Social movements in times of pandemic: we need another world


Nevertheless, social movements often emerge in moments of great urgency, calamities (more or less natural) and strong repression of individual and collective freedoms. Wars have triggered waves of discord in the past. Not only is it true that “States make wars and wars make States”, but prodigious protests have accompanied military conflicts – before, after, sometimes even during them. Such revolutions bear witness to the strength of commitment in times of deep crisis.

Periods of deep crisis can (even if not automatically) generate the invention of alternative forms of protest. The wide spread of new technologies enables online protests – including, but not limited to, the electronic petitions that have proliferated during this period (ranging from the quest for Eurobonds to the demand for suspension of rents for students. Car marches were called in Israel. Workers demanded more safety through flash mobs, set up by participants keeping a safe distance from each other. In Finland, drivers public transport refused to check tickets In Italy or Spain, collective messages of protest or solidarity are sent from balconies and windows Through these innovative forms, protests put pressure on governments and control their actions.

Faced with the crying need for radical and complex transformation, social movements are also acting in a variety of ways that differ from protests. First of all, social movements create and recreate links: they rely on existing networks but also, in action, they connect and multiply them. Faced with the manifest shortcomings of the State and, even more, of the market, the organizations of social movements are forming themselves – as is the case in all countries affected by the pandemic – into self-help groups, promoting social action directly by helping those most in need. Thus, they produce resilience by responding to the need for solidarity.

Movements also serve as channels for developing proposals. They mobilize alternative specialized knowledge but they also add practical knowledge from the direct experiences of citizens. Building alternative public spheres, social movement organizations help us imagine future scenarios. The multiplication of public space allows cross-fertilization, contrasting the over-specialization of academic knowledge and facilitating the articulation between abstract knowledge and concrete practices. From this cross-fertilization of know-how also comes the ability to link the different crises – to bring out the link between the spread and lethality of the corona virus and climate change, wars, violence against women, expropriations of rights (first the right to health). In this way, reflection in and of social movements increases our ability to understand the economic, social and political causes of the pandemic, which is neither a natural phenomenon nor a divine punishment.


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