Source: Greenpeace New Zealand
As a working solo mum to a toddler, Emmet, Lockdown hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. While I’m incredibly lucky to be safe, securely employed, housed, and cared for (from afar), there have been moments of full-blown meltdown. It’s the little things that build up and get to you. The times we ran out of milk and I couldn’t just nip to the shop. The time we had a ‘post-shower nappy-free incident’, and I had to hose down Emmet and myself, clean the carpet, and stop him from gleefully running back through it, all with one set of soiled hands. The times at the end of the day where I just needed an adult conversation and to leave my house.
I haven’t been baking, or learning a language, or deep-cleaning our flat. I’ve been frantically trying to do two full-time jobs at once, feeling the deep guilt and exhaustion of not performing well enough at work or childcare. Aiming to do better at either is a tradeoff, and that is it.
For all of us, things changed fast. Even the little things. Emmet just learned to say “airplane”, and suddenly there were no more in the sky to point to. I’ve been practicing explaining why he can’t play on the slide when we’re so close to the playground. He’s awake at 4am crying because I might leave just like his nanna and all the other adults that he used to see every day before Lockdown (his idea of bubbles involves more soapy water).
People I love are losing their jobs, having mental health struggles in isolation, and are terrified for family members overseas. It’s been easy to wish for things to go back to normal.
But the morning we entered Alert Level 3, I felt my perspective change. I hadn’t noticed how still it had become during Level 4 until there was traffic racing past my windows again. Our walks under Lockdown had been filled with smiling strangers respectfully keeping their distance, teddy bear hunting, and sidewalk chalk saying, “Be Kind”. Almost immediately there were fewer people out enjoying fresh air, (I cynically wondered if maybe instead they were queing up for burgers), and again so many more cars!
My social media feed was full of photos of drive thru lines and litter, and worried food industry workers trying to stay safe with employers not meeting Level 3 requirements. The conversations rolled full steam into how to rebuild the economy and spend on infrastructure. I noticed corporate lobbyists and polluters becoming even more vocal in their push for reduced regulations, government bailouts (for companies, mind, not workers and beneficiaries), and a rush on towards business as usual.
With this perspective, I realised that, in a world where it’s bold to be kind, in Aotearoa we have all made sacrifices, big and small, to protect each other and the most vulnerable members of our society. How amazing it is to have achieved that together. We went from individual to collective action in a heartbeat. Most of us missed human connection; our family, friends, and colleagues, we missed being out in nature; surfing, fishing, tramping, playing sports in the park. Less missed were shopping, jet-setting, and all the other FOMO-inducing pressures and expectations that keep building each year as we try harder and harder to keep up.
The old normal wasn’t actually the future I ever wanted for Emmet. With the climate and biodiversity crisis looming, inhumane levels of inequality, and governments across the world working for corporate executives instead of the people they are elected to serve, the future for my son and his kindy friends under old normal looked pretty bleak.
But, it turns out, doing things differently has proven very possible. With billions of dollars of Government stimulus spending on the table, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pause, reset, and rebuild the society we want to live in for good, where people and nature thrive. And we can’t afford to get it wrong.
I want the houses in neighbourhoods across New Zealand to be warm and dry and safe to live in. To have solar panels and batteries so that people can make and control their own energy. To be affordable and well-connected by buses, trains and walkways to schools, workplaces and shops.
I want the farms that produce our food to be more like the ones in my son’s books. Farms that nourish people and care for animals, rather than stripping the land like a mine and treating our rivers and lakes like an open sewer. I want our Government to invest now in a transformation for our food sector so that it is sustainable and regenerates the land and water we depend on. After all, this is increasingly the type of farming that our farmers want to do and the type of food that people here and overseas want to buy.
I want to take Emmet exploring and see our native wildlife thriving, protected by iwi and government workers in stable jobs with a future.
When he’s old enough to vote, I want him to be living in an Aotearoa governed by genuine partnership between Māori and the Crown as it was envisaged in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Where decision-making is grounded in Kaupapa Māori, and upholds indigenous rights.
More than anything, I want us to tackle the climate crisis head on. We are borrowing from Emmet’s future to pay for our economic recovery today. So we better build him a world he and his friends can actually live in, instead of one that is systematically destroying the foundations of life.
Kiwi-born poet, Tomos Robertson (aka Tom Foolery) produced this beautiful video of The Great Realisation. He crafts us a vision for the future post-covid that is more attuned to our aspirations than the world we lived in pre-Lockdown.
“And so when we found the cure, and were allowed to go outside; we all preferred the world we found to the one we’d left behind.”
That’s the bedtime story I want to tell Emmet as he grows up enough to sit still and listen.
If, right now, we collectively call for better than the old normal, and give our government the mandate and the courage to be bold and visionary about the future they invest in, maybe we will look back on this time as the moment we said, “enough is enough” and built back the better future that we always wanted.