West Bank Park in Acomb isn’t a bad place to spend a sunny afternoon, especially when there’s live music, gardening tips, and community arts projects involved… Despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19, a better world is within reach.

Lockdown continues: ambiguous statements from the government, vague social distancing measures, and the ongoing underpayment of key workers. At least in York, the end seems to be in sight… In the last 18 days, there has been one single confirmed case of the virus. The city’s central park, Museum Gardens, opens to the public today. Restaurants, hotels and attractions will reopen from July 4th.

Given concerns over a second wave, it remains to be seen whether this is the end of lockdown or not. What we can be sure of, though, is that the world is desperate for sustainable change. Movements are coming together to challenge the status quo and demand a new state of play.

Building back better

As global communities grapple with the COVID crisis, how do we build back better? Yesterday, XR York hosted a public event at West Bank Park to answer this critical question.

Based on the 5 key demands of the Build Back Better (BBB) campaign, activists demonstrated how local people can come together to find solutions to our world’s biggest problems:

  1. Secure the health and needs of all via sustainable agriculture and organic growing practices.
  2. Protect and invest in our public services.
  3. Rebuild society with a Green New Deal; investing in renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, and the reemployment of industrial workers in a green transition.
  4. Invest in people by asking locals what should be invested in and how.
  5. Build solidarity and community across borders with a focus on the debt owed to developing countries.

Visitors were invited to follow a trail that looped around the park with five different installations to interact with, each linked to the above themes.

Supporting a Green New Deal

Decorative posters and placards lined the park’s play area, explaining the benefits of a Green New Deal. Visitors were able to take part in interactive displays, including an ‘Invest In People’ arts project displaying visitors’ priorities.

Putting people before profit

“We’ve got loads of questions and ideas for people to respond to,” explained Luisa, one of the event’s organisers. “We’re asking people to write their ideas for a better post-COVID world on little cardboard people and planting them out so they can see the things they want for a better society.”

Another installation, set up in partnership with Edible York, featured a delivery from the Organic Pantry and produce grown in local allotments.

“This stall is on the theme of securing our needs now and into the future in a sustainable way,” said XR York’s Adam, who owns an allotment near Walmgate Stray. “We decided to concentrate on local food production, partnering with Edible York to make links between people who are growing their own produce.”

Take your pick…

“We’re also looking at soils and taking a slightly bigger view of how a rational approach to agriculture could produce food in a more sustainable way and build the soil up.”

In collaboration with Keep Our NHS Public York, the next installation called out the consistent neglect of healthcare and the importance of public, properly funded health services.

Throughout the afternoon, live music was played by members of XR York and local musicians. The songs added a festival feel to the event, and delivered challenging social commentary in an accessible way.

It’s not an XR event if there are no instruments involved…

Please rebel responsibly

During the event, XR York activists carried out social distancing to ensure members of the public were kept safe when taking part in interactive installations. Face masks and sanitiser were available at all times and all craft materials (such as marker pens) were removed and sanitised after use.

For the foreseeable future, XR York will continue hosting main meetings online. When any face-to-face actions are planned, the group will ‘rebel responsibly’ by social distancing. The use of face masks and gloves will be encouraged, and government guidelines will be followed as they develop. It might not be in XR’s nature to conform, but our top priority is to protect ourselves and others against the virus at all times.

No going back

Our ‘new normal’ is not so new anymore. After months of COVID lockdown, it’s now that we must think carefully about what we want our post-virus world to look like.

BBB is supported by various NGOs, charities, trade unions and community groups, representing the shift towards a ‘movement of movements’. We’re seeing a revival of the collective activism which characterised the 1960s. This time, the stakes are even higher.

XR York has chosen to support BBB because it takes a measured, tangible approach to change. What BBB does is contextualise the steps we need to take in a way that is general enough to encourage unity, but flexible enough for interpretation. With hope, these demands will inspire change the world over, and finally put people before profit.

To find out more about the Build Back Better campaign, visit: www.buildbackbetteruk.org.

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