By Rivera Sun – March 20, 2020
There are some things you’d can’t fight with the barrel of a gun. Pandemics are one of them. In times like this, nonviolent responses are our best rescue remedies. They boost our morale, help us take care of one another, push for justice, and keep us all going when the going gets tough. As my colleague Ken Butigan wrote in Love in the Time of Coronavirus: “When societies take rapid, extraordinary steps to mitigate the shock of job loss or the expense of testing, they are pursuing nonviolent strategies—nonviolent because they resist the violence of exclusion or indifference while fostering healing and unity.”
This week, as I was collecting stories for Nonviolence News, I found dozens of beautiful, sensible, and extraordinary ways in which people are using nonviolence, nonviolent action, and nonviolent responses to meet the coronavirus crisis. Take note of all these ideas, and be sure to push for them in your community. Individually, they are only partial solutions. Put together, they offer a robust social, cultural, spiritual, and economic intervention strategy that shows us how to rise – powerfully – to the challenges of these times.
Humanity has some amazing superpowers up its sleeve. Engaging in heartening acts of loving solidarity is one of them. Nonviolent action offers us an entire category of methods (called “dispersed” actions) with which to keep our physical distance while sending out powerful messages of hope and solidarity.
Viral videos of Italians singing from their balconies and windows have swept the global Internet this week, bringing smiles to faces and joyful tears to eyes. Italy also launched an Andra Tutto Bene campaign, posting signs in windows and photos online with the reassurance that “everything is going to be okay”.
Across Spain, residents leaned out windows and balconies to applaud the efforts of healthcare workers in a moment of mass appreciation. And, healthcare workers deserve our accolades. In Iran, heroic, sanctions-strapped nurses and doctors even offered brief dances to lift patients spirits despite the dire challenges they face. South Korea offered free, online concerts to boost homebound spirits, a move many others – including the Metropolitan Opera – also followed.
A culturally creative hashtag campaign in Japan invokes #Amabie, the mythic plague-protecting beast that resembles a cross between a monster and a mermaid. Japanese citizens have been posting artwork and photos of homemade versions to cheer each other up on social media. Meanwhile, India, with its ancient traditions and one billion citizens, suppressed a smile as it offered the Western world a solution to the handshake ban: the namaste greeting.
But it’s not just heart-warming and spirits-lifting. People are also taking extraordinary actions to mitigate the economic impacts of a worldwide shut-down.
As social distancing and government orders shut down restaurants, schools, bars, libraries, movie theaters, and more, the economic impacts have hit the poor, working families, and small business owners hard. To mitigate this, cities, states, even countries are suspending mortgage payments, halting evictions, and pausing medical and student debt collection. Ninety US cities and states suspended water shutoffs to ensure that people had the ability to wash during this pandemic. France canceled all utility bills to help people cope with coronavirus’ economic impacts. Hong Kong gave every citizen $1200 with no strings attached. (Note: while that amount is in USD, the US equivalent adjusted for cost of living and wage differences is roughly $2,400.) The US Internal Revenue Service stunned everyone by giving the entire nation an automatic 3-month tax filing extension.
A few landlords have waived or suspended rents. Some commercial property owners are urging their small business renters to pay their workers first, rents second. Inspired by Oakland Moms4Housing, LA homeless families are taking over houses owned by the state in order to handle the coronavirus quarantine restrictions. After these occupations began, California decided to use hotels and motels as temporary housing for unhoused persons – which also helped to put state funds into the hard-hit hospitality industry. As colleges and universities shut down, UHaul offered free storage to displaced students.
Mutual Aid is how people help people get through tough times. It arose amidst the early labor movement and hasn’t stopped since. Teen Vogue reported that mutual aid networks are exploding online as people step up to help during the coronavirus crisis. An excellent example of this is the remarkable case of the Middlebury College Mutual Aid Spreadsheet: 2,500 students needed storage, transport, and help when their college shut down and they organized it all with a single spreadsheet.
With face masks selling out and prices skyrocketing, people in Armenia are making their own and distributing them for free. Volunteers are banding together to buy hygiene products for poor people. In Italy, where medical supplies ran short, citizens printed respirator parts with 3D printers and made them available for free.
Arts and cultural foundations have stepped up to help artists without health insurance cover medical costs in New Yorkand Boston. The Kekere Emergency Childcare Collective is coordinating childcare assistance to parents who still have to work even while the schools close and social distancing is put in place. As senior centers closed, uncountable numbers of community-based programs stepped up to deliver Meals-On-Wheels style meals to seniors. A parallel effort is making sure children – who often receive 1-2 meals at school – do not go hungry during school closures. In some places, janitors, teachers, and school administrators organized door-to-door delivery of meals, computers for online learning, homework, and support by tapping into the fact that bus drivers already know where the kids live. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan made video conferencing tools free to K-12 teachers in multiple countries. And, dozens of educational companies offered free classes and resources during shut down of schools and universities.
Strike for Safety
Nonviolence is at work in other ways, too. Even as restaurants, bars, and movie theaters shut down, factory work has continued onward. But workers are objecting and pushing back. In Italy, autoworkers at the Fiat plant went on strike. A few days later, their Canadian counterparts walked off the job in protest. The following week, a wave of wildcat strikes swept through Italy, hitting every major industry. London Postal Workers went on strike over coronavirus concerns when they were refused hand sanitizer and notification of coworker cases. The cleaning staff at the first London hospital to treat a coronavirus patient have walked out after an outsourcing firm repeatedly failed to pay them properly.
Pushing Forward for Change
People have been using nonviolent action to push for change, even as major marches or protests have been cancelled. In London, activists donned hazmat suits to protest the United Kingdom’s lackadaisical COVID-19 response, demanding a country-wide shutdown.
In Brazil, hundreds of people joined a cacerolazo – a pots-and-pans banging protest done from windows and balconies – to demand President Bolsonaro’s removal from office, in part due to his mishandling of the pandemic.
The stories continue. Nearly every community has them. Share these stories and celebrate the work that’s being done. Nonviolence is rushing to the rescue with love, courage, and creativity . . . and you can be a part of it.
Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.