Protest in the Pandemic 1

In this session we tried to contextualize the current pandemic within the broader history of global health crises. What does Covid-19 tell us about the systems we have set in place for ourselves?

1 الاحتجاج في الجائحة

The Pandemic Imagination

On the beginning of our journey to understand the pandemic, we discussed the idea of the pandemic being part of an ecological cycle; one where the virus is somehow an ally, bringing a new kind of balance to society. While this biologizing of human society, and the consequential reductionism of the value of human lives, can be slightly disturbing, it does point us to a direction that suggests that some kind of underlying disease or degradation has brought us to this point. The urgency of the current situation pushed us to question what is helping us, what is harming us and whether there is an overlap between the two that leads us to make sacrifices.

That led to an exploration of what it would mean to look at the virus as a biproduct of capitalist structures. Reflecting on “Social Contagion” revealed that there are very organized mechanisms in place that effectively produce these viruses simply by creating the conditions for them to emerge, thrive and spread. Taking questions of power and intention out of the equation, these mechanisms do exist even if they were not created for this specific purpose. Cheap labour and poor working conditions are just two examples that show how working to make industries “profitable” can directly contribute to a health crisis.

In addition to this, we also discussed how inequality manifests within the pandemic itself. We looked at the protests in Colombia as an example of how the lockdown poses a serious threat to the livelihoods and wellbeing of all those put out of work with no support. It also revealed how government policies impact gender inequality; when who is allowed to leave their home is based on a traditional gendered division of labour, transgender communities immediately become marginalized from the equation for example. When simple needs for survival are not met, it is not surprising then for people to take to the streets to protest and ask for support, which is exactly what they did. The number of people working in the informal economy who have no safety net to fall back on, not just in Colombia but all over the world, is something that cannot be ignored for much longer.

Building on this discussion about existing structural inequalities was the question of what needs to be done, and what can be done. We reflected on calls for the “Left” to do more than ask people to stay home because it has become increasingly clear that even that is a privilege. To do more in this sense means to accept the challenge of creating workable models and more resilient structures for the future and to see it as an urgent need rather than a distant utopian hope. “Amphibiosis” is also a concept that emerged in our discussion, highlighting how microbiological processes can explain some of our macro-level dilemmas. Put simply, the structures and regulations we have set can be helpful under some circumstances yet harmful in others; a symbiotic relationship. It is interesting then to see that what some may argue is helpful for society as a whole is harmful to individuals in the long run.

This led ultimately to reflecting on how governments have been responding to the crisis and to highlighting the distinction between those who have been trying to control the virus by controlling people as opposed to those focusing on treating and supporting people who have been infected and affected. We discussed the controversy surrounding the 5g networks being rolled out in Shenzhen and their implications for data security and privacy. An issue that may in the past not have been discussed with such concern now becomes the core of our discussion as we try to predict what the future of emergency measures could be. We also asked, is now actually a good time to be critical of governments or should we be more supportive considering these decisions are being made under drastic time and resource constraints? We wonder, could this be the perfect point of intervention?

While we continue to contemplate the answers to most of these questions we end with a final question: can we organize a protest as powerful as a virus?