Of issues, activism and Covid-19

Social movements too are likely to suffer with prospects of collective actions reduced due to the restrictions

Allia Bukhari May 09, 2020
The writer is a member of the editorial staff at The Express Tribune. She can be reached at alliya.bukhari@tribune.com.pk

The need for activism in times of Covid-19 is greater than ever. Activists have expressed concern that the pandemic’s impact would further exacerbate inequalities and rights violations. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called Covid-19 “a threat multiplier” fearing that health, humanitarian and development emergencies will aggravate the existing inequalities. This is predominantly because the poor, the marginalised and the already weak are at a greater risk of facing virus aftermath, including poverty and unemployment. Millions globally face job uncertainty and food insecurity. Some have even been subjected to racism and ill-treatment for “spreading the virus”.

At a time like this when the focus is on the increasing death toll and an overwhelmed healthcare system, these issues, which are jeapordising human well-being, alienating many and will have a long-lasting impact, should not be ignored. Hence comes the need for activism to keep people’s conscience alive and the issues in the spotlight to keep striving for their solutions.

Social movements too are likely to suffer due to the pandemic with prospects of collective actions and on-ground mobilisations greatly reduced due to the restrictions. Thus digital activism, which has transformed leaps and bounds, can be our saviour.

From online petitions to micro-blogging sites, digital media has become an effective tool in raising our voice. With greater accessibility and mass reach, it is only logical to turn towards the most modern mode of communication to disseminate messages across, garner public support and cause mobilisation. Even before we started working from home as commonly as we do now, consciously or subconsciously, we had become activists already thanks to the worldwide web. Evidently, there clearly is no other way in the present scenario than to use digital media to point out sufferings in times of a pandemic for it has empowered individuals to express opinions by providing multiple platforms to advocate for the causes they believe in. Likewise, it has also transformed “old school” activism, such as street demonstrations and sit-ins, into digital ones.

Take the environmental, climate and humanitarian crises that awakened the global conscience through the power of social media. The #MeToo movement became the most influential voice against sexual harassment with the support it received on social media. It prompted action against the perpetrators and in some cases was also a major driving force in bringing them to justice.

Politically, digital activism has also proved to be of immense importance, a game changer. Networks formed online were crucial in bringing activists to the forefront during the Arab Spring. Several studies were conducted to analyse the role of social media in uprisings and how it was used in a movement to “defeat oppressors”. Such is this new decentralised age of activism with participation from all corners, where everyone is a leader, critic, flag-bearer of change and an activist.

Yet, despite an undeniable force that social media has become, its critics are of the view that building a movement online is far easier than “actually struggling” or bringing a change on ground. They call it cathartic at best.

But denouncing digital activism in a clearly digital world won’t solve our predicament or serve the causes. Activism should rather be carried out more effectively and collectively to raise voice against issues that are arising in the wake of a global pandemic. At the same time, it has become imperative to make these social media platforms more open and secure to encourage invigorating and constructive debates for a better, diverse and an extensive portrayal of issues.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2020.

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