There is a common thread in footage in documentaries broadcast regarding our contested past. In the old grainy photographs of the late 1960s and 1970s in scenes of pogrom, bombings, violent internment raids, protest against injusticeand discrimination of its various incarnations, this unmistakable theme is on display. Community solidarity.

Lorries being driven by brave souls who drove into scenes of violence and fire to rescue families and their few belongings. Civilians using bare hands to find the living and dead from bombed out buildings. Women standing between raised batons and their sons being arrested. Lines and lines of women, men and children marching, standing holding hand writtenplacquards demanding better, demanding change, demanding dignity. The spirit of solidarity. The spirit of freedom. The spirit of love for the common citizen.

Today and over the past few strange, upsetting weeks this same spirit has been on display across our city. As workplaces “go remote”, close for a furlough, close forever, we see the citizens of Belfast look around them. Who needs help? What help is going to be needed in coming weeks? 

Lists of the vulnerable are being drawn up in local areas. Who is elderly? Who is sick? Who needs to isolate? Are they ok? Pubs that were rocking to “the sounds of the 70s” before St Patrick’s Day, have been turned into centres gathering food and necessities for the vulnerable. Community centres see lines of volunteers managing social distancing while communally putting boxes and bags together for distribution. Shops and suppliers donating donuts, pot noodles and washing up liquid in trailer loads. Community workers on phones checking in, breaking isolation. Neighbours collecting prescriptions and putting them on garden walls. Grandchildren mowing grass and waving in at grandparents through the window while leaving dinner on the doorstep.

From decisive and coordinated community actions to the gentle noticing and caring of neighbours who were once strangers we see something incredible awakening from this silent, invisible virus. The decency of our population is mobilised in unselfish ways as though there was a war on. 

Of course, this happens while there are others fighting for their lives and medical teams fight with them. The unselfish vocations of medical staff is on display. All of us who have placed our lives in the hands of the doctors and nurses of our health service will have spoken of Angels and our gratitude in times past. But we see now how those angels can also carry shields and swords to go into battle to save the lives of those we love. They will fight for us all. 

That health service personnel have been left without their armour due to dithering, disinvestment, or even constitutional allegiance, is unforgivable.  While the rest of the world, Europe and the southern government have come together and are getting equipment to protect our health staff and ventilators to save our sick, the British government is messing around. That is not an Orange vs Green issue. That is a rest of the world vs ideological space cadets issue. We can see it. Cowards might not. Those calling it out are doing their duty. 

When we are out the other side we will remember these days and remember those who stood up, made the phone calls, gathered and delivered the supplies and noticed those in need.


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