From March to May, as many of us were adjusting and settling into quarantine life, we began thinking and talking about a “new normal.”
In an article by People magazine, Nick Tilsen, of NDN Collective said, “Everyone says, ‘I can’t wait until things get back to normal.’ There’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Normal never did us justice.’ The normal meant injustices for Indigenous people. The normal meant underinvestment of our people. The normal meant fossil fuel industry exploiting our lands and our communities. This is a point in time for me where (I) don’t want to go back to supporting the same old economic systems and the same old energy systems. There’s opportunity here to architect and build a new world.”
We must get used to and comfortable with people being in dedicated, committed, and prolonged uprising.
Arundhati Roy in the Financial Times said, “Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality,” trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
Well, I don’t think anyone expected the new normal to be here so quickly, but here it is.
Across the country and the world, people are engaged in civil disobedience, uprising, and rebellion. And we are not just showing up for one issue such as just ending police brutality, or just for George Floyd, although his killing was a catalyst. People are coming out and showing up to dismantle and tear out white supremacy from its root and demand justice for the many who have been slaughtered at the hands of police violence.
In my humble opinion, if these are our goals, we must get used to and comfortable with people being in dedicated, committed, and prolonged uprising. In fact, I believe that’s what this “new normal” is, and I hope that these protests go well into November and beyond until we see accountability and real, tangible actions taken by cities, states, and the country to abolish racism and white supremacy.
I see communities begin to imagine what our world looks like without police.
Prolonged uprising is not the only thing that is a part of this new normal. Here’s what I am also seeing:
Communities continue to practice deep care for one another. We are making and distributing masks and safety equipment for each other. I see organizers and doctors talking to each other in ways that I’ve never seen before, to keep people healthy and safe from COVID-19.
I see folks building healing justice mutual aids so people on the front lines can sustain themselves emotionally and spiritually. I see mutual aids getting stronger and more connected for both COVID-19 response work and for those protesting and organizing to #DefendBlackLives.
I see editors from high profile media outlets offer coaching sessions on pitching articles so that more Black voices can be heard in the news cycle. I see the media industry build lists of Black photographers so they can tell their own stories about this moment, challenging extractive storytelling.
I see White folks show up in ways that I haven’t seen them show up before, ready to confront their internalized anti-blackness and eager to learn about and question white supremacy.
I see American voters support the Black Lives Matter movement more in the past two weeks than in previous years combined. I see policies, accountability, and institutional change with swiftness: Schools in Minneapolis have ended contracts with the police. The Minneapolis city council intends to disband the police and replace the department with a transformative model for public safety. In San Francisco, a resolution has passed to prevent the hiring of police officers with a history of misconduct. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Mayor has decided not to renew a live police department contract.
On a national level, I see bipartisan support to cut off access to military weapons for local law enforcement. I see momentum building to re-open cases for those who, like George Floyd, have been slain by police brutality and racism.
I see communities begin to imagine what our world looks like without police and individuals asking themselves, “What can I do instead of calling the police? How can I build trust and safety with the people around me, my neighbors, community, and so on?”
This is the new normal.
I see Twitter finally did something about 45’s violent and dangerous tweets, (although more needs to be done, such as deleting his account.)
I see Indigenous people and people of color being thoughtful and sensitive in messaging and narrative building so as to not erase the messages and strategies of the Black community. I see POC being cognizant of not centering their own struggles right now and respecting and honoring the leadership and vision of Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives, which is crucial for building lasting and trustworthy multiracial solidarity.
This is the new normal. Let’s keep it up.
I see civilians getting smarter and safer about digital technology and surveillance, using this technology in ways that keep our people safe, such as by blurring the faces of protesters and using secure apps for organizing.
Even during uprisings and a pandemic, I see people getting out to vote, the outcome being 22 Native candidates making it into the running for both Congress and state legislatures.
I see the distribution of wealth even during an economic recession.
I see Confederate statues being pulled down by civilians to wash their communities clean of glorifying racist historical figures that celebrate a system that has failed and oppressed so many.
Last but certainly not least, I see my people, my peers, and my comrades have hope, a feeling that’s been hard to feel and maintain while so many of our community members have died of COVID-19, which, let’s not forget, is also a racial justice issue. Seeing and feeling that rebirth of hope, faith, and energy has been one of the greatest highlights of this moment.
This is the new normal. Let’s keep it up. Let’s keep protesting, let’s keep unlearning and relearning, let’s keep honoring and respecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) leadership, let’s keep voting, let’s keep dismantling white supremacy within ourselves, our families, our workplaces, our institutions, and our government. Let’s keep moving resources from the police into Black and Brown communities. Let’s keep building the movement, making it stronger and bigger until we abolish the police and ICE and eradicate racism and white supremacy.
Perhaps it was being in our homes for months, having time to really reflect about how our systems work and don’t work. Perhaps it was watching our government fail us and seeing how our neighbors are the ones who, at the end of the day, are the ones who really have our backs. No matter what, I believe that COVID-19 set the stage for what we are seeing now. Like Arundhati Roy said, the pandemic was a “portal” for the new normal.
Jade Begay is Diné and Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico. Jade is a filmmaker, communications and narrative strategist, and Indigenous rights and climate activist. Jade has partnered with organizations like Resource Media, United Nations Universal Access Project, 350.org, Indigenous Environmental Network, Bioneers, Indigenous Climate Action, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, Allied Media Projects. Jade also worked with tribal nations from the Arctic to the Amazon to create multimedia, develop strategies, and build storytelling campaigns to mobilize and increase engagement around issues like climate change, Indigenous self-determination, environmental justice, and narrative change. Jade is the Climate Justice Campaign Director at NDN Collective.