2021 will be a year full of challenges. It's just as well we have all just had a year-long tutorial in going back to the drawing board.
The pandemic showed us that communities and governments can respond humanely. At certain stages in 2020 it felt like we were all in the human experience together, for the better. For much of the year our locked down economy was transitioning towards a green economy. We closed airports, hotels and office blocks. We parked cars and walked or cycled. We slowed down and prioritised public health.
Some of us were able to work from home. We sowed seeds, grew and cooked food, connected with family, neighbours and friends. We played with our kids more, shared and learned new skills and hobbies - we adapted.
Others had to face Covid as essential, yet undervalued workers, or with little or no resources, and life afforded no such privileges.
None of the ‘positives’ of 2020 can underwrite the scale of preventable loss and grief.
As we enter 2021, all of the survivors of Covid have to carry the grief of the past year. Those who can must defend public health and try to build for the future.
For PPR, our bread and butter has always been our daily face-to-face interactions with people. Our model of organising depends upon positive human contact. But we also took environmentally costly working practices, like driving cars to meetings in well-heated buildings, for granted. In support of those most vulnerable and in solidarity with our healthcare and front-line workers, we have been proud to work from home since March 2020. It has, perhaps, been the single greatest contribution we’ve made to human rights and the human family this past year. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been necessary.
PPR are absolutely blessed with a dedicated team and activist network who can leave ego at the door and put their shoulders to the wheel.
That meant that everything we do had to move online. But it didn't stop our campaigning with communities who have been left behind for decades - the same self reliant and resilient people, ignored or excluded by gatekeepers and decision makers, yet overflowing with ideas and skills, who should lead now.
The challenges of organising online with homeless families; young people in hostels without internet access; asylum seekers banned from work and living on £37 a week; people living with mental ill-health; and those with no digital literacy or devices – all have been persistent, but not insurmountable. PPR are absolutely blessed with a dedicated team and activist network who can leave ego at the door and put their shoulders to the wheel. For us, 2021 is about embracing and embedding the learning from 2020 by widening and deepening this network and ethos.
That said, there is no substitute for human interaction and contact. We need each other and need to be with each other. The minute it is safe to do so we will throw a party for everyone and probably won’t do a video call for a month -- but it would be absolutely callous to return to the ‘normal’ of before. Until it’s safe, remote working is the least we can do in support of those who are still on the front line fighting to save and sustain us.
Over the last year we have embraced new ways of working, including adopting free and open source technology – democratic and privacy-protecting digital tools in support of our campaigns. In our own small way, we are divesting from bad companies and investing in sustainable alternatives.
With the help of people like Craig Dwyer at ForAChange and our own new in-house software developer, we have moved digital organising from an after-thought to a central component of all our campaigns, opening up new opportunities and giving the people we support new tools for organising and advocacy. The dedicated community of campaigners in the PPR network has not only survived the pandemic, often in the most dire of circumstances, but learned new ways to continue to give their time, energy and resources in support of people struggling for human rights and justice.
COVID will pass, and we will celebrate with our friends and allies. But now is the time to double down on our dreams for a better world.
Seán Brady is Assistant Director of Programmes with PPR.