From Hong Kong to Chile, coronavirus has shut down public demonstrations for social and political change. With the threat of high fines, jail time, police brutality, and now illness looming, activists are adapting and innovating to continue building movements in an unprecedented era of social distancing.
Activist networks, grown over months of organizing to plug demonstrations, are now being used to distribute medical supplies and share information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Hong Kong, activists have used their networks to import and distribute more than 100,000 medical masks, reports the Washington Post. Protestors have taken to social media and messaging apps to share tips and reminders on avoiding coronavirus.
Labor unions representing essential workers are leveraging their newfound power under coronavirus to help the cause. In February, a medical workers’ strike prompted Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to shut a majority of Hong Kong’s borders with the mainland down, a move she was previously unwilling to take. Nearly 50 new unions have sprung up since the end of last year, and many of these unions explicitly support the Hong Kong protest movement– including the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA), which led the February strike to chants of “Close the border, save Hong Kong.”
In Santiago, Chile, ground zero for weekly demonstrations, the Plaza Italia, now stands quiet. Elsewhere, activists have drowned out music and conversation with cacerolazos — balcony pot-and-pan-banging protests traditional in Latin America. Other groups have shared manuals for protesting at home across social media platforms, instructing Chileans to deck their balconies with protest signs, and others are encouraging cyberactivism as an alternative.
“Being safe can’t simply mean abandoning the historic movement we’ve been seeing in our country,” said Emilia Schneider, president of the activist group Student Federation of the University of Chile.