Conjunctural Insurrections – “Protest and the Pandemic”

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the unjust and unhealthy character of the capitalist economic and social system. The government-imposed lockdowns across the world necessitated activists to reconfigure protest even while street mobilizations emerged in different forms.

First, activists are adapting to remote organizing, building their bases, sharpening their messaging, and planning strategies for the post-pandemic period. For example youth activists have moved the global climate strikes online, conducting tweetstorms, developing toolkits for civic action, and organizing teach-ins. Remote organizing has had tangible material effects. Strikes have been organized by Amazon workers in France and the United States because of the reluctance of the company to provide masks, gloves, and paid sick leave to their employees.

Second, new tools of protest are being developed. For example, since late March in the US, “drive-by protests” involving hundreds of cars have taken place in New Jersey, Louisiana, Illinois and North Carolina to show solidarity with the immigrant community while social distancing, demanding that all nonviolent incarcerated people and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees be released in order to stop the spread of the virus and save thousands of lives.

Third, activists in the UK, US and across Europe have developed mutual aid networks as part of ongoing movement building, securing food, shelter, medical supplies, childcare, and elderly care. For example, in Chile, Coordinadora Feminista 8M have launched a feminist emergency plan that includes coordinating caring duties and mutual support against gender-based violence.

Fourth, Black Lives Matter activists have merged online organising with street protests to make the invisible visible, bringing racial injustices and police violence into public view, thereby inspiring action – such as the projection of George Floyd’s face against the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, and creative solutions such as defunding the police.

While the pandemic can generate feelings of fear, anxiety and social conformity, at the heart of these protests are a range of forms of cultural disobedience that attempt to subvert, challenge and transform dominant cultural norms in order to build more just and healthy societies.

Paul Routledge, School of Geography, University of Leeds:

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