Protest in the Pandemic 5

Resistance comes in all shapes and sizes. The bigger the giant, the more subtle and creative protest needs to be. The history of protest is as long as the history of oppression. There is a lot to learn from social movements all over the world and especially those in places where resistance entails risk. In the face of unfamiliar challenges and new kinds of risk, this session we explored what can be done and what we are potentially “up against” by turning to the rich resources and practices that have been cultivated over generations.

5 الاحتجاج في الجائحة

Tickling Giants

Tickling giants is about doing what is in our power to challenge dominant political individuals, institutions and structures, however small the action may be initially. It is about being playful, creative, sometimes sneaky and always non-violent. But politics and protest do not always translate into such clear cut David and Goliath narratives; being small and organized does not necessarily guarantee success but “failure” also takes many different forms, and isn’t always the end of the story.

In this session we explored elements of resistance and tried to identify which were essential. Having a shared interest and common goal with a group may sound simple but the way in which connections are formed between people can make a huge difference. Some movements benefit from personal connections which allow them to grow organically and also create a strong basis for communication. The rent strikes we discussed in previous sessions, responding to the current crisis, are an example of this. Talking to neighbours, putting up posters and asking people if they would like to participate anonymously are all small steps that can build on each other. There is also an opportunity to find others who are similarly organizing small, specific actions and through communicating and learning from each other, movements can grow if they need to.

Looking at other movements gave us an idea of the different ways we might approach giants. We discussed anarchy and, going beyond its poor reputation and persistent association with chaos and destruction, how it is essentially about building a space based on common goals for the common good. To build this space is to consider what conditions are needed to create an alternative support structure which can provide a foundation for more organized action. We considered how mutual aid can provide this kind of support and to what extent it can be a catalyst for structural change. In other words, what comes after tickling the giants? Forming communities and looking after each other can be powerful, but on the other hand we may still feel small as we face things which seem much larger than we are and so we wonder; do we have to grow into giants to defeat them?

We discussed how speaking the language of giants might be a way to negotiate and influence their decision making; the well-known idea of changing systems from within. However, it’s interesting to question if there is an alternative to this dichotomy; us and themoccupier and occupied. Could we benefit from changing our own vocabulary in a way that forms an independent identity that is not always shaped by the “other”? What kind of rhetoric and discourse would be aligned with the changes we hope to see in our communities? An example of this kind of shift that we explored was the idea of reframing interdependency as an element of strong and resilient communities, as opposed to seeing it as a last resort or emergency measure, in order to shift from individualism to mutual aid.

From another perspective mutual aid is already taking place; so many people and communities are already supporting each other. Perhaps this is not emphasized enough, maybe in a different light its true size would show and the giants wouldn’t look so big anymore. This is optimistic but not impossible. We end by asking, how do we stop fearing giants?