“This is a hard time to be alive. It’s a time of concurrent crises. …In a sense, the world has been on fire for a while now. The climate crisis and global warming say that, the fevers induced by the pandemic say that, and now the fires incited by the history of racism, injustice and exclusion say that.” -Michael Meade
“Here is what my research has taught me. It’s possible for crisis to catalyze a kind of evolutionary leap.” -Naomi Klein
Covid-19 grew into a global pandemic that shook the foundations of our lives and shut down the world. Country by country, it spread around the globe and closed economies, transportation systems, schools, stores and life as we knew it. In the United States of America, our world’s wealthiest and “most advanced” country, we found ourselves caught off guard, and living under the misguided and disastrous leadership of our current President. We now hold the highest number of coronavirus infections and fatalities in the world: 2 million confirmed cases and climbing, 120,000 deaths and counting, and disproportionately impacting communities of color and our most poor and vulnerable populations by statistics that are greater than 6 to 1. We thought we were living in the greatest moment of challenge and change in a generation, and then we discovered that the plot was only getting thicker.
With our economy slowed down, travel suspended, and the consumption habits of our American lives radically reduced, we found ourselves in an economic recession, one that is still unfolding and the full extent of which is still unknown. More than 28 million people are unemployed, with ongoing uncertainty around when jobs will reopen, and many more are on furlough unsure if they will be invited to return. Some of our most essential workers — farm workers, construction workers, care providers — are trapped by our broken immigration system and stranded without any form of government assistance or healthcare. As the direct impact of Covid-19 continues to hit us, the stimulus checks are not enough, food banks are running short on supplies, child hunger is spiking across the nation, and the fate of our collective future feels tattered and worn. Our economy is shaking — built on a house of cards, ballooning debt, and a widening chasm between everyday people and the billionaires getting richer even amidst our crisis— and it could all come crashing down upon us.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was cruelly and inhumanely murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis pressing his knee to his neck for over eight minutes. The atrocity was caught on video and broadcast to a captive nation that was quarantined at home and paying close attention. It was another blatantly racist killing of an unarmed Black man, the latest in the long and tragic history of racial injustice in this country. The outrage spread like wildfire across our nation and around the world. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in protest, standing up for the sacredness of Black lives and demanding justice, action and accountability. Amidst fires, curfews, violent confrontations with the police, and authoritarian threats from the President, the grief and rage has boiled over. The spirit of freedom and liberation has ignited in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Young people, families, health care workers, and caring citizens of all backgrounds are rising up together and letting their voices and demands for justice be heard.
As if what is happening in the foreground was not enough, in the backdrop of it all is the ever-present and looming threat of climate change, mass species extinction, resource depletion and widespread environmental destruction. With the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the Arctic and rising, devastating wildfires increasing, and climate-related superstorms becoming the norm — the future of our blue-earth home and the life-support systems we depend on are hanging in the balance. In many ways our current challenges may just be a preparation for the massive disruption and survival challenges still to come. Slowing down our economy has shown us the power of nature to regenerate and how we can live with a smaller ecological footprint; yet we are far from changing our lifestyles and taking the collective action to make the shift to a clean, just, and green economy for all.
Poet and mythologist Michael Meade writes, “The word crisis comes directly from the ancient Greek healers, who used the word to describe a turning point in a disease.” It’s when a patient either gets sicker and begins to die, or starts to heal and begins a path of recovery. As we navigate this connected set of crises — a health crisis, an economic crisis, a racial justice crisis, an ecological crisis, a human and culture crisis — it’s clear that we’re at an unprecedented moment of reckoning.
If we continue to live in the way that we’ve been living, we won’t survive. But if we change course and respond to the opportunity of these crises together, we can create a world where we all thrive.
A Deeper ‘Pandemic’
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” -Arundhati Roy
“This pandemic / Is systemic / Global pandemic / Endemic Systemic No Equality” -Aisha Fukushima
Author and activist Arundhati Roy has named the Covid-19 pandemic as a portal from one world to the next. While the portal is still open, what has changed is the depth of its transformative potential and the meaning of the word “pandemic.”
As we continue to navigate the health concerns of the coronavirus, and while the reopening debates rage on and we prepare for the coming second wave, a deeper, wider, at-the-heart-of-our-culture pandemic has opened up and is riveting us all. Racism and its 400 year history of inequity that ravages on today is our pandemic. Our underfunded schools and the hundreds of thousands of children without equal access is our pandemic. Economic disparity in all its forms, the ever-increasing wealth gap, poverty and homelessness is our pandemic. Loneliness, isolation, suicide and our mental health crisis is our pandemic. Materialism, consumerism, and our culture of overwork and fatigue is our pandemic. The unfathomable loss of biodiversity, the devastation of our natural ecosystems, the endless pollution and waste generated by our way of life on this planet is our pandemic. Our lack of meaning, morals, a sense of the sacred and a larger purpose is our pandemic.
When we search for the root cause of our interrelated crises, we discover a worldview based on separation, competition, endless growth, and exploitation. Every culture has a story made up of core beliefs and assumptions. It shapes the way we think and act and guides how we build and construct our social reality. It’s the water we swim in, an operating system running us all. The dominant culture and structures we live in today follow the rules built into the DNA of our system of capitalism and the neoliberal mindset that has colonized our lives and world.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named this radical — meaning “getting to the root” — analysis in his own words over half a century ago:
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Going even further, he wrote:
“The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws — racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”
There is a sickness at the heart of our culture that infects us all. It lives in our minds and bodies. It pervades our systems and structures. It shows up in how we treat each other and how we live our everyday lives.
How do we heal the soul of our culture and create systemic change? How do we shift our society from a story of separation and othering, to a story of interconnectedness and belonging? Can we apply the same energy and emergency responses we’ve used to address the Covid-19 pandemic to root out and dismantle the deep patterns of patriarchy, racism, sexism, ableism, exploitation, colonization and all of the cultural codes that are causing this Great Sickness?
The doctor is here, and it’s not Dr. Fauci this time; it’s our own inner knowing and collective sense. Our prognosis is clear: we are sick and we need a Great Healing.
A Mass Movement for Social Healing & Collective Liberation
“King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power to everyday people and ordinary citizens.” -Cornel West
“We don’t want a normal or a new normal. We want a revolution. We want a moral revival. We want a transformation.” -Rev. Dr. William J. Barber
There’s no vaccine for the sickness we are facing, but the medicine we need lies within us and between us. From the depths of our crises and souls, a movement is rising that holds the power to heal and liberate us all.
We see it powerfully in the protests and marches on the streets as hundreds of thousands of Americans — and people around the world — rise up to end the long history of racism and to honor the lives taken of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless more. Black-led movements — rooted in a long history of organizing and movement-building — are leading the way to #defundpolice, invest in our communities, and fundamentally transform our policing and justice systems. White people are looking harder and deeper at their privilege and complicity, engaging in the essential work of undoing racism internally and externally, vocally inviting their family and friends to show up for racial justice so that we can end the myth and structures of white supremacy once and for all. People of all colors, faiths, generations and backgrounds are rising in solidarity for Black freedom, justice, joy and beauty.
This movement is rising from all of the places we are experiencing pain and injustice, and from our deep care and love for the world. We see it in our health care workers, who amidst their long hours of caring for others related to Covid-19 and beyond, are simultaneously working to bring about health equity and transformation to our health care systems. It lives in our communities, neighborhoods, and mutual aid networks, and in all of the ways we are showing up with kindness and care for our collective well-being. We see it in our impassioned teachers, educators and parents who are working to transform our inequitable school systems and to raise a generation that embodies the ways of a new world.
It lives in our next economy movements that are building local and cooperative businesses, shifting money away from extractive systems and into regenerative models to create an economy that works for all and our planet. It flows in our efforts to end mass incarceration and to bring restorative justice to our schools and communities. We see it in the Poor People’s Campaign and our Just Transition movements, and in all of our efforts working to end poverty and ensure that everyone has housing, a livelihood, and what we need to live a life of health, dignity and opportunity.
Our farmers, permaculturists, and backyard gardens are part of this movement. We see it in our immigration and right to citizenship movements, ensuring that people who were born here and immigrated here have the same rights and care as the rest of us. We witness it in the beauty and power of our Queer and Trans movements in their stand for human dignity and the inherent right to be loved as we truly are. It lives in our Native and Indigenous peoples movements fighting for sovereignty, protecting their lands and waters, defending the Sacred, and revitalizing their cultures and languages as they work to heal from the ravages of colonization and erasure.
