We can’t go back to ‘normal’

We find ourselves in a major transition, a time the like of which most of us have never known. The uncertainty of this moment has filled us with varying levels of fear and anxiety. Collectively we are facing a pandemic, a collapsing stock market, dropping oil prices and the continuing impacts of increasing climate change. Every one of us has been affected.

This pandemic has abruptly shifted our individual and collective life; the silos between work, home, food and health are collapsing. We are experiencing just how fragile an economy based largely on extraction and consolidation of wealth is. Yet, in this moment of global transition arises the opportunity to create a new “normal," crafted with intention, ensuring justice and equity for all.

In this moment of transition, we must ask ourselves: How can we shape this moment to build stronger, more resilient, more just communities?

First, we must act with compassion, creativity and courage, recognizing those who are already living in crisis are most impacted, and their needs and leadership must be at the forefront of all responses. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted communities to demand federal, state, and local policies focused on protecting people right now, including halts to evictions, loan forgiveness, and utility shut-off moratoriums. The Alaska Legislature passed emergency policies, and local leaders across the state have stepped up, ensuring public health and safety. A federal stimulus package will provide temporary monetary relief that small businesses and others desperately need.

However, these are short-term interventions, and they make us wonder: Why aren’t policies in place to protect working people all the time, not only in crisis?

And while some policy action has been taken to protect people we are also seeing increased emergency response profiteering. Federal legislators are bailing out corporate CEOs who have historically misused government relief. The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has indefinitely suspended enforcement of environmental laws designed to protect public health and safety, giving corporations an open license to pollute our air and water. Companies are engaging in price gouging to profit from fear, and everyday workers on the front lines of this pandemic are risking exposure without protections or adequate resources.

Why are we trying to Band-Aid our way back to the status quo extractive economy that has so clearly failed us all?

A new normal can be seen in the outpouring of localized support to meet community needs. In Alaska, individuals are bringing fish to elders, restaurants are offering free food for kids, people are sewing masks, distilleries are making hand sanitizer, auto parts stores are making plastic face shields, community members are finding housing for displaced university students. These acts demonstrate that it is possible to collectively prioritize community care. If local solutions were bolstered by equitable funding and policy action, a sustainable way of living, working and governing could be envisioned.

Shaping change with justice and equity for the creation of whole and healthy communities is not new, although we have been taught to believe it is not possible or it’s too idealistic. We are learning from communities across the state who regularly face crises: homeless communities, low-income families and indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples’ place-based knowledge sustained communities for millennia. “Remembering forward” is a concept that recognizes the knowledge systems and worldviews that sustained Alaska Native people for thousands of years is a necessary guide to shape the path forward, to inform our strategies and reimagine what is “normal."

Alaskans have been innovating solutions to transition from this extractive economic model: revitalizing Indigenous languages, building local food systems, advancing community solar, and supporting neighborhood-led entrepreneurship. In this moment, we need financial strategies and structures that prioritize a social return on investment; we need more Alaskans to access and participate in democratic processes, and we need to stand with young people in demanding changes to protect future generations.

This is our home and together we envision a world outside of our current economic practices, centering caring and justice allowing all Alaskans to thrive, not just survive.

We are reimagining and rebuilding systems and structures that support people, communities, and ways of life. This transition is happening and so much more is not only possible but required. Join Alaska’s Just Transition movement, go to our website for more information and let’s redefine the new normal together.

Written by Veri DiSuvero, Executive Director of Alaska Public Interest Research Group. Enei Begaye, Executive Director of Native Movement. Jessica Girard, Director of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition. Kendra Kloster. Executive Director for Native Peoples Action. Polly Carr, Executive Director of The Alaska Center

Originally posted in the ADN on April 2, 2020. 

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