protest in the pandemic:
the blog  #04


20. 05. 2020 

This blog is a collection of ideas that were scattered across different minds in different parts of the world.
The Salwa Reading Circuit brings people together for an intellectual dance of sorts. Here we attempt to retrace the steps, connect the dots and reflect on propositions and possibilities.



Why Protest? Why Now?

The act of protesting is something that seems to be part of our nature; for centuries humans have fought against injustice, almost equal to how many humans were responsible for it. Protest is also versatile; it does not necessarily have to be organized or large scale. Once my little sister refused to leave the “time out” corner she had been sent to; she fell asleep standing up to protest the very idea of having been punished in the first place. The guilt worked on my parents and she never had another time out- it was genius.

This week our conversation began with glimpses of our own experiences with protest. It was interesting to see how protest is so often accompanied by some kind of risk we knowingly or unknowingly expose ourselves to; our bodies become the battlefield when we risk being harassed, being assaulted by the police, being thrown into a male prison as transgender woman or even putting our organs under stress through a hunger strike. There seems to be very specific conditions under which we can participate in protests safely. For some this meant bringing along a male guardian to a woman’s suffrage protest while for others it meant not going at all. We also talked about how protests can be an opportunity to learn more about those we disagree with, but walking into an anti-immigration protest with the possibility of being identified as an “outsider” comes with its own unique risks. In many ways, to protest is to become vulnerable; we wondered is there a way to embrace this vulnerability without getting hurt?

The question of why we should protest turned into a question of how to choose a cause when there is so much we’d like to change? We discussed how protests can be very specific and how, to reach an outcome, protest groups and movements often have to “compromise” with governments and unfortunately that usually means settling for less. That is, until they are able to regroup and mobilize once again for more change. What a process! Would larger, more intersectional protests be a better alternative? This is debatable as divisions within large groups can also be challenging.
But is the present moment really an opportunity? And if so, what is it that we would like to change right now? We reflect on the word protest itself, how it implies that we are “pro” something when quite often we protest against; against tyranny, injustice and oppression. Reframing this to protesting to hold on to what we value; freedom, justice, nature and love, almost makes protest a way of life rather than a onetime event. It makes daily choices an act of protest, something many people have already been doing. We thought about using the word “rally” instead. Instead of thinking what are we willing to risk our lives for, what about what we are willing to live for?


But how can we turn this into something tangible and organized? We see there tends to be a mismatch in the scale of action. Once again, local action becomes the focal point as we discussed the localism vs. globalism addressed in Never Waste a Crisis. The rent strikes happening around the world led us to consider how maybe it is not a huge intersectional protest that we need but rather to connect together all of these smaller scale specific actions; to place them as puzzle pieces in a larger picture. Initiatives like rent strikes happening around the world today all have something in common, they are responding to inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, and so they may actually be more organized than they intended or expected. Perhaps now is the time to trace where the action is and give it meaning; to connect the dots.

As we talked about the small scale, the specific and that which we can do with less risk, we looked to art for some hope. One way to protest peacefully and safely is to be an artist. The diverse nature of art is an invitation to try different approaches to protest, to learn, try again and stay active. Even though in many countries art that addresses politics can be seen as an even bigger threat by those in power, a state cannot crack down on artists without exposing its own inherent weaknesses. Exposing those weaknesses is a small victory in itself. Whether we have the capacity to take big or small steps towards the world we wish to live in, it is important to remember that we should not be too hard on ourselves for not doing enough.