Geoff works for the local council of a UK city; he is also a journalist and writer. We talked to him in August about volunteering during lock-down, how the pandemic is being handled, conspiracy theorists, the politics of the pandemic, and how the world is changing forever.
‘I was thinking of talking about some volunteer work I was doing; it was one of the mutual aid projects. Basically, I volunteer for the Labour party. When the pandemic came in and lock-down started, the Labour party responded really quickly and made a real damn cool project delivering food to people, then eventually we connected people with distributors that could get them cheap food. There was also a medication delivery service, so volunteers would go to the chemist, pick up your medication and deliver it to you. That is what I signed up to do with my wife.
When the pandemic started I was horrified and wanted to make sure everyone stayed safe. But I was also really curious, being a writer and a journalist, I didn’t want to be locked down, I wanted to go out safely and with purpose and see how this is going on, because it is historic. So I signed up to go out delivering medication to everyone.
There were controls like police checkpoints stopping people and asking them what they were doing, and I was like ‘okay, I have this magic badge, my ‘I am on official business’ badge’. And it meant that me and my wife could get out, and not be stuck in the house. So it was a real benefit for us as well as a benefit for those who got their medication. There was one lady who I got medication for regularly for a few months, and she got me a beautiful Thank You card and flowers, and chocolates.
It was really cool being part of the network of solutions. And pretty soon the city came up with a city-wide non-partisan scheme. It is really interesting, there were so many different mutual aid schemes going on; there were these other volunteers who were very right wing, and they were doing their own delivery network. And that is fine, because whoever needed the support got it, but lots of people were getting involved in mutual aid to boost their political position, how they were seen in the city. That is what we were doing as well, but unlike some more ad hoc groups, we were very careful to make sure we were data protection compliant and everything else. Our scheme stopped around midsummer, but I know there are a lot of people who are still delivering, and I am still delivering for one gentleman once a month.
There are lots of people who are still shielding, who are taking the pandemic very seriously and know something about epidemiology. As the year progresses and it gets colder and forces people inside the virus is going to spread a lot more. We have some risk factors but are in extremely good health, so apart from the delivery work we were pretty much locked down and we locked down a month before everyone else. I went and had my last drink in the pub and then we locked down, and the only time we went out was for exercise or the prescription runs.
Me and my friends, we read shit and we like science. I have done some socialising but it is always outside. I wear a mask whenever I go into an open public space. I have a lot of masks. I have some nice masks and then I have my ‘oh shit I have forgotten my mask mask’. Eventually we will all get used to carrying one; I think this is permanent with the masks.
I have been to one pub for an hour inside, and I probably won’t make a habit of that. I may book a table in my local pub beer garden, we miss it and it is important; it’s like ‘this is our pub’. But we are not doing the usual socialising. I don’t want to get this virus; it sounds terrible. Anything where I can’t breathe; I have got asthma. You don’t know how you are going to react to it and I would not be able to live with myself if I gave the virus to someone else.
I think a lot of us are looking at winter with a sense of apprehension. I am pretty sure we are going to have second waves, it’s not going away, it’s all going to be a total mess. It will be used as a way to totally crack down on our civil liberties and at the same time a lot of people are going to die. With the Spanish Flu the second wave was worse.
But two things can be true at the same time. We need to be looking at public health measures, social distancing and doing tracking and tracing. But we also need to be looking at our civil liberties, and making sure that they are not abrogated. There are definitely software solutions in place that would allow public health to track us without the state being able to track us.
In regards to conspiracy theorists, it is very interesting; there is a real contradiction going on. For example, white supremacists want all of the migrants to be shot and thrown into the sea by a very muscular, powerful state, but on the other hand are saying ‘I am not going to wear a mask, I am not going to be vaccinated, fuck this state control’. There is a disconnect, a cognitive dissonance, a contradiction in their thoughts.
