2020: Global People’s Resistance against COVID and the State

As we mourn the loss of lives against the injustices of repressive regimes, the rise of citizen consciousness and people's movement gives hope for a better world.

2020

The year 2020 is about to come to an end. It marks a historic moment for the world. In some ways, we in India have come full circle, as large-scale protests against unjust laws dominate our political imagination. In our struggles, we are not alone. We are part of a global community that has been engaged in different struggles.

From the Arab Spring to 2019, the world has seen a new generation of struggle unfold. These new struggles have been characterized as spontaneous mass-based leaderless demonstrations demanding change and reacting to the state. Themes of protests have been wealth inequality, the rollback of welfare systems, corruption of the state, lack of democratic accountability, and an end to business as usual. These struggles represent an awakening of a new type of political consciousness with a lot of diversity. Some of them have been reactionary, while some have been progressive. Some have called for the repeal of a law, while some have called for the overthrow of the country’s constitution. Some have been expressions of frustration over the direction of the country.

In 2020, with the COVID pandemic, these struggles faced new challenges. Prohibition of public assembly meant that the state was given a new license to prevent protests. In the early wave of the pandemic, movements across the world adapted by moving online, with online meetings, Twitter campaigns, and webinars taking up the space that protests left.

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PC:CNN, Protests at Guatemala Congress

In some countries, such as Nicaragua, and Lebanon, the lack of proper welfare schemes instigated the protests. In others, such as Nigeria, the United States, and Columbia, unchecked power by the police, especially in times of a pandemic, became the central themes of protest. In others, such as Sudan, Chile, and Algeria, protests came in the context of a changing constitution. In some, such as Bolivia, Krysigstan, and Peru, protests have come against manipulating the electoral process. In still others, like Nigeria, India, and France, and have seen protests arise because of anti-people laws passed during the pandemic.

Protests against Polish abortion laws.Courtesy: GCN

Most mass-protests have been in response to the state. Some have been reactionary. Some have been progressive, but all have been expressions of discontent with the state. The frustration with the state comes hand-in-hand with the rise of ultra-nationalism. Nationalism, which at its core represents a social contract between the people and the state, has been failing the people of the world. As there does not seem to be an alternative, people have taken to these types of protests. They are challenging the social contract of their nation, saying that the state has failed the people. Reactionaries have demanded that the nation-state must enforce their social order, while progressives demand accountability by the state. In many countries, the line can be blurry.

blackAt the same time, the questions regarding protests continue to dog us in 2020. Protests might be regressive. In the USA, mass protests have come up against racial violence. There are also protests against health and welfare measures to protect the poor during the pandemic. Protests, particularly those led by the professional middle classes fighting against corruption are dubious. They are usually anti-poor and are against marginalized communities. In some countries, like Bolivia, we saw the toppling of a regime. In different countries, coverage of protests tends to serve the interest of that country’s elite. It does not give much room for oppressed people from different countries to see a common struggle. This should not make us doubt the use of these protests. Regressive protests can only be successfully countered by progressive protests.

In 2021, the pandemic has still not ended. There are fears of new strains and new waves of the COVID pandemic. Movements across the world have either adopted or begun to brave out the risk. A study in the United States proved that with appropriate precautions, protests do not contribute to the spread of COVID. Still, the state has maintained a moral legitimacy when cracking down on public assembly.

As we go forward, we might start asking what the protests are for, who is allowed to protest, what are we allowed to protest about, and what can we demand, but what we can no longer question is how important protests are becoming to checking the power of the state.

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