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  • Trish Hennessy

Awakening from our COVID-19 winter

The old paradigm is shifting. There's no returning to the "before times." How will you be part of the change?

Four hundred and forty three days ago, my partner Craig and I absorbed the world news about the threat of a deadly new virus and we began our own self-imposed lockdown.

We have been steadfastly in our own “bubble”, living and working inside our 600 sq. ft. condo in Toronto, a city that has been a raging hotspot for COVID-19 pretty much throughout this entire pandemic.

We are among the fortunate ones. We kept our jobs. We worked from home, even though overlapping Zoom meetings in our small space presented its share of challenges and frustrations. When we ventured outdoors for exercise and necessities, masks became our shield against illness.

We now both have one vaccine shot in our arms and we’re weeks away from our second.

As we emerge from our COVID-19 winter of discontent, seeds of hope are sprouting. A new world awaits us all—but we’re not emerging from this pandemic the same as we were in “before times.”

For those of us fortunate enough to shelter down while others, mostly low-income and racialized people, served on the front line and/or became the new essential workers—stocking groceries, delivering restaurant meals, keeping the supply chain going—it’s on us to ensure those inequities are dealt with swiftly.

COVID-19 unleashed a world of hurt, fear and destruction. It also exposed existing inequities.

Things have changed. We are awakening to a paradigm shift. This isn’t some dream; it’s happening.

I couldn’t help but do a double take when I came across this Twitter thread by the Council of Economic Advisers to the Biden-Harris administration in the U.S.

The advisers are turning their back on the old paradigm—the one that brought us government austerity, deregulation, tax cuts for the elite, worsening inequality, and underinvestment or disinvestment in public goods.

“The economic theory underlying President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan is different,” the advisers wrote.

“These proposed policies reflect the empirical evidence that a strong economy depends on a solid foundation of public investment, and that investments in workers, families, and communities can pay off for decades to come.”

In conversation recently with the always-wise Alex Himelfarb, former clerk of the Privy Council, he told me: “The centre is shifting and government may be making something of a comeback.”

The norms are changing, he said, and we have to change with them.

It can be hard some days, as we cope with the multiple pressures that the global pandemic foisted on us, to actually notice that political, social, and economic change that is unfolding before our very eyes.

“We’re in the middle of the storm,” Alex said. “We don’t see the impact the storm’s having. People didn’t know they were an industrial revolution until historians looked backward. It was coined after the fact.

“We’re going through a revolution right now, where the collective is reasserting itself,” Alex said, acknowledging, too, that change will be contested:

“The fierce individualists are doubling down because they fear the change. Those who have preached austerity would have to swallow themselves whole to reverse course. And the powerful and privileged will fight hard to keep things as they are. Power and privilege are never surrendered easily.”

So, just as I’m pausing during my walks outdoors to appreciate the blooms of spring, I’m pausing today to acknowledge this change that is happening in our lifetime and how it must unfurl under our stewardship.

Our experiences with this global pandemic will already be written in history books for decades to come. The pandemic affected everything, all of us. It made the world stop. It shook us out of our old ways. It made us reassess what’s important. As we re-emerge, how will COVID-19 have changed us and what part will we play in the change around us?

Trish Hennessy is director, Think Upstream, a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.


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