Delivered as a part of the online launch for the exciting Claim the Future project led by UK Labour MP John McDonnell, which brings together activists, policy experts, campaigning organisations and movements to Claim The Future – united behind a radical and optimistic vision for a Post-Covid future.
Science has now confirmed for us that COVID-19 is caused and sustained by human excessiveness. Our intensive global food systems, animal trade, biodiversity loss and climate change and their impacts upon animal habitats are all now clearly linked to viruses which cross over from the animal world to humankind and turn into pandemics.
But it’s also our excessiveness that sustains the virus and exacerbates its impact – globalized economies, air pollution, poverty, economic compulsiveness, individualistic attitudes are all behaviors that maintain COVID-19 transmission rates, stymie recovery, and subsequently increase mortality rates.
Our vulnerability to it is therefore of our own making and we have the power to change these things – BUT what we also know is that there are varying levels of agency to effect that change, as well as varying levels of vulnerability. This is because imperialism has shaped our way of interacting with each other, and the planet in a hierarchical fashion – Empire has hierarchically apportioned power, and it has hierarchically apportioned resources, and the consequences of that is a system that has hierarchical levels of COVID-19 impact.
As has been pointed out time and time again – COVID-19 is a kind of doppelganger for climate change that has brought the impacts of our actions right up to our faces in a way that we cannot evade, as we have our climate change responsibilities. COVID-19 is it is vast, it is terrible but it is not an extinction level event, climate change is an extinction level event and if we can recognize COVID-19 as a mirror it can show us important truths about ourselves to help us avoid the extinction level event that is climate change.
One of these truths is that we have become, over time, very good at articulating goals which we then set about undermining. We set underwhelming emissions targets we do not meet. We set sustainability development goals that we fail to achieve and we keep asking why that is so. It does not bode well for the Global Green New Deal. But if you apply the lens of empire to our global systems, it becomes very apparent, very soon, why we cannot meet these goals.
Imperialism is inhumane – its very nature is to dehumanize so that it can dispossess. The systems through which such these goals must travel to come to fruition are fundamentally imperialist in nature and as such are incapable of achieving humanitarian ideals.
And so there are three points I want to make crystal clear here:
- We must face the lessons of COVID-19 as a matter of humanity AND a matter of survival.
- Our flaws that are exposed by COVID-19 are fundamentally crafted by Imperialism
- Because Imperialism is inhumane in nature, it must be understood, exposed and rejected in order to achieve humanitarian goals.
One thing that happened where I live (and many indigenous places around the world) is that we set up checkpoints as a matter of survival because colonialism made us vulnerable to COVID-19. That act of survival was characterized as vigilantism and insurgency against the state (as it has in other nations too) but that is just one very obvious example of the intersection of imperialism and covid19.
Whole nations labour under economic imperialism, their own resources extracted for hundreds of years by European imperial powers, chained down by debt established under that same imperial system so that they CANNOT afford to effective respond to COVID-19 or climate change or any other crises – and that kind of imperialism is being maintained by international institutions such as the International Monetary fund and the World Bank.
We are already seeing how Imperialism is seeking to exploit COVID – through exploitation of Uighur workers in the PPE factories in China, how corporate food systems are exploiting community need by perpetuating dependency rather than supporting food sovereignty, how plastics industries are both exploiting emergency systems, perpetuating falsehoods about the necessity of single use plastics for COVID protection, and applying for COVID bailouts alongside the fossil fuel industry in general when the truth is they were flailing before that anyway.
It’s also vitally important we understand the mechanisms of injustice because it plays a huge role in the distrust of government systems and that is being manipulated by the global right. The climate crisis has spanned center right and center left governments in so many places around the world. Homelessness, wealth divides, resource wars have spanned both sides of the political spectrum. The inability for the broken political system to confront its own imperialism has muddied the waters for who is the lesser evil and who has the moral highground and it has created a context where what little power the populace has can be manipulated by imperialist media to vote against their own interests.
So we must identify these systems of injustice and reject them in our aspirations to build a just new normal. We cannot allow imperialist systems to define the scope of injustice either. They cannot be allowed to say “we care about justice except for the return of Indigenous lands”; or “we care about justice except for militarization in Hawai’i“.
If you’re interested in justice then this is what it will take: It will take a new international, and transnational, relational model. One that recognizes the independent rights of indigenous peoples, one committed to reversing the longstanding imperial injustice visited upon the global south, one that supports the rights of grassroots movements for self determination. That is what you will champion, if you are interested in justice, rights and humanitarianism.
Taking this step will require radical self-belief. Empire relies upon a number of fictions to maintain power. One is the fiction of benevolence – it likes to position itself as a benefactor of humanity, so that we believe we need it (we have discussed that). That also includes convincing us of its inevitability, and that there is impossible to dismantle it, or to do without it.
Along with fictions, Empire requires a machine to manufacture those fictions in numerous iterations and repeat it all around us again and again. That is the function of media empires – to convince us that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do. So, in the face of this media onslaught of hate and fear -to believe in ones own capability, and to believe in our own humanity, then becomes a truly radical act, and that is what we must do. We must reject the poverty of the mind and the austerity of the heart and radically believe in our own humanity, in our capacity to build systems of love, to the point where we invest in them. To love ourselves back into greatness. To let the planet love us again.
My beautiful friend and poet Karlo Mila says: You know – the planet she loves us. She wants to provide for us, but we keep hurting her. Water loves us too, she wants so desperately to be to be abundant, for us, to heal us and cleanse us but we keep killing her and we saw how fast she could recover during COVID.
Around the world there are small scale communities taking this lead for themselves. Where this is happening we need to support it to continue and grow, but importantly, for transnational issues like climate change, globally just economies, plastic pollution and the global green new deal, we need to model ourselves upon grassroots ideals of collective responsibilities, communal wellbeing, relationship regeneration, radical acts of love, and belief in humanity.