It is something we have seen in history before, you can read Hannah Arendt, and others like that, and see all of the indications of fascism. For example, in Nazi Germany, you can see there were people glorying in that massive muscular Reich, that huge state, but they also thought they were canny, they were awake, saying ‘Wake up sheeple’! Look at this massive global Jewish conspiracy!’ I think that is what is going on with the plandemic folks, with the anti-mask activism folks. The language they use is liberatory, but the political movements they support are right wing, being critical of social justice movements, Black Lives Matter, stuff like that.
As Trotsky said, ‘If you cannot convince a fascist you should acquaint their face with the pavement’. In a socially distanced manner of course; gloves on first!
I went to the Black Lives Matter protest; that was the only mass event that I went to, but I felt safe covid-wise. There was a massive crush of people swarming all over the cop shop; I wanted to be in that massive crush so much, but we stayed in the safe family-friendly area across the road. We did not get within 6 feet of anybody.
I think that this is going to be permanent, there are going to be more outbreaks, and we will all end up inoculated (ironically that is the word I want to use) to this pandemic response thing. This is the way it will be now, this is the start of a kind of dystopia that we will live in. I think this is the time that privacy, autonomy, the right to assemble, end; they have all gone now.
I think that fascism is more likely to happen now. The co-optation of things like our NHS, all this ‘thank our NHS’…. fucking pay our NHS. Fucking strengthen trade union protections. Stop privatising, stop being mad at Corbyn for leaking the papers about privatising our NHS, and get mad about the planned privatisation; he (Johnson) is going to sell it to Trump. And that girl who is the CEO from Talk Talk being put in charge of public health?
I tell you who else I don’t think is doing a good job either nationally? Keir Starmer. Can you imagine what Jeremy Corbyn would have been saying if he was still leader of the opposition? There would have been a massive socialist movement to save our NHS, agitating for a universal basic income, agitating for an end to evictions and deportations.
But on a local level one of the great things about working for the city is that you can help a lot of people every day, those who are food insecure, housing insecure, people who are on furlough, have just got the sack. Locally, I wouldn’t change a thing about how the pandemic has been handled. We were testing in our care homes before other areas were, we did a great job with what we had. Nationally, the government has totally choked us money-wise. The local council was promised money for the pandemic, and they are reneging on those promises, we are millions of pounds short.
Nationally, we should have locked down a month before we did, a lot earlier. People and supplies were let through that probably exacerbated the problem. We could have locked down way earlier, but what we really need is socialism. A universal basic income, a national care service, a national food service, for the NHS to be revitalised. Services to be universally available to everyone. That is how you stop a fucking pandemic, rather than this privatised neoliberal thing we have going on now.
There are countries with the same population density or greater who had close to no cases, because people listened to the government because people actually trusted their government. Whilst here the conservative government has kind of reified and operationalised the distrust, conspiracy theory, racist, right wing gammon, the petty Nazi Brexit bullshit; and that is their base, the ‘I don’t trust experts’ cohort is in charge. And then you have Boris Johnson, that is a really good recipe for a shit Coronavirus response.
I think people need to continue to do the social distancing, put their masks on to protect others, but it’s not just that. Where you have privilege and capacity, can you help others? Can you help a homeless person? Can you subsidise someone who is food insecure? Can you as an employer keep your staff on and not furlough them? Keep them paid and employed? Can you be in a room where decisions are being made that will affect thousands and risk your own safety, your children’s future prospects, and stand up for people? People have to consent to risk in order to change the world. In other parts of the world people have no choice but to consent to risk, but here in the western world we often have the option to hide from risk.
I don’t know if anything positive has come of this yet. The normal answer is ‘oh, everyone has come together because of the pandemic, shared their food and given each other toilet paper’. That has happened, and many networks have started up, many connections have been made between people, many have increased their resilience, I am one of them. But it’s not over yet.
You can look at World War 2 oral history projects, people talking about how they put on their headscarves, went to work in a factory, gained experience, gained resilience. I think there are people who have gained skills now, but we haven’t seen anything yet, we could all get squished like a bug. But the economic situation is going to hit us like a tonne of bricks; there is going to be massive food insecurity, homelessness, unemployment. We ain’t seen nothing yet.’
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