by Chris Large, Senior Partner
This post is part of a series looking at new perspectives caused by the coronavirus, and the opportunities to lead stronger social movements. Click here to view the first post in the series.
Opportunity 8. Ditching the detractors
Social isolation may have provided the time to explore what makes us happy, and it has also helped people to see more clearly what brings us down. When Jameela Jamil posted online to ask people if their grooming habits had changed, one 19 year-old from New Zealand responded “I find that this lockdown has just meant I wear the same few things, because no one is going to care if I'm in the same hoodie for a week”. Clothing sales are down 34% in March 2020 (ONS) which I imagine is a consequence of closed stores, but also people not feeling pressured to look immaculate 24/7 and deciding there is more to life than shopping. Not before time.
The regular Girlguiding survey has found that happiness rates have plummeted amongst 17-21 year old young women, with 27% saying they are now “not happy” most of the time, compared to just 11% in 2009. The majority of 11-21 year old girls say that they sometimes feel ashamed of the way they look because they don’t look like women and girls in the media, 71% know a girl or young woman who has experienced a mental health problem, and 30% go as far as considering cosmetic procedures like Botox. The Children’s Society estimates that over 100,000 children in the UK self-harm each year. Advertising through social media continues to heap on this pressure, but some of the social expectations to be perfect at all times has been reduced.
Environmental leaders have long asked us to save the world so that our grandchildren might enjoy it. But we need to create a ‘now’ that our children deserve, as well as a great future. Lost among the coronavirus crisis was an incredibly important summary of the challenges children have to face and the damage it does to their lives by the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission. They described that “predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country”. The WHO also continued to recognise the permanent health toll of air pollution, and here in London the average child in Tower Hamlets has a 10% lower lung capacity than the UK average, which stays with them throughout their entire lives.
As progressive leaders, we can assert that our children are being damaged now, and every day we delay action is another day of harm for young people. We can listen to how young people feel now, push for restrictions on pressure from advertising and social media, and help build resilience for the future. Put simply, we can demand a better today for children everywhere.
Opportunity 9. A new willingness to call out the self-interested
Sadiq Khan and Sir Paul McCartney are just two of many that have called out society’s inequality which has led to higher death tolls for the less wealthy, and worse conditions to endure in isolation. When millionaires Tim Martin (Wetherspoons) and Mike Ashley (Sports Direct) attempted to keep their pubs and shops open against lockdown advice, people on social media platforms, and in spontaneous worker movements, took no time at all to let them know this was unacceptable. These tycoons prioritised making money over people’s lives. We shouldn’t take lightly the fact that it was people power which forced men who are used to getting their way to back down.
Progressive leaders might now ask, will people stop buying from firms with self-interested owners and opt instead for firms that do good while providing essential products or actually sell services that boost our wellbeing? When people are platformed on live TV to spread their own propaganda (Tim Martin - “there is very low transmission of coronavirus in pubs”) it was people that held him to account, not the authorities. Aside from the Twitter and Facebook organic movements, can we find regular ways to use the vigilance of the population to ensure that those with only self-interest at heart are instead asked how they can better contribute to society?
Opportunity 10. People have seen that money can be found to solve crises
Another sticking point for solving environmental crises is money. People have found that the purchase price of environmentally responsible products is often higher – see organic produce, electric cars, even low energy lightbulbs. The public debate often stalls on a problem of how much it will cost the taxpayer to solve climate change, with no doubt that it will be the taxpayer that foots the bill. But in this crisis, billionaires have found billions of pounds to put towards solving the coronavirus crisis. Forbes is running a list of contributions by the wealthy.
For progressive leaders, this evidence that the money is out there, and can be accessed, could perhaps lead to new pleas. Perhaps the billionaires are giving out of empathy and compassion, or perhaps out of a superman-like ego. Either way, protests harangue and harass the super-rich, but perhaps we can appeal to their compassion, show that we need them, ask for their help, and be grateful when it arrives. Here’s one example. If just one fast-fashion billionaire (who shall remain nameless) were to give all their wealth away, except for $2bn to “live on”, they could double the entire national budgets for healthcare, agriculture, education, infrastructure, housing and all public services for the 34 poorest countries on the planet for an entire year. They would be a superhero for millions of people. I can only imagine the feeling of satisfaction that this sort of life achievement would bring.
Future gazing has never been such a popular past time as it is at present. It is decades since we have been so open to change. If we work together as movements to channel this we can shape a future which is better for us and our planet. Please do get in touch with [email protected] to discuss how we can join forces.