protest in the pandemic:
the blog #06

09. 06. 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.

Beautiful Troubles

Only a few weeks ago we began discussing what it would take to protest during a pandemic and now as we speak, the Black Lives Matter movement in America is fighting back against systemic racism and police brutality harder than ever before with mass protests spreading around the country and being echoed globally. Building on our conversation about tickling giants, this week we explored protest tactics as we discussed racism and how to potentially support the BLM movement from where we stand.

Something that came up frequently was this idea that people are disconnected, they do not know each other and that makes it challenging to find empathy and understanding. One starting point to tackle this could be to create opportunities for people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities to have difficult yet important conversations by offering concrete scripts and conversation starters.

We also reflected on the current reality that simple daily activities that are part of most people’s routines are in fact dangerous for Black people in America; jogging, barbequing at the park or even sleeping in their own house. There’s a whole list here. One idea was to have everyone do these activities in an exaggerated way, shedding light on how it feels to constantly be trying to act “normal”. People tend to feel distant from these issues that don’t affect them and so we must bring attention and actively acknowledge these privileges.

Protests are sustained when people have space to express themselves, from grief, anger and frustration to pride, playfulness and humour. We talked about how sentiments are a powerful element of protests and how there is a strong need for a sense of belonging. Looking at the protests in Slovenia, it was interesting to see this sense of belonging being harnessed against corruption in a regime that would likely use the same sentiments to maintain the status quo. We were told how the Slovenian government has attempted to appropriate these sentiments but in the process only amplified the authenticity of the people protesting on the streets. We see how the game can be shaped in a way that politicians can’t play. This is especially true when it comes to humour and parody in protests; they allow people to not take governments seriously and therefore dismantle their power and status in ways they themselves cannot fully comprehend or respond to. We wondered however, how can we make these local and national sentiments travel?

Acknowledging that protests can be difficult to maintain, we thought about ways to keep the momentum going and the challenges that arise. On the one hand, challenges can be repressive governments but what if the government and police are open and accepting of protests? What do we bargain with in that case? The Netherlands is a brilliant example of this; when everything is more or less “okay”, living standards are high and there is space to express opposition freely. We considered how friction may be a necessary part of protest; there is something disheartening about having protests exist in their own corner while daily life proceeds as usual. Having the freedom to protest is a privilege many people do not have but perhaps they should be more than a familiar disruption, more than reality’s commercial break. 

Protest and resistance are a different game when things are fractured but not completely broken. High standards of life can make it more difficult for people to be empathetic towards the struggle of others when it seems so far from their own experience. We compared blatant police brutality and racism to micro aggressions and invisible segregation and considered how it can be difficult to gather masses to resist the less obvious injustices. It becomes a question of which lives are worth saving and which lives are worth risking; a question we have been faced with frequently during this pandemic. But we all know that immunity is not static and privileges are not set in stone. For this reason, whether our governments are responsive or negligent, we must keep our skills sharp and keep training our tactics. We end by acknowledging that momentum is not enough, that resistance needs nurture and maintenance and that we must continue to learn and collect new strategies and tactics along the way.