It seems we are emerging from the first wave of COVID19 lockdowns with restrictions being lifted across Australia to varying degrees.
Governments, businesses, tourist operators and others are looking forward to things returning to “normal” but is that what we really want? Do we want things to return to the “same as it ever was” to quote the Talking Heads from their 1980 song Once in a Lifetime or do we want something different? Something more?
Do we want to return to people who have lost their job, for whatever reason, to be living in poverty on $40 a day or do we want a fairer system where people are not left behind or consigned to the rubbish pile?
Do we want a welfare system that continues to punish the most vulnerable while the top end of town continues to grow a pool of wealth?
Do we want to return to a place where we are disconnected from our neighbours or do we want a closer local community?
We are at what some managerial specialists would call a decision point. It is not just up to government or business to make this decision but we all have a role to play.
consumers, clients or are we citizens?
Government of all levels, service providers and many agencies have been re-educating us for a number of years so that we have stopped being citizens with an active role to play in the mechanism of government to being clients or, even worse, consumers.
As a citizen I have a number of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. I have the right to vote to elect representatives to public office who are answerable to the community for the decisions they make. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of my beliefs, traditions and background. I have the right to be treated fairly under the law. I have the right to live in peace without resorting to violence to necessitate change.
I have freedom of speech but have a responsibility to ensure my freedom is expressed respectfully and does not harm others. Likewise, others have the same freedom.
I have freedom of association. This means I can join political parties, social groups, cultural groups, religious organisations, trade unions. I can also refuse to join any of these.
I have freedom of religion and freedom from religion if I so choose.
I have a responsibility to taxation, vote in elections and referendums to treat others with dignity and respect.
Being a citizen is a powerful way to be. I can hold elected representatives to a standard, I can question their decisions, I can provide input into how decisions are made. But as a consumer or client this power is removed. the balance between people, government, service providers becomes skewed. It is no longer one of equal footing but one where the power is in the hands of the government, business or service provider.
As citizens we can make our voices heard for change. We can lobby our elected representatives to make policy and legislation that guarantees an effective safety net for those in need. We have an untapped power
Do we want to return to this place where our power is minimised or do we want to realise our power as citizens and be involved in our political and social processes? Citizenship is a largely untapped power source.
The period of lockdown or physical isolation (ISO if you are in Australia) has seen a change in how many see their neighbourhoods and local community. We have, out of necessity, been at home. This means we have probably had greater contact with our neighbours, spoken more to those around us and many of us have been creative in creating a greater connection with those around us. There have been sunset drinks in the driveway, driveway dinners, social media pages created to connect with neighbours, leaflets dropped in letterboxes offering assistance to others, virtual afternoon tea or drinks via video conferencing. People have shopped locally rather than travel to the CBD. This has increased opportunities to bump into other neighbours.
In short, we have built capital between us and others. This increased connection with its increased level of trust is often referred to as social capital. This capital is brought about through developing relationships and creates a shared identity with others, shared norms of behaviour, shared values and leads to a spirit of cooperation and security. It has sometimes been referred to as “the glue that holds us together”.
The real challenge is in maintaining this connection and capital once we return to working away from home. What we do next is important in determining whether our community connection deepens or weakens. It really is up to us.
As always, there is much more I could have written but this is a good start.
We are at an important, once in a generation, decision point. Do we really want to return to a situation where my rights, freedoms and responsibilities as a citizen are trivialised or do I want to take up the mantle of my citizenship? Do I want to return to disconnection or do I want a close and deep experience of community?
This is a decision for each of us.