Protests: The Inevitable Phase 2

Protests have gripped our world as much of Europe and many US states tiptoe into their regional versions of Phase 2.

Photo edited from: George Floyd Protest, Paul Becker, CC BY 2.0

Protests have gripped our world as much of Europe and many US states tiptoe into their regional versions of Phase 2.

Masks have been novel and then scarce, divisive and then catalytic. This past Sunday, masks became posters for protest outside the US Consulate in Milan: “I can’t breathe.” The three-word message inked across masks acknowledged the pain brought by the unjust death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Protests have gripped our world as much of Europe and many US states tiptoe into their regional versions of Phase 2

In Milan and Rome, while some protesters were joining global Black Lives Matter protests and showing up for the African-American community, other streets were teeming with fury of a different kind. Orange Vests filled a not-too-long-ago vacant Piazza Duomo, crowding out any hope of social distancing amidst anger against Conte’s government, frustration towards the Eurozone, and pain from the economic hardships of a protracted lockdown. On Italy’s Republic Day this past Tuesday, 70 cities across the nation saw protests against the government, relegating coronavirus as a conspiracy and “a trick.

Rage and suffering, fed by the inequities of broken politics and scheming societies. In a devastatingly morbid illustration, the proverbial knee to the neck has slowly and increasingly restricted our ability to breathe, and live. The neck may be claimed by so many hurting in collective and personal ways, but the knee, to whom does it belong?

The enemy is still invisible

Far-right movements might say the Conte government, for decisions they claim have strangled the ability of Italian businesses and families to sustain themselves. Gun-toting small business owners in Michigan might say the state’s governor, in a country where every state government makes the call to open or close for their constituents. 

As cities from Auckland to Berlin, Minneapolis to Milan take to the streets, this is a moment where pent-up pain is screaming and striking at an invisible enemy. 

It seems like mere minutes ago when an entire world had lowered itself into a frenzied hibernation, full of reasons why we weren’t so different, why we were vulnerable just the same, why we were strong in societal solidarity with wholescale compliance. In unity there was not only strength, but tangible communal good for every individual body.

Paradoxically, the long-awaited decision to lift travel restrictions across regions in Italy opened up a second front, led by those governors reluctant to open their regions, most of which rely on summer tourism. On the same weekend, mask-less crowds of protesters calling for the immediate lifting of all restrictions.

The invisible enemy which had first separated us by social distance, then brought us together in common fragility and shared life experience, is now dividing us between governors and governed, policing and policed, protesters and stay-at-home-ers, Chinese and non, European and Italian, black and white, healthy and sick.

Some protests derive their energy from quiet presence, some from looting and burning, still others from disregarding and discrediting the entire rampage coronavirus has wreaked throughout the world. Governments have responded with lifting restrictions, imposing curfews, sending stimulus payments, applying tear gas, and some others, change.

The inevitable Phase 2

Come 2020, the imagination of protest grows even more imposing — there is danger now in the very gathering of people itself. Our gathering has not been sanctioned politically, nor from the public health perspective. Are protesters risking each other’s lives by marching and moving? And what of the conditions that have led, avoidably or unavoidably to this risk?

In the arc of living through global pandemic, Phase 2 is typified by protest.

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