be elaborated in greater detail below, the answer is collective care. It is, first of all, a vision and a goal, but it is also entirely practical as a means of thinking through strategy and tactics. Collective care can be embedded in any smaller act, simply by setting out with the intention of working with others.
The current situation
In places that have lifted all public health measures, the directive is generally that individuals need to manage their own personal risks.
It is, of course, absurd to expect a public health crisis could be managed on an individual level. It is clear that the problem is as much political and a matter of vested interests as it is about scientific and technical information.
The failure to adequately respond to the pandemic has undermined social relations and social cohesion. People are understandably cynical and many have come to the conclusion that their best option is to think only of themselves.
Strategy and tactics of collective care
The COVID aware movement pushes back against the individualistic approach to personal risk management and pushes back against the collapse of social relations through a strategy of collective care.
Practically speaking, the way to recreate social cohesion and social relations that have been so fragmented is by people coming together to act collectively. The strategy and tactics prefigure the desired goal.
The important thing, at least for anyone starting out, is not even so much what the collective actions are, but simply that people come together in small or large numbers for a common goal.
The tactics, the specific way of operating for any given action, could be anything, so long as it involves people working together, taking small steps and initially seeking small victories, starting with everyday life.
Every small victory of collective action compels further actions and further victories. In this way, collective care is built from the grassroots.
It is important to remember, as well, that segments of this movement include people who will already have significant skills and experience in just this kind of organizing.
Enacting collective care means reaching out to, and where appropriate asking for the leadership of, disability activists, Indigenous activists, anti-racism activists, LGBTQ2S+ activists, climate activists, and people involved in a variety of community-based organizations.
This is the concept of intersectionality. It is a willingness to learn about and support other struggles, and so getting involved is not just about singular goals, but seeing the connections between various forms of injustice that have given rise to the current situation.
Be the change
A common refrain in grassroots organizing is the call to “be the change” you wish to see in the world. For the COVID aware movement, that means setting out with the idea of rebuilding social cohesion that has been so fragmented and acting with others to achieve even modest aims.
That could be having masks returned to a workplace or school. It could be to have air filters put in a community centre. It could be simply to organize a group and pass out information.
Sharing the stories of collective action, and especially of even the smallest victories, is also vitally important, as the work itself then shows others how they can do the same thing.
No one needs permission to start. No one is going to do it for you. And there is no time like right now.
Collective action creates collective care.