Social Activism in a Pandemic

Image Above – Hologram Protest in Madrid in 2015 in response to a law that would have greatly curtailed citizens’ rights to gather in public protest.

What to do when you can’t go out and organize mass protests? Get creative. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and in response to this unprecedented moment, we are seeing a proliferation of creative tactics that build community and pressure the powerful. Check out these ideas for planning activities during various stages of lockdown.

Train for the win: What better time to host an online training than now? Education and training have been documented as strategically critical for winning movements.

Here are other actions you may take to pressure people in power when mass public gatherings are off-limits: 

1. Shine a light on it: Guerrilla projections and protest holograms require just a few people, and often require no permit! Consider projecting a live feed of comments as well.

Hologram Protest in Madrid in 2015. Photo@isabelgalvin

2. Mass distributed phone-banking: A new take on gathering in person to phone-bank. From our own homes, we can all connect digitally and then simultaneously call elected officials with demands, encourage the public to take a specific action, or canvass community members to see if they need support.

3.Hashtag campaigns:  Using a common visual element or #hashtag, people can share on their own channels while contributing to a bigger collated story, making a “social media bullhorn.”

4. Connect online to offline activities like phone blockading, displaying themed art in windows or singing out your windows.

5. Artistic vigil: Ask people to place signs (downloaded or made-at-home) visibly in their window or doors. (Find some great ideas for signs and slogans here.) Or invite them to engage in Public Art or “Chalkavism.”

House with a banner in Berlin during May Day 2020 protests. Photo by John MacDougall / AFP

6. Or consider this: an in-person vigil where everyone keeps a six-foot distance from each other with appropriate costumes (hey, masks are in!) and signs. Or, gather photos made of individuals with signs, print them out and display en masse publicly at the specific target. Consider chalking outlines of participants. Have a virtual political art making party.

Virtual Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Art Build in March 2020

7. Livestream rally and action: Hold the event as a livestream from the actual site of the protest or home/office. People can engage in the chat box, sharing who they are and why they are participating, and the facilitator can read aloud. Or visit each Facebook/LinkedIn/Yelp page of your target and leave the campaign message there!

8. Divestment or investment campaigns: Get your (institutional) money out of big tech. Or take advantage of low prices to buy stock for shareholder activism in the future! Invest in union-made products, local family-owned businesses and people in need right now: single parents, food service workers and artists who are out of work.

9. Especially in this very serious moment, remember culture jamming and humor are powerful tools to undermine authority. Disrupt mainstream narratives that breed fear and unhelpful responses. Parody commercials, parody songs like theApple 5G Song”, and laughter-inducing memes and cartoons are good for the soul!

Culture jamming informs, entertains and redirects the symbols used by the dominant narrative towards transformation.

Artwork by Catrin Welz-Stein

 Take Care of Ourselves and One Another

Rest and joy are also radical acts. 

Finding Steady Ground provides seven reminders for us on self-care. “Feeling good is not frivolous,” adrienne maree brown reminds us. “It is freedom.” Joy is a revolutionary force.

Take risks but take care. Some tactics should never be attempted without a thorough safety plan and skill-level assessment. Develop a list of questions to ask yourself. Here’s some to start with (adapted from Beautiful Trouble’s strategy card deck)

What’s the risk of… 

    • Contracting the virus oneself? 
    • Exposing others? (Including those you may come into contact with and those in your immediate home.) 
    • Doing nothing? 
    • Are there economic, environmental, legal, political or cultural considerations?

How we take care of ourselves and each other now is fundamental. May the potent words of poet Mary Oliver remind us that we are precious and connected to everything around us.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass

–by Mary Oliver

Will the hungry ox stand in the field and not eat
    of the sweet grass?
Will the owl bite off its own wings?
Will the lark forget to lift its body in the air or
    forget to sing?
Will the rivers run upstream?

Behold, I say—behold
the reliability and the finery and the teachings
    of this gritty earth gift.

Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
    are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
    thrillingly gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs.

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
   still another.
Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe
my soul needs.

And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.
We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we
Congratulations, if
   you have changed.
Let me ask you this.
Do you also think that beauty exists for some
   fabulous reason?

And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure—
   your life—
what would do for you?
What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
   though with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).

And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.

– Mary Oliver

Adapted from: HOLY SH*T! 7 things to do instead of hoarding toilet paperBeautiful Trouble’s irreverent guide to activism in the time of pandemic.