The Interview: Pandemic Reminds us that ‘We Are All Relatives’, Munn-Venn Says
Karri Munn-Venn is Senior Policy Analyst at Citizens for Public Justice. She’s been watching the changes in practice wrought by the pandemic and the shifts in perspective it might produce.
The Energy Mix: How has your organization been responding to the pandemic?
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Munn-Venn: It’s such a unique moment, and we really want to make sure we get our engagement right and have something valuable to contribute.
We issued a special edition of our newsletter because there’d been news on refugees and migrants and the pandemic aid measures, and how they affect people living in poverty in Canada. We signed on to the letter on the oil and gas bailout led by Environmental Defence, and addressed the racism that Canadians of Asian descent have started to face. We don’t normally speak to issues of public health, but because everything is connected, we have had a lot to say.
Part of the challenge in the current moment is how to move forward in a way that legitimately moves us toward promoting the common good. We’ve been focused on the need to invest in a just transition that supports oil and gas workers as they move to other sectors, but also seeks to address some of the inequalities in our current system for racialized communities, low-income people, Indigenous peoples, so we’re not just recreating a system that benefits the people who’ve always benefited. This is a really important moment to do that.
The Mix: What’s changed for your community?
Munn-Venn: Faith communities are in the habit of coming together physically, so there’s been a lot of creative work so that people can have worship services online. People were doing that before, but not to the extent that it’s happening now, and it’s still a challenge for some. Some people don’t have access to the same community networks, and those are often the people we need to be most concerned about.
It’s interesting to hear that we can’t continue to move through this moment with a narrative of the house on fire, that it’s not going to get us anywhere. As a national organization that works with faith communities–some of which are very politically progressive and others that are not–we already had to be very clear about our recommendations and priorities, about meeting people where they are, recognizing that we weren’t going to change minds by arguing with people. You need to really be able to listen and be attentive.
The moment I saw the shift was when a group of us from a range of sectors held a news conference in mid-March to talk about what we wanted to see in what had been promised as a climate budget. The questions back from reporters were all about the pandemic and how we respond. It showed that this isn’t a moment to double down on the status quo, but to look at what’s being disrupted and the best ways we can move forward through that. What are the opportunities to provide full employment? What are the social supports that need to be put in place? How do we address the health, economic, and environmental challenges that are all coalescing right now? And how do we generate the motivation to implement solutions that we know exist, but have previously been too afraid or not willing to act on?
We knew the system we were operating in wasn’t working anymore. Like or not, we need to get to a point where we acknowledge that going back is not going to get us where we need to go.
I also think this current moment really does, in a stressful, anxiety-driven kind of way, cause us to look at how we do things and see how that will change. We’re learning how to save travel time, getting more comfortable about having bigger conversations remotely, where before we thought we all had to be in the same room together.
The Mix: What remains the same?
Munn-Venn: There is a strong sense of all being in this together. It’s interesting to see some of the ways it’s coming out. Political leaders are stepping up, and I have to appreciate the tone they’re taking and the way they’re working with each other. The National Indigenous Elders Council of the United Church of Canada released a letter titled We Are All Relatives. And with all that we’ve heard from Indigenous communities about our connectedness, I’ve been encouraged to see how different communities and voices are coming together. Everybody is seeing the impact right now, and that’s because we’re all connected.
The Mix: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Munn-Venn: I feel like this moment is a chance to do things differently and do them better. I know that many people are suffering desperately and I recognize that my perspective comes from a place of real privilege. But my hope is that through this, we will come together and look after one another, and that in doing so we’ll be able to build resilience so that the next time something like this happens, we will have restructured our systems so that more people are better protected.
So much of it, too, is that we need to take care of ourselves. I see people encouraging each other to just take care, because in the day-to-day, we forget that sometimes.
Follow-up: @publicjustice, @KarriMunnVenn