It would be a failure of our imagination not to come out of this hardship with a profound and lasting change in our societies.

This picture from Aleksandr Malin illustrates for me the opportunity the crisis give us to change our perspective and use our imagination for a better world

Like most of us, this pandemic stirred in me feelings of grief and confusion. The pandemic, the confinement measures and the lack of work (or change of work habits) humble and challenge us. This mind-boggling situation questions unequivocally the socio-economic structures that have prevented us from achieving equity and social justice. We realise how interdependent we are.

Crises of this amplitude shake the status quo and make inequalities and power dynamics fully visible. It suddenly seems absurd that we let our society develop in such a grim manner. We cannot hide anymore behind economic and political myths to justify the fact that hard-working people are on the brink of poverty and might not be able to pay the rent next month or buy food; to justify people sleeping in the streets while flats are empty; to leave asylum seekers and migrants survive in overcrowded camps at the frontiers of Europe; to let our prisons be overcrowded; to underpay the most essential workers in our societies; to run hospitals like companies, and so on.

Since the pandemic started, I have been feeling an underlying sense of urgency and restlessness. The feeling that there is a “space of possibility” as Otto Schaermer from MIT called it recently. This “space of possibility” will be exploited by autocrats or neoliberal politicians (as illustrated today again by the vote of the state of emergency in Hungary) if we do not come up with our own vision.

The way Anat Shenker-Osorio talks about the 2008 crisis in the USA could be written today:

“The 2008 housing market collapse caused untold harm to people at home and abroad. But it also opened up an opportunity, a giant fissure in the firmament of economic dogma (…) Democrats and progressives had their big chance not only to identify the current villain but also to go further: changing the conversation by introducing a new story about what the economy can and should be.”

This is an essential window for social change. We have to defend human rights more passionately than ever and be vigilant, but we also need to go further and propose our vision of a fairer, greener and more humane society.

It is time for bold moves and not only temporary solutions. Portugal showed last week that a humane response to COVID-19 was possible by temporarily regularising all migrants and asylum seekers with a pending application in order to make sure they are safe during this pandemic. Faced with Covid-19 and understanding that it was not possible to leave anybody behind, many countries have found solutions to accommodate homeless people. This is an unprecedented opportunity to transform those temporary solutions into policies that create a better society than the one we lived in before Covid-19 changed our lives. As the Irish President put it last week in an interview: this pandemic created an “unanswerable case” for universal basic services.

Rebecca Solnit in a brilliant and uplifting article in the Guardian explains how the “impossible has already happened” and that:

“One of our main tasks now — especially those of us who are not sick, are not frontline workers, and are not dealing with other economic or housing difficulties — is to understand this moment, what it might require of us, and what it might make possible.”

It would be a failure of our imagination not to come out of this hardship with a profound and lasting change in our societies.

Human Rights consultant