The end of the COVID-19 pandemic may finally be in sight, but some advocates are hoping things don’t go back to the way they were.
“Getting to feel solidarity together in those moments of crisis is actually something we need to build upon and not just wait until we’re in a massive worldwide crisis again,” Erica Violet Lee, an organizer with the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition said.
Throughout the pandemic, Lee has called for police and prisons to be abolished in order to create a more equitable and less violent justice system.
Social movements, as well as the virus, swept across the globe in 2020. Demonstrators in many countries chanted and marched through the streets calling for changes to policing and structural inequality after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, for nearly eight minutes.
Floyd died and Chauvin is facing second-degree murder charges in Minnesota.
Hundreds of people took part in Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches in Saskatchewan. Some had signs that read “Indigenous Lives Matter,” while others read “Abolish the police.”
Lee said the shared vulnerability to the virus created empathy and action — which she hopes continues after the pandemic ends.
“We have to ask ‘what in our system wasn’t working before the pandemic?’” she said.
Colleen Christopherson-Cote agrees.
Christopherson-Cote is part of the Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to COVID-19: a collection of shelters, food banks and charities that have been working with the provincial government to help the city’s most vulnerable people.
She told Global News that harmonization — and above all, the urgency with which they worked — must remain after everyone in the province receives their vaccine.
One pandemic may appear to be ending, but she said other health crises are still raging.
“The folks that work in this sector would say that homelessness, poverty and overdoses are pandemics,” she said over Zoom.
“And so, yes, it is a public health crisis.”
She also said the threat the pandemic poses to people, either through infection or lack of income, has made everyone more aware of how other people live.
“There are a lot of folks who are vulnerable to COVID, but there are lots of folks who are made vulnerable by COVID. And they had a glimpse into that cycle of poverty and the lack of ability to meet and to make ends meet.”
Both Lee and Christopherson-Cote said whether the distribution of vaccines is done fairly could be an indicator as to whether or not lessons have been learned.