Together with Build you Movement, the Sociology of Development and Change group at WUR, and Centre for Space, Place and Society (the Political Agency at the Grassroots cluster), we organised a two-day online seminar on the 9th and 16th of November about Activism in times of Covid-19.
The last years we have organised a capita selecta course of Resistance, Power and Movements. Because of Covid-19, this year it was insecure whether it would be possible to give the course again. We decided to have an online seminar instead and to focus more specifically on how Covid-19 has influenced and is influencing activism and activists. One of the questions we wanted to explore was ‘What does ‘activism’ and ‘being an activist’ mean in times of a pandemic?’ We also wanted to create a space where people from different positions in society could meet each other, where experiences, knowledge and tools could be shared and where our agency is explored.
In order to create this space, which felt like a special challenge due to the online nature of the event, we set up a WhatsApp group a week before the first part of the event would take place. In this group, participants could introduce themselves and share how the Covid-19 situation is affecting them. Later on, when we learned more about digital activism and the fuelling of big companies during the event, we moved the group to Signal.
Then a week later, all the participants, speakers and workshop facilitators, students, activists and academics, located at many different parts of the world, were meeting up on online on the first evening. This evening revolved around the limitations for activists and activism due to Covid-19. Elisabet Rasch, Associate Professor of Anthropology of Development at the WUR, shared the experiences with activism of her friends and acquaintances in Guatemala and Colombia. She told us that the risks for territory defenders have increased. They were already at risk of being attacked, killed or manipulated, by being an obstacle for companies that have their mind on deforesting or extracting. These risks have deepened. Pinky Langa, gender activist and feminist from Emalahleni (previously known as Witbank), South Africa, told us about the increase of gender-based violence and the difficulty of getting together online and organise, since people do not always have data or battery.
On the second evening, we wanted to show how Covid-19 has opened up other spaces or opportunities to bring problems to people’s attention. Rob Fletcher, Associate Professor in the Sociology of Development and Change group, explained us the concept of coronavirus capitalism, coined by Naomi Klein and based on the insight of Milton Friedman that a crisis produces real change. That change depends on the ideas that are lying around. Angélique Duijndam shared with us how she and others organised the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Middelburg, Zeeland on the 8th of June. She explained how this plan was met with resistance from the authorities. The last speaker was Peter Kodde, climate activist and now working as organiser for Friends of the Earth Netherlands. He explained how within his activist groups it was more difficult to continue setting up actions and to get people’s attention. At the same time, activists were looking after each other more than before. Although Covid-19 has brought some opportunities, also on this evening it became clear how difficult it has been to organise and to make real changes.
The workshops that followed and focused on learning some tools for activism, were therefore welcome. Participants could choose from four workshops. One workshop was about framing, given by Sobhi Khatib, expert in communication, strategy and human rights. Another workshop on digital activism, was given by Stefania Milan, Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at University of Amsterdam. Suzanne Prak, Theater maker and Communication trainer, and Elena Cavagni, Trainer, group Facilitator and individual Counsellor, gave a workhop about the role of the body by using their knowledge on Theatre of the Oppressed. The workshop in which participants were invited to share experiences about signs of solidarity and regenerative culture was giving by Vincent Deinum, life and leadership coach, and Vivianne Dirven, student and part of Extinction Rebellion.
After the workshops we asked everyone to write down what they learned from the workshops. It was really nice to get some insight into what happened in the different Zoom rooms. Some of the answers:
“As an activist you have to think about what you want people to take from your act; if the action part is missing (what people can do themselves), then you’re only spreading anger and frustration.”
“I learned about sharing circles that are amazing for learning from others and staying grounded and connected. The base of solidarity and regenerative culture I think.”
“Inspiring to see that generating a lot of divers solutions is easy when the problem is posed in a more abstract way.”
“Social media can really help in targeting specific audience, like a square protest could not do.”
Another participant mentioned the warm feeling she/he got from knowing that so many great people were active on so many different scales/topics. The event has given people an opportunity to connect to each other and get inspired to keep up the fight and strive for a more just world. To make the connections last and to stimulate actions to happen, we made a jamboard where everyone could write down what they have to offer and what they need. Are you also inspired to take action for a more just world? You can take a look at the jamboard with this link: https://jamboard.google.com/d/1NUOn9hlHk6kPPCjUTFjTwfNlvbiw9oy6u-hya2h2rYI/edit?usp=sharing