Donna Chavis (L) with sister Collective member Jodi Lasseter at the U.S. Supreme Court before an action to shutdown the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
We are in a magical moment right now, with an opportunity that may not come again of this magnitude for some time. In many ways it could be said that it is best of times and the worst of times. As we wrestle with the loss of life and the loss of a way of life, we need to take time to pause and see the possibilities of Re-creating and Re-forming. (I understand these two Rs as companions to each other, and I respond to our “R” of reform more as re-form, forming again).
Though we often speak of Re-form in regard to policy, political or structural reform, I see this as an opportunity to Re-form our relationships. I try to be disciplined as much as I can to reflect on what has happened during the day - in my work and daily life - and how it can help us re-form our relationships, both internal to ourselves and our external ways of being with each other. How can we shift energy and shape things differently?
I’m in a process of re-forming and re-creating my relationships with people. Remote work was a norm for me long before the pandemic. Fortunately I had access to very strong broadband in an office and the use of platforms that allowed me to not only hear but see friends and colleagues. Now, I am sheltering in place at home in the country in a very wooded area. My broadband is unstable and I’m often kicked off the now necessary virtual meetings. This brought home to me acutely the reality that not everyone has fluid access to the internet. We must Re-Create ways to keep relationships solid and growing. For instance, instead of depending on internet-based platforms for connecting, I reverted back to telephone meetings. Scheduling more check-ins on a regular basis has become a normal part of my days. Relationships taken for granted are now a priority.
On a more meta level, one of the challenges I've had in this time is the phrase I keep hearing repeated that “we are all in this together.” When I first heard the phrase, I thought, yes, one of the things that is different about this pandemic from other disasters like Matthew and Florence, for example, is that Covid-19 is something that we are all vulnerable to globally. It is an invisible virus and we don’t know what to expect. Not everyone in the country experienced those hurricanes or any hurricanes. I thought maybe we can go to another level of Re-forming things, together, equally impacted. Then we got our first case in our county, and now we are number nine in the number of cases state-wide, and the number continues to rise. I’ve experienced two deaths in my extended community. After dealing with it on the ground, I realized, no, we are not in this together.
There are very clear distinctions. We are all in the same lake, but not the same boat. We are in the same situation but our circumstances are not the same. Personally, I am lucky. I have a roof over my head and food that I’ve stored over a long period of time using traditional and modern canning and freezing. There are those with more and those with less. On a social level, we are definitely not in it together, and we — women, Indigenous peoples, African Americans, People of Color, and low wealth communities – haven’t been in it together from the very beginning of the foundations of this country.
“The system is broken” is another phrase we hear often in these times. What I believe is that the system is working exactly as it was intended to work - always exclusive, not inclusive. The systems were set up to exclude folks. As an indigenous woman I understand it is functioning just the way it was meant to function. Even the efforts to support small businesses and families through Covid-19 stimulus packages have been impacted as resources are diverted to large corporations such as oil and gas companies. The established systems are working perfectly as intended.
The headline of a recent article by Liz Sly of the Washington Post is “Hunger could be more deadly than coronavirus in poorer countries.” The article reads:
The loss of income for people already living perilously close to the margins of survival will propel up to 50 million people into abject poverty this year, reversing three decades of gains in the war against deprivation, according to World Bank estimates. A study by the United Nations said 580 million could become impoverished, meaning they lack the basic means to survive.
And as incomes are lost, a “hunger pandemic” could eclipse the coronavirus, the World Food Program has warned; 130 million people are expected to join the ranks of the 135 million who were expected to suffer from acute hunger this year, the agency says, bringing to 265 million the number of those at risk of starvation.
I find myself wrestling with how we can go through this and come out on the other side with new lives, changing the total structure of government, politics, regulations, all systems that are not functioning for the common good. What do we need to do to Re-form and Re-create equitable, just, more flexible systems and relationships? What are the spaces in which we can work to address complicated situations like we are having now?
This is a magical moment to do a big fix of the damage of our exclusive structures and for all of us who were excluded historically to come out with historical inequities repaired, our environment respected and loved, and Indigenous peoples, African Americans, women, and people of color leading us forward. It is time to Re-form and Re-create.
From Robeson County,
Donna is a member of the Collective's leadership team.