There are some people who refuse to accept universal medical advice about COVID-19, and are outside putting vulnerable people at risk as a “protest”. Typhoid Mary is one of the cleanest and politest names for this behaviour, especially as the main concern seems to be “getting a haircut”. This article is not aimed at them, because the lockdown is our best method of slowing the spread of disease and keeping people alive. This article is aimed at the activists who were protesting inequality, oppression and injustice before all this, and at the people who want to protest things that have come up during this time.
Indoor Things That We’ve Always Done
Due to distance, physical limitations, vulnerability and many other reasons, not everyone can attend standard protests anyway. There are things that you can do inside, and people have been doing these instead of or as well as outdoor, gathered protests.
1 Write letters to your MP
MPs are obliged by protocol to reply to their constituents, and technically they do work for us and are employed to represent the people who live in their constituency. You can write to them at the House of Commons or email them at their government email address. Writing to them is hard evidence that real people care about a topic, and prompts them to address it in some way. The more people write, the more the pressure is on them to act – you can organise a group to all write to your MPs about the same issue.
Find your MP here: https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/find-your-mp/
Tips on writing to MPs here: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/our-campaigns/campaign-toolkit/how-to-write-to-your-mp/
2 Make and Sign Petitions
The government has an official website for petitions. Only British Citizens and UK Residents can create or sign petitions, and can only sign once per petition. Petitions will only be rejected if they don’t fit the standards listed on the official site’s help page, and if any petition gets 10,000 signatures it will get a response from the government. Any petition that gets 100,000 signatures is raised as a potential topic of debate in Parliament.
There’s also Change.org, which works in a similar way but with a much wider scope. Anyone in the world can create or sign a petition, and the targets can be companies, world leaders, organisations etc. There isn’t the same guaranteed response system, but it’s a huge petition platform that has gotten solutions for hundred of petitions.
Official petition site: https://petition.parliament.uk/
3 Social Media Awareness
A lot of things are less about reaching the government, and more about reaching as many people as possible. You might only have your real friend and family on Facebook, but platforms like Twitter and Instagram are perfect for sharing things with hundreds of strangers. Even on Facebook, there are pages and the friends of your friends; every conversation you have online is a chance to spread a message. And unlike an in-person conversation, your points stay there forever for other people to read. It’s not just gaining allies, either, as you can bring your points to people on the fence and even debate people who so far disagree with you; you might even win them over.
Solo or Distanced Outdoor Things
4 Civil Disobedience
Civil disobedience is, at its core, breaking of unjust laws and/or breaking laws for activist effect. Obviously, for legal reasons, I am not recommending any of these illegal acts. Graffiti is a clear example – for every illegible name tag, there is a striking political statement. Resources online offer methods to disrupt construction such as putting sugar in cement, to disrupt businesses such as glueing locks shut, and to disrupt demolition by chaining yourself to the structure in question.
There are even companies that will send glitter parcels, embarrassingly labelled packages and rancid smelling food products, should you wish to take your protest to an individual in particular.
5 Banner Drops
Speaking of things that are technically illegal, you could drop a banner over a wall, bridge or out of a window. It takes a team but can be done with two or three depending on the size. If you have a banner big enough to need four, you can meet on-site and keep as far apart as you can. There are three parts to dropping a banner. You can make a banner out of a bedsheet or sewing together spare fabric and painting your message on it, and some next-level things to do include weighting the bottom and including padlocks to lock your banner in place for a longer protest.
Choosing your drop place and time is where the question of legality comes in. Places that can be seen or that are context-appropriate might be restricted, and locked banners can be classed as vandalism. Give yourself time to access the place and set up your banner in time for it to be seen by as many people as possible.
How To article about banner drops: https://destructables.org/node/56
6 One Person, One Sign
In fact, you can stage a street protest all by yourself, without any huge and high effort banners or breaking any laws. Make a protest sign out of a large piece of card or cardboard and pen or paint. You might already own a few, as a seasoned activist. Choose a place where people will see you, and possibly combine this with the blockage part of civil disobedience. If you would already wear a face covering to protest, get ready as you normally do to protest. If you don’t, consider it for your own safety, and then don’t forget to wear a mask or bandana over your mouth and nose.
All that’s left is to get out there and get your message seen and heard!
