The deadly Coronavirus has grown into a global pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans and 278,000 people around the globe. The pandemic isn’t going anytime soon, and neither is the debate on how to address it. Many questions are being asked on what is to come and how to address it. In the U.S, a particularly pressing issue lingers on the minds of millions, though asked in many different ways with many different answers given. How much power should the government have during a pandemic to restrict the individual liberties of its citizens?
Much can be said about this topic as the debate rages on both sides on social distancing during the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, and how much power the government should have to enforce it. One key question that raises a particularly interesting debate in the age of this pandemic is the question of protests and public gatherings. As businesses are ordered shut down, and people are being asked (sometimes nicely, sometimes not) by their governments to stay home, many are beginning to ask about the right to protest. According to the CDC, we should avoid gatherings of ten or more and any situation that makes the guidelines of social distancing impossible as we seek to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some experts fear these public gatherings may make the pandemic spread more quickly, but others argue the right to protest is fundamental and cannot be suspended even during a pandemic.
Indeed, such a violation of our first amendment rights would undoubtedly pave the way to tyranny, as it would give the only excuse needed to suspend the very right of asking questions of our leadership. In the words of John F Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Even so, all of this begs the question. Do social distancing and the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 mean it’s impossible to protest safely? The way we protest is changing around the world, and you may be surprised to know there are plenty of ways to practice this sacred right and still be safe even during a pandemic.
1. Motorized Protests
Churches across the country are holding drive-in services, and as traditional movie theaters across the country have shut down, drive-ins have gained more popularity. Drive-thru is the only way to go for fast food, banking, and many other businesses around the country. Our cars seem to supply us with a certain level of social distance that we need while presenting a seemingly effective physical barrier of safety around us. This might be why safely social distancing in your car is becoming an increasingly popular way of protesting. Only recently, such motorcades could be seen in Philadelphia as protesters drove around demanding the city reopen, but lockdown protesters aren’t the only ones taking to the streets behind the wheel. Protesters around the country have taken to caravan-style protests like these to protest ICE and Immigration Policy as well as to demand the release of prisoners from overcrowded prisons, rent forgiveness, additional funding for healthcare workers, and even demanding the removal of President Trump from office since this pandemic began.
2. Cyberstorm Protests
In countries like Russia and others, for instance, “virtual protesters” have organized small clusters outside of government buildings as well as posting and sending messages online to government pages demanding more financial assistance during these trying times. In the digital age, our governments have become just as dependent on the internet and social media as we are. Just like they can use these tools to get their information out to the public, so can the public use it to get their message to them.
For such a movement to be effective, it would require a large and relentless group, but protests efforts would include ways of getting the message out and in large enough numbers both publicly and privately to their government officials and agencies. This could be accomplished through constant emails, phone calls, comments on government social media pages and blogs, or even a hashtag forced to trend through something similar to a “Twitter bomb”
3. Micro Protests
Not so different than the virtual protesters among our friends in Moscow, this would work by staggering protests into groups instead of one massive gathering. Protesters could be organized into groups of ten or less, and spread with signs, slogans, and events just like any protest but on a smaller level. With enough protesters spread far and wide, you could cover a large enough area and achieve enough visibility to get your message out and draw attention, albeit without a show of massive force, but with a potentially more extensive reach.
4. Social Distancing Friendly Protests
This should perhaps go without saying, but believe it or not, it is possible to organize large protests while still staying a healthy distance apart. While this hasn’t happened all over the world, we have certainly seen it come to fruition in Israel. In Tel Aviv and to a lesser extent in Jerusalem, thousands of protesters gathered to protest Netanyahu and what many of them view as his corrupt regime, as well as lockdown conditions. While doing so, they all remained a perfect six feet apart, standing on Chalk Xs on the ground marked by the protest’s organizers.
Also mixed with an air of calm civility, Israeli police have reported mostly quiet protests with no arrests while sending a message that has been seen around the world. Shikma Schwarzzman, the protest’s organizer, believes this is the way to go if any movement is to be effective.
“If we want to succeed, we need to do it the right way. We obey the law.”