Under curfew? Or quarantine? When people are no longer allowed to move freely, their constitutional right, their human right to get out on the streets, to assemble and to protest peacefully is critically frustrated. In such times, