This is the third piece in this series. The next will be about international impacts Monday 25th May
I recall working at a conference in Italy in 2005 with theatre practitioners from Sri Lanka who were running projects with victims of the 2004 Tsunami. At a certain point one of them turned to me and said: ‘You don’t seem to understand. It wasn’t the Tsunami that caused the suffering it was the ‘recovery’ operation’ The coastal communities had been moved into camps and the shoreline was sold up to hotel chains. This of course makes perfect economic sense! Look at what happened in New Orleans with Katrina. Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine describes the phenomenon of ‘disaster capitalism’ where predatory grabs are made on public goods in the wake of catastrophe. While we are clapping on our doorsteps the Tories are privatising the health service .
Where is popular resistance? People throughout the land took effective action against the spread of the virus. We are in an uncertain period now waiting to see what the relaxation to the lockdown may bring. At the same time the number of cases internationally is rising. Will people be able to build the resilience of our communities against the activities of the ruling elites never mind about the next virus epidemic? Already our teaching community is under attack. What kind of unity can there be? People have had very diverse experiences of this period of ‘lockdown’. There are potential divisions between administrative ‘white collar’ workers and manual ‘blue collar’ workers, between those in good housing with outdoor space and those without, between those on ‘furlough’ and those who have accumulated debt. Is unity necessary? The Labour Party’s attempt to construct a consensus through its seven points shed no light. Will the attempt by the TUC to influence a recovery plan work or will they, like so many times in the past, be incorporated into the deceptive strategies of the elites? Searching around for initiatives I came across only one that described building an active alternative network: ‘A People’s HQ for Covid 19’ In my opinion this limits itself too strictly to an appeal to the Labour Movement. I was also impressed by 350’s Principles for Just Recovery from Covid 19 and the campaign that resembles it, Build Back Better. This phrase is common in global disaster recovery philosophy and may have originated in publications by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
I became preoccupied by the question of information management. I believe that popular resistance can be more effective if an alternative source of knowledge can be created. At the moment we have no shared idea of what the impacts of the CV-19 might be. Is there a way of engaging hundreds of people in building a big picture of what has been happening in our society? This would give people an active relationship to this big story and therefore create active knowledge. A network of researcher/correspondents in every locality (or constituency), in every industry and sector and in every special community (the disabled, the visually impaired, the mental health service users, communities coping with death and grief, ethnic groups, LGTBQ refugee and migrant organisations). The work could be co-ordinated in a brilliant website where the quantitative and qualitative information could be cross-referenced. It would be like Mass Observation and the Doomsday Book all rolled into one and online! It would give an alternative source of knowledge built up through popular participation.
The most powerfully moving aspect of the work of the International Panel on Climate Change is the high level of collaboration and management of information between scientists all over the world. Its work is divided into working groups. The first and original working group was the one concerned with physical science. It was later that a the second working group began its work. This is the one that takes accounts of impacts. I believe that this offers a model of practice and provides definitions of what impact means that could be carried across to the much more hasty and urgent work of researching the impacts of CV-19. This brilliance and organisational ingenuity of the scientific community could be brought to bear and linked up with popular researcher/correspondents.
The initiators of the ‘People’s HQ for Covid 19’ may have found a warm reception from The People’s Assembly Against Austerity which is already carrying out key work in its Making Sense of the Crisis campaign. The project that I’m describing that has the working title of ‘together’ would need the support of broad-based organisations but I believe it should include all aspects of the resistance. It will cost thousands to administer and manage. It must start by bringing together into a ‘temporary think-tank’ experienced activists from the environmentalist/green new deal movement like Andrew Simms who alongside colleagues from the New Weather Institute is producing innovative and quickened creative thinking in the narratives assembled in the Rapid Transition Alliance, also social scientists such as Mariana Mazzucato, who has developed penetrating analyses of the relationship between state research and private industrial exploitation. These people should be working alongside experts in media management like Greg Philo from the Glasgow University Media Unit who have produced the ‘Bad News’ series. I, of course, am hopelessly disconnected from direct links to the kind of talents that should be brought together to devise the informational template and the sectoral and local definitions that can make information data collection coherent. But working alongside online space designers this is what the temporary think-tank should be able to do.
The political elites, and their frontmen in the Tory government, rely more than anything else on information manipulation and spin. This is why the Covid Act, which is in force for two years, suppresses freedom of information, puts Coroners’ reports under tight government control and gives it draconian powers over personal data. Any effective resistance will have to create an alternative authoritative source of knowledge. This is already experientially alive within the population. It has to be centralised in order to be coherent but it can be activated from the bottom up.
The devising and launching of this information network, ‘together’, supported by broad-based organisations and fed by the inventive culture of the social science community, could be receiving data and reports within weeks. We must provide ourselves with a big picture of the impacts of the CV-19.