2 min read
Mon 16 Mar 2020 Writing

Weeknotes 12

Collective responses to COVID-19 and some thoughts on working remotely

What we got up to

Responding to COVID-19

The outbreak of Coronavirus in London has naturally taken up a lot of our time and attention this week. After weeks of general uncertainty and anxiety, we decided to start working from home on Friday.

If you're able to work from home, we urge you to do the same. Social distancing is our best way of slowing the spread of the virus and protecting those who are more vulnerable. That the UK government has only now (as of 1800 on Monday 16th of March) agreed to such measures makes us all very angry.

We recommend reading Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now , which explains how seriously we should be taking this crisis.

This is obviously an extremely difficult and stressful time for everyone. The uncertainty, spread of misinformation and lack of any real leadership from the government have left people distressed and confused. It's hard to strike a balance between staying informed and preserving mental health.

For this reason, we're trying to reduce how often we check social media and the news to twice a day. We're making sure we continue our daily check-ins, and are checking in with people in our wider network to find ways that we can help.

A crisis like this reveals how interdependent we all are. We need to make sure that we act with the community in mind and care for each other.

It also shows how important it is to organise and to collectively fight for a more adequate response to the crisis. Labour Transformed have written an open letter to the trade union movement:

Staying at home and self isolating is an act of social solidarity, one that ensures that the burden of ill bodies falling onto the shoulders of our brothers and sisters in the NHS is someway manageable. We demand all trade unions call for an immediate stoppage of non-essential work. We ask that union funds be made available to members taking this course of action, and that donations be made to support community initiatives like food banks and other services, which are essential for working class survival.

Of course, it's also an opportunity to rethink some of the fundamental political and economic structures that underpin our society. It's hard to ignore how quickly the "common sense" logic of capitalism falls apart at the seams.

James Meadway has written in Novara about how fundamentally we need to reshape our economy in response to the crisis:

As we try to look ahead, we must start to think of new ways of living and working, of rebuilding our social spaces and public services; not just mitigating the damage we are doing to nature – from the climate emergency to biodiversity loss – but learning to adapt, in a fair and humane way, to a changing planet.

Other work

It's hard to focus on anything else at the moment, but we're trying our best to continue "as normal". We kicked off a new consultancy project on Friday, for a political organisation in Australia. Luckily, this project demands remote working by default.

Aside from this, we continued our work for Progressive International , sent out a few more proposals and confirmed a new project.

Working remotely

We decided to test out a few different remote working tools and methodologies, to learn more about what works best. We have already set up a range of practices and tools geared towards remote working, such as Notion , Capsule and GitHub .

However, we still usually work from the same space for most of the week and are reliant on being able to talk to each other at any time. We thought that this is a good opportunity to learn more about remote working and to get better at it.

We started with Discord , a free voice and text chat platform for gamers. We thought it was a good one to start with, as it's a popular platform and we know from past experience that it works well. They've spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve performance and reduce lag.

We started the day with our usual check-in and stand-up meeting, as a video call. The video quality was very high, without any lag or drop out. We usually use the Sociocratic method of speaking in rounds during our meetings. We implemented this remotely by following the username order in Discord, and naming the next person when we finished speaking.

From there, we disabled video and switched to "Push to Talk" mode. This means that the call continues, with everyone on mute. If anyone wants to speak, they can press a keyboard shortcut and will be heard by the other members of the chat.

Working in this way feels a bit more similar to working in the same space together. There's less friction when you do want to talk to someone – rather than messaging or calling, you can just start speaking. For any non-urgent matters, we messaged in the chat instead.

Advice for you

We're happy to give advice to any activist organisation that is working out how to shift their organising to digital spaces. Reach out to us at hello@commonknowledge.coop or book a call.

What we're reading

We joined the teach-outs at the UCU picket line at Central St Martins on Monday afternoon, for a conversation between Cooperation Town , London Renters Union and a few branches of United Voices of the World (Architectural Workers, Design + Cultural Workers, and Strippers + Sex Workers).

Each group spoke about why they exist, what they do, and why we need unions, grassroots organising and mutual aid in all aspects of our lives. We also read through 101 Notes on the LA Tenants Union for Strike Radio :

When we re-envision the housing crisis as a tenants’ rights crisis, we understand why the crisis seems to be permanent, a feature not a bug since the 1920s, and why what we call solutions—affordability covenants that expire, subsidies like Section 8 that no landlord will accept—seem only to fail.

When you call this crisis a housing crisis, you misunderstand the problem as one of production—the so-called “shortage”—and not of distribution. There are two vacant investor-owned homes for every houseless person in the country; cities overbuild luxury housing to appease investors, and the rents for working people do not decline despite that glut.

We are also looking at the classic textbook on strategy Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt.

Though primarily about business and even military strategy, it does give some interesting lessons for political strategy that is useful for social movements.

One important lesson is that at the baseline an effective strategy is to actually have one. What most people describe as a strategy isn't one at all, which is something Rumelt is quite forensic about with his category of "bad strategy".