We see it in the people and communities that are practicing the deep work of healing and vulnerability, who are tenderly caring for the wounds of history and healing the trauma in our bodies — personal, collective, and generational — creating lives of wellness, wholeness, and connection. It continues to rise in our women’s movements, in the power of #MeToo, and in every workplace, leadership position, political office, and social setting where women are leading the way. We see it in the young people of these times, stepping forward with such power and purpose, rooting in the wisdom of their ancestors and elders, taking their place on the front lines with a courage and creative fire that is carrying us to places we’ve never traveled before.
A movement of movements is rising, flowing from a long history, stretching wide and deep, intersecting, cross-pollinating, building in power and momentum. To some they seem like disconnected struggles, but they are united by a common struggle for freedom, rooted in our love for justice and life, and part of a deep social healing and collective liberation that connects us all.
Let’s be clear: understanding that our movements and peoples are all connected is not a cause for some type of simple rah-rah-rah, happy dance and celebration. It’s not an excuse to sit back, relax and wait for some inevitable liberation; not is it an excuse to bypass the ways that we are complicit with the oppression of the past and present. It’s a call for us to engage more fully, deeply and broadly; to come together in solidarity on behalf of each other’s struggles and liberation. It’s an opportunity to participate in the deep healing work that’s inevitable in our coming together, and to learn how to show up in service and with humility. We see this clearly in the ways that white and non-Black people of color are using their bodies as shields at protests, ensuring they are the first to get arrested and protecting Black lives from further harm.
Systemic insight allows us to understand that structural racism is at the root of our capitalistic economy, which is at the root of our climate crisis, and therefore the work for Black liberation is fundamentally tied to the work for climate justice and protecting our planet. While we engage in our connected struggles and movements, our current movement moment asks us to show up powerfully for the sacredness of Black lives and liberation. Michelle Alexander writes:
“Our only hope for our collective liberation is a politics of deep solidarity rooted in love. In recent days, we’ve seen what it looks like when people of all races, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds rise up together, standing in solidarity for justice, protesting, marching and singing together, even as SWAT teams and tanks roll in. We’ve seen our faces in another American mirror — a reflection of the best of who we are and what we can become. These images may not have dominated the media coverage, but I’ve glimpsed in a foggy mirror scenes of a beautiful, courageous nation struggling to be born.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel once declared that “The very future of this nation depends on how we respond to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.” That legacy is the work of building a Beloved Community where we all belong and thrive together. Its a legacy of ending white supremacy, racism, poverty, and systemic oppression in all its forms, and “creating a qualitative change in our souls, and a quantitative change in lives.”
We are closer than ever before, yet there is still so much to heal and transform. Just as this has been the work of generations, this will be the work of our lifetime and generations to come. We need to continue preparing for the long haul as we keep mobilizing and keep the pressure on. Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, reminds us:
“It takes organizing. Protest to up the ante. Public and private pressure. Electoral organizing strategies. Telling new stories about us and what we are fighting for. We gotta stop looking for easy answers and instead join the hard work. Please and thank you. Be good to yourselves. This is a marathon that no one wants to run.”
Some say that we were made for these times. Whatever your perspective, we are alive at this pivotal moment and we all have a role to play: marching on the streets, organizing in our communities, storytelling and writing songs for the revolution, making art, preparing food, caring for others, mentoring and teaching, donating funds, sharing your heart, gifts and medicine however you are able to. This is a time of mass awakening and we all are being called to show up and become something we have never been before.
We are hospicing the old and midwifing the new. We are disrupting, dismantling, defunding, and decolonizing the life-destroying forces in our society while we reboot, rebuild, reimagine, and regenerate the life-serving forces of our world.
This pandemic. It’s systemic. And so are our movements. So are our hopes, dreams, and actions. So is our deep love and care for this world. This river is mighty and these times are momentous. We are part of something sacred, healing and beautiful. May we find our way together.
Check out the Medicine for These Times series hosted by Thrive.
This piece arose within an ecosystem of thinkers, feelers, creatives and change makers. My deep gratitude for feedback, support and inspiration extends to a wide web including Cherine Badawi, Aryeh Shell, Armando Davila, Sunshine Michelle Coleman, Bethsaida Ruiz, David Dean, Jean Milam, Manuel Manga, Arthur Romano, Ramon Gabrieloff-Parish, Darcy Ottey, Ann-Ellice Parker, Taj James, Brenda Salgado, Akaya Windwood, Staci Haines, john a. powell, Joanna Macy, Sonya Renee Taylor, and countless more.
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Thanks to Jean N Milam.