Navigating Sustainability: Jessyn Farrell, Former State Representative 46th District

Navigating Sustainability: Jessyn Farrell, Former State Representative 46th District

By Jessyn Farrell, former State Representative 46th District

“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.”

Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic is a Portal”

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to stay home, ripped our social bonds, created economic hardship for millions and shone a glaring spotlight on the racial injustices riven through our society.  And, yet, in the midst of this upheaval we are challenged to imagine our world anew.  What we will keep from the past and what we will leave behind.  What we need to recreate. In the words of Arundhati Roy, “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.” On July 23rd, we came together at the Navigating Sustainability Conference to imagine together what the world looks like on the other side of the portal.

One of the themes on my mind is this near universal experience of isolation and how viscerally difficult it is to be physically apart from each other.  How hard it is to refrain from cuddling my one year-old niece.  How much I miss family gatherings where we sit around a table laughing and enjoying a meal.  My work colleagues.  Meeting a friend in a coffee shop. Greeting people with hugs.

So many of us are struggling with the isolation Stay at Home orders have brought.  And I hope that we can take this lived experience of isolation going forward to fight against all the ways isolations infuses our cultural narratives and policy choices.  For example, the ages old impulse to stigmatize and shame survivors of abuse. The lack of support for families of young children including adequate family leave and accessible quality childcare.  The use of suspension and expulsion in our schools and the disproportionate impact on Black students.  The reliance on solitary confinement in our prisons. 

In these slower, quieter days of staying home (though with three kids at home all the time “quieter” may not be the right word!) I imagine how we might bring a renewed commitment to the importance of human connection and attachment in our policy-making. For we are social animals, thriving when we are able to cooperate, collaborate and connect with each other.  What would the world – and our relationship to each other – be like on the other side of the portal be like if we massively scaled up investments in our social care infrastructure or opened 100s of miles of our city streets to walking, biking, playing, shopping, and dining to name just a couple of big ideas?

Going forward we should create systems and policies that create and celebrate connection for each of us.  In the words of one Navigating Sustainability participant, we should develop policies that “weave a ribbon of connection” through our communities, neighborhoods and families.  Though we have long months ahead of us, it is possible to see a better, more interconnected and interdependent world through the portal. I look forward to continuing to build it with you. 

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