Global Black Lives Matter protests during Covid-19 will no doubt go down in the history books as a defining moment of the pandemic and this generation’s fight for social and racial justice. But the activities of pandemic protesting haven’t stopped there. This week, 52INSIGHTS explores just some of the protests youth are involved in currently, around the world.
MEME PROTEST & KIM K’S 40TH
This week Kim Kardashian revealed via social media that she had flown family and friends to a private island to celebrate her 40th birthday;
“After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. We danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more. I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these, I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is.”
Cue the internet losing its mind. There are many forms of protest and defiance. In this instance, memes exploded across the Twittersphere as most of the online world reflected - in hilarious ways - on how tone deaf, un-humble and privileged the update came across.
“I can't even hug my mom, but glad you got to go to your private island and do whatever you wanted.” @Itsameantonia
Some brands made relevant references to the post too. Among the ‘middle aisle’ essential item retailer debates, supermarket Lidl made a Kim Kardashian related joke "If Kim Kardashian can have her private isle, we'll still bring you the middle aisle.” MoMA even got involved.
POLAND ABORTION RIGHTS
For a week there have been abortion right’s protests in Poland - a country that has one of the most restricted access to abortion in all European countries. Until now there were only three exceptions to accessing abortion: when the mother’s life is in danger, in cases of rape or incest, and in cases of severe and irreversible foetal defects.
Recent protests come following a ruling by Poland’s highest court that paves way to ban virtually all pregnancy terminations - it declared that the existing law allowing the abortion of malformed foetuses to be incompatible with the constitution. According to The Guardian, there are already fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year in Poland, and the vast majority take place because of malformed foetuses (as many as 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad each year). Among other human rights organisations, Amnesty International has condemned the ruling.
There is serious concern and anger among protestors - who’ve been bearing slogans like “disgrace!” and “war on women”, and carrying a red lightning image that has become a symbol of the protests. The slogan “women’s hell” has gone viral. In addition to a nationwide strike, city streets have come to a standstill - protestors have ignored pandemic restrictions in massive numbers, even as infections hit a huge spike. Peaceful protestors have even been attacked by far-right groups and met with tear gas.
FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE US
Has the pandemic made young people more politically aware and engaged? Despite coronavirus-related barriers to turnout, the US is currently seeing what could be the highest voter turnout in over 100 years. The reportedly strong early youth voter turnout is a significant impact on this - data is suggesting a record turnout from this cohort. The number of young voters has far outpaced that of 2016 - more than 5 million young people (ages 18-29) have already voted early or absentee in the 2020 elections, including nearly 3 million in 14 key states. Data on early voters and recent polling suggest eligible voters under 30 could break their historic 2008 turnout (it peaked at 48% when Barack Obama was elected as president).
“It’s become so popular to vote. Everyone posts on Instagram… [In 2016] I didn’t want to be the one political person talking about sensitive topics… Now it seems like everybody talks about it, and everybody is willing to share what they believe.” Brianna Campbell, age 23
Youth engagement and enthusiasm for the democratic system is not only reflective of their general desire for change and the growth of young activist movements (eg. March for Our Lives and Fridays For Future - #ClimateStrikeOnline is still going strong!). It is also a manifestation of this generation’s will to have an impact and use their voices in a powerful way - to have their say on issues like gun control, BLM and climate change - despite obstacles. Political engagement is now recognised by young people as a key tool to do this.
Risk is a part of progress. The Covid-19 pandemic has given many people the opportunity to reflect on what’s important and what they truly believe in. Among young cohorts, we’re seeing this manifest in a big way through political and activist action and demonstration - loud declarations of intent to impact change. For many young people, this is not about defying regulations, but about flexing the experience of using their voice during a crucial moment in time - learning to articulate a viewpoint loudly and proudly in a way that feels right. This won’t end on Nov 3rd!
Many mainstream youth audiences can be considered aspiring activists around specific issues. Think about how you could choose to support a vulnerable community. When it comes to brand activism and brand purpose, think about the ways in which you could support movements and communities around youth issues in a safe and empowering way that sends a clear message and takes a clear position.
There are many communications lessons to be found in youth activist demonstrations right now. Both on the streets and in the digital sphere, young generations are adding layers of humour and creativity to their voices - learning how to land their messages in different ways. The meme treatment is perhaps reserved for less-serious issues, but is nonetheless a signifier of how youth can make a real statement through online community engagement and creative thinking.
BLACK LIVES MATTER: PROTESTING IN A PANDEMIC
TW: this article addresses themes of violence toward black people and the murder of George Floyd.