7 Online Rallies
People are already taking to platforms like Zoom to protest during the lockdown. Over 200 people joined a Zoom rally set up by staff and students at Forth Valley College in Scotland on 1st April, almost 500 Irish protestors attended an event on Zoom to demand justice for sacked Debenhams staff on 29th April and various unions held online rallies on 1st May for the historically celebrated International Workers Day.
While these online rallies aren’t quite as effective as rallies in locations where people pass by, they can easily get much higher attendance. There’s no need to be able to physically attend, so international, disabled and time-constrained people can join in. This numbers advantage means that while bystanders aren’t as easily reached, the companies and governments being protested against do see a bigger potential impact. As a new phenomenon, news media is more likely to report your rally, as it’ll have that topical lockdown factor.
Facebook’s Portal App: https://portal.facebook.com/gb/
8 Panels and Parties
Similarly, you can host or attend parties and panels. You can have speakers and performers on a zoom chat or party, just like you would at a physical event. Unlike a rally, which only attracts protestors and rally watchers, these ideas can attract people interested in the content itself. The bigger the names you can get to talk or perform, the bigger the viewership you can get. Themes of talks or performances attract viewers too, and a party setting can get non-activist people interested.
Event names and things like Facebook event listings give you the option to hype the event up and point to clear numbers of people interested in your cause. You can use them to raise money as well as awareness, and explore new events such as vigils, readings and skill-sharing.
9 Map Pins and Geo-Tagging
Key locations can be protested at without physically going there! The Russian equivalent of Google Maps, Yandex.Maps and Yandex.Navigator, has been used by Russian protestors to leave public messages at public government buildings. Pins can be dropped on the map and shared publicly, so whatever is written is visible to people looking at that area. Coordinated protests have led to slogans and complaints covering government buildings and routes on the map service.
While Google Maps doesn’t have the same ease of public pin-dropping, locations can be added, and geo-tagging can be used to a similar effect on other platforms. Facebook statuses can be checked in to locations, Instagram posts can be tagged with locations, and while you can’t geotag tweets you can set your whole Twitter account to a location.
10 Rent Strike
You may have seen the discourse around rent – many people are out of work, unpaid or on reduced pay, and unable to pay their bills. Many reasonable landlord companies are offering rent reductions and even non-collection of rent during this time. Some, however, are demanding full rent from their tenants and threatening homelessness during this terrifying period. The obvious protest is rent strikes, which is the refusal to pay rent with no access to the property and broadcast of the facts.
Rent Strike London and the London Renters Union are among the groups sharing the 2020 rent strike campaign, with university student unions and other activism groups encouraging people. There are template letters to send to your landlords, official demands of suspended rent and rent debt cancellation, and a movement to hang white sheet banners from home windows.
Rent Strike London on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RentStrikeLDN
London Renters Union: https://londonrentersunion.org/
Template Letter to Landlords: https://londonrentersunion.org/coronavirus-landlord-letter/
11 NHS PPE
A lot of the current protest and activism is related to the terrible situation that NHS staff has been forced into. People are clapping for them weekly and calling them heroes, but more effectively people and businesses have been donating personal protection equipment or PPE, such as masks, gloves and disinfectant. Despite UK taxpayers paying more than £100 billion a year, and the Brexit promise to spend an extra £350 million a week on the NHS, funding has not increased and PPE orders have not been filled.
A video was NHS staff explained about staff deaths and begged the government for PPE was projected onto the Palace of Westminster on 17th April. This was organised by the government protest group Led By Donkeys and could be replicated and boosted.
12 Lockdown Counter-Protest Content
The Typhoid Mary’s that this is a guide to NOT being, however, are protesting as normal. They’re also gathering and refusing to follow guidelines, and demanding businesses open and serve them. All of the ways in which they’re endangering hundreds of people, including NHS staff, don’t need to be re-explained yet again. It is possible to protest against them by making a political statement about following the guidelines.
Using hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to share your stay-at-home activities and PPE outfits is one easy way to promote helpful behaviour. Masks are not just for literal germ safety, but a visual signal that you’re following the rules. People have sewn their own, worn costume masks and worn fashion items such as bandanas. Sharing counter-protest content and advice on social media is quick, easy and effective, as is shaming all protestors and those who refuse to follow guidelines.
NHS hand-washing advice: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/best-way-to-wash-your-hands/
Government Social Distancing Guide: www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others