First: A caveat. I am well aware that some people have had a tough time dealing with lockdown and that what one person finds difficult, others find a breeze. That said… I’ve been thinking.
Over the past couple of months, as New Zealand has joined large parts of the globe and locked down its citizens to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of times in Zoom meetings with the various different organisations I’m involved with.
These meetings, while serious in nature, have had their fair share of banter as people apply novel ways to break the monotony – quizzes, formal Fridays, weekend drinks, beard-growing competitions and the rest.
It’s all been fun, but its intent has been to make life easier for people who don’t get their usual dose of social interaction.
But alongside the social initiatives, I’ve heard murmurings from people decrying just how hard it is navigating Zoom, how they’re struggling without access to their local cafe, and how not having access to their staff cafeteria is such a drag.
Meanwhile, another part of society, those blue-collar workers who are essential to life, have carried on – struggled with the risk of infection, navigated deserted streets, and frequented empty cities as they make their way to jobs making our food, stocking our shelves and sewing our clothes (shout out to the amazing team at Albion Clothing for the last one).
For them, life is actually hard – no formal Fridays or fun Zoom quizzes change that.
An article on Stuff today said it well: “the inequality of lockdown has been a function of choice. White-collar workers often had the choice and flexibility to work remotely, whereas those in public-facing service sector roles, often living in poorer areas, did not.”
As we come out of lockdown, and consider what rebuilding an economy looks like, we have two options. One option is to continue pursuing a neoliberal model in which those cleaners, supermarket and factory workers hope that the trickle-down benefits they’ve been promised for decades will finally come.
The other option is to finally accept that trickle-down doesn’t happen, and rebalance our system to accurately and equitably value what people do. While it might be anathema to an entitled demographic who believes they “deserve” the benefits that accrue to them, and that anyone who cleans their bathroom, sews their garments or stacks their supermarket shelves does so because they’re dumb, lazy or unambitious, the reality is that often times it is the system that perpetuates the status quo.
Let’s have something good come from Coronavirus – let’s rework the system once and for all. At a time when huge swathes of the population are facing very real economic and social hardship, the time has come for us all to step up and forego personal benefit, for social equity.