Nevertheless, social movements often do emerge in moments of high emergency, of (more or less natural) calamities, and of strong repression of individual and collective freedoms. Wars have triggered waves of contention in the past. Not only is it the case that “states make wars and wars make states”, but portentous contestations have accompanied military conflicts – before, after, at times even during these. Such revolutions testify to the strength of engagement in moments of deep crisis.
Times of deep crisis can (even if not automatically) generate the invention of alternative forms of protest. The broad spread of new technologies allows for online protests – including, but not limited to, e-petitions that have multiplied in this period (ranging from the quest for Eurobonds to the request for a suspension of rents for students. Car marches have been called for in Israel. Workers have claimed more security through flashmobs, implemented by participants keeping a safe distance one from the other. In Finland, public transport drivers have refused to monitor tickets. In Italy or Spain, collective messages of contestation or solidarity are sent from balconies and windows. Through these innovative forms, protests puts pressure on those in government and control their actions.
Faced with the glaring need for radical and complex transformation, social movements also act in various ways that differ from protests. First of all, social movements create and recreate ties: they build upon existing networks but also, in action, they connect and multiply them. Faced by the manifest inadequacies of the state and, even more, of the market, social movement organizations form – as is happening in every country hit by the pandemic – into mutual support groups, promoting direct social action by helping those most in need. So, they produce resilience by responding to the need for solidarity.
Movements also acts as channels for the elaboration of proposals. They make use of alternative specialist knowledge but they also add to this the practical knowledge arising from the direct experiences of citizens. Constructing alternative public spheres, social movement organizations help us to imagine future scenarios. The multiplication of public space allows for cross-fertilization, contrasting the over-specialization of academic knowledge and facilitating the connection between abstract knowledge and concrete practices. From this knowhow cross-fertilization comes also the capacity to connect the various crises – to prise out the connection between the spread and lethality of the corona virus and climate change, wars, violence against women, the expropriations of rights (first of all the right to health). In this way the reflection in and of social movements increases our capacity to understand the economic, social, and political causes of the pandemic, which is neither a natural phenomenon nor a divine punishment.Print