I don’t know how other people respond to problems, but over the years, one thing I have learned about myself is the huge difference I experience between problems I can do something about and those I am powerless to remedy.
No matter how dire XYZ may be, if there are steps I can take to ameliorate it, I may be sad or frustrated or temporarily overwhelmed, but I don’t feel defeated. When there is no readily apparent action I can take that will solve whatever problem XYZ presents– or when the only actions I can take are highly unlikely to make a dent in the problem– my ulcer flares. My head hurts. I do feel defeated.
The current broken-ness of American governance is a prime example.
I doubt that I’m alone in that response, and it’s why so many of us get annoyed with comments that pooh-pooh the efficacy of get-out-the-vote campaigns and declare that those efforts aren’t nearly enough–without ever suggesting concrete alternative, effective actions in which individuals can engage.
Because everything we know about the Trump Administration is so awful–and because so many of us feel helpless and angry–I was really happy to come across an article in The Guardian focusing on what appears to be an explosion of new forms of activism in the time of the pandemic.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was experiencing unprecedented levels of mass mobilization. The decade from 2010 to 2019 saw more mass movements demanding radical change around the world than in any period since the second world war. Since the pandemic struck, however, street mobilization – mass demonstrations, rallies, protests, and sit-ins – has largely ground to an abrupt halt in places as diverse as India, Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Algeria and the United States.
The near cessation of street protests does not mean that people power has dissipated. We have been collecting data on the various methods that people have used to express solidarity or adapted to press for change in the midst of this crisis. In just several weeks’ time, we’ve identified nearly 100 distinct methods of non-violent action that include physical, virtual and hybrid actions – and we’re still counting. Far from condemning social movements to obsolescence, the pandemic – and governments’ responses to it – are spawning new tools, new strategies and new motivation to push for change.
The article lists a number of those “new tools”–car caravans, walkouts from workplaces, community mutual aid pods, crowdsourcing–and technical efforts like adaptation of drones to deliver supplies, disinfect common areas and monitor high-risk areas.
The article also notes that many “movements”–political and philanthropic alike– are moving their activities online, with digital rallies, teach-ins and information-sharing.
Although many of these methods may seem to have little visible impact, these activities are likely to strengthen civil society and highlight political and economic issues in urgent need of change. In Chile, women have launched a feminist emergency plan that includes coordinating caring duties and mutual support against gender-based violence. In Spain, more than 15,000 people have joined a rent strike this April demanding the suspension of rents during the lockdown. Many have engaged in dissent without leaving their homes. As the Washington Post recently highlighted, many youth activists are moving their weekly global climate strikes online, conducting tweetstorms, developing toolkits for civic action, organizing teach-ins and developing accessible websites about climate change. Organizers in the UK have developed a series of seminars on movement building and mutual aid. Groups engaged in these activities now will improve their capacity for impact and transformation once the global lockdown is behind us.
If, as the article suggests, movements around the world are adapting to remote organizing, “building their bases, sharpening their messaging, and planning strategies for what comes next,” perhaps the end result will be the creation of concrete, useful mechanisms available to citizens who want to make a difference.
In the interim, there is one thing we can definitely do that will make a difference: we desperately need to get out the vote.