Graduate Student, Department of International Studies,
Miriam College, Philippines
“We are one” or “We are all in this together” are cries echoing loudly in the time of COVID-19 (Guterres, 2020). Global disease outbreaks are not new. Yet, this feels so unfamiliar, uncertain, unending, and as it’s turning out, a rude awakening. The pandemic is explicitly showing the discrepancies in (capitalist) systems that seem to establish norms in society, such as the fault in tying healthcare with employment, healthcare becoming a privilege of the rich, and the instability within “no work, no pay” employment (Harvey, 2020; Meadway, 2020). There is also the irony in how essential workers are applauded in times of crises, but remain underpaid and deemed expendable.
The pandemic has made the needs of the most vulnerable sectors of our society – senior citizens, poor people, homeless people, (undocumented) immigrants – more visible and the services they are deprived of, with or without COVID-19, more apparent. These are aggravated by the eclectic responses of governments in their containment policies, which are globally attaining varying results, with competent leadership being an essential factor.
What do we do in times of collective despair? According to history, we make change. Social movements are birthed daily but are usually taken for granted. Maybe because the world has so many problems that it’s too easy to accept them as they are too overwhelming to fix. In the time of corona virus, we are all forced to confront them and compelled to act.
Groups rally support and donations to help key workers around the world daily. Online discussions are formulating concerning workers’ rights (Chugh, 2020; Parker, 2020), universal healthcare (UNDP Asia and Pacific, 2020; Kickbusch & Gitahi, 2020), education reforms (Tam & El-Azar, 2020; Luthra & Mackenzie, 2020), and countering various forms and degrees of discrimination (Voices for Youth, 2020; He, et al 2020). Environmental causes are strengthening, especially the direct involvement of capitalist modes of production in contributing to climate change and global warming (Carrington, 2020; Henriques, 2020; McGrath, M., 2020). Mental health advocacies are also surging in social media to increase awareness and enable support whilst in isolation (NAMI, 2020; Cornell University, 2020). These are signs of solidarity and manifestations of empathy at work.
Social movements promote citizen engagement with the political process. With every update on COVID-19 seen in the news or in social media, people are exposed to issues they wouldn’t otherwise hear of or care for. Normally you would hear it in the streets, but right now, you see it in tweets, in Facebook posts, in songs. However, empathy works for all variants of experiences and social movements engage with all variants of emotional responses. So as there are pledges being made to stay home to practice social distancing (Global Citizen, 2020), there are protests against state lockdowns and “stay-at-home” policies in countries such as the United States (Al Jazeera , 2020), Brazil (Reeves, 2020), and France (McGrath C. , 2020).
We are compelled to look within us and outside of us. As we look, we discover our desire to help others. That’s why we practice social distancing rules – to keep each other safe – or we don’t follow social distancing rules – to protect our imbibed beliefs. These are seeds of mobilization, regardless if it’s for or against the status quo. Social movements matter because they represent social change. They resign a form of control over the events of the future by maneuvering the machinations of the present. As long as there is suffering, inequality, injustice, and most importantly, people who are willing to dedicate their lives to fighting against them, social movements will remain inevitable.
Saying this, we’re all products of social movements. I cannot imagine my life without social movements that have enabled my rights and my freedoms. The works and the sacrifices of those who came before me – of the women who fought for equal rights and against gender discrimination, of the Filipinos who, for decades, have struggled for a free and just nation, our culture and democracy, of the Asian peoples who advocated against racial discrimination and the pervasive influences of colonialism and imperialism – has rendered my whole being indebted. My life, then, will always be one that is owed.
Who knows what would come of us in this pandemic? Everything is uncertain but I believe change is coming because it has to. I hope we come out of this with more empathy towards each other, our fellow living beings, our environment, and our planet. No one truly lives in isolation. Just look at history that has unfolded and is unfolding and you will see. Being human is being revolutionary.
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Carrington, D. (2020, March 25). Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’, says UN environment chief. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/coronavirus-nature-is-sending-us-a-message-says-un-environment-chief
Chugh, A. (2020, May 22). Will COVID-19 change how we think about migration and migrant workers? Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/covid-19-coronavirus-migration-migrant-workers-immigration-policy-health-securitization-risk-travel-bubbles/
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Guterres, A. (2020, April 23). We are all in this Together: Human Rights and COVID-19 Response and Recovery. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/we-are-all-together-human-rights-and-covid-19-response-and
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He, J., He, L., Zhou, W., Nie, X., & He, M. (2020). Discrimination and Social Exclusion in the Outbreak of COVID-19. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(8). doi:10.3390/ijerph17082933
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McGrath, C. (2020, March 14). Macron protesters take to Paris streets in defiance of coronavirus lockdown. Retrieved from Express UK: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1255196/emmanuel-macron-yellow-vest-protests-paris-france-coronavirus-lockdown-cases-latest
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NAMI. (2020, April 6). NAMI Partners With Instagram To Support Mental Health During COVID-19. Retrieved from National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/NAMI-Partners-with-Instagram-to-Support-Mental-Health-During-COVID-19
Parker, C. (2020, March 26). Only a fifth of countries provide sick pay – The big challenges for work in a pandemic. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-challenges-work-economy-sharan-burrow-ituc/
Reeves, P. (2020, March 27). Supporters Of Brazil’s Bolsonaro Call For Protests Against Coronavirus Lockdown. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/27/822440615/supporters-of-brazils-bolsonaro-call-for-protests-against-coronavirus-lockdown
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