Mohammad Ali once described impossible as “just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it”.
The Covid-19 pandemic made things which seemed ‘impossible’ happen overnight. For years we’ve heard that “you can’t just shut down everything.” But we did. We heard that “nothing is more important than the economy.” But we proved that’s not true. We were told that crisis would lead to chaos. And yet we saw outpourings of outrageous generosity and solidarity around the world. Ireland nationalized its hospitals. Canada introduced four months of basic income for those who had lost their jobs. Portugal granted full citizenship rights during the lockdown to immigrants and migrant workers. People emptied the streets and stadiums of the world in gestures of love for the vulnerable among us. The rules about what was ‘impossible’ were forever changed.
Similarly, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a whole number of ‘impossible’ things have taken place, including the removal of statues of slave-traders and racists that people had petitioned to be taken down for years, the creation of new laws (including Breonna’s Law) and policies limiting police use of choke-holds and other extreme measures. The New York Times Best Sellers list consisted entirely of books about racism and the Black experience for weeks. The very definition of ‘racism’ is changing, literally: Merriam-Webster Dictionary listened when 22 year-old Kennedy Mitchum wrote that the sense of “systematic oppression” was absent from the current entry, and is rewriting it.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake the society that we return to, to #ReturnToBetter rather than #ReturnToNormal. The global conversation on social media around those hashtags reached 79 million people in the month of June, and proponents of a Green Recovery, the Green New Deal, and alternate economic models like circular economies and Doughnut Economics are out in force. Voices around the world are calling on governments to use the turmoil to transform: to only bail out those companies that look after people and are kind to the planet. To invest in the safety nets that kept us safe, and to let go of the industries and policies that can be more dangerous than any virus. Impossible?
Like the definition of racism, the definition of impossible just changed.
Poet and author Sonya Renee Taylor was speaking from a joyful and defiant place when she declared “we will not go back to normal.” Something new and exciting can take the old normal’s place. New stories can replace those that once explained our world. As artists, activists, and imagineers, we have an important role in dreaming this #NewNormal into being. So let us take this multi-layer cake of mayhem that 2020 has offered up as an invitation to dream big. To dare. To champion ideas whose time has come. And to heed Mohammad Ali’s words and explore the power that each and every one of us have to transform what was once ‘impossible’ into the inevitable.
We CAN have a future with a strong, equitable, and just economy that reduces climate impacts and plastic pollution.
While we applaud the Bay Area’s efforts to ensure our safety, banning reusable bags moves us in the opposite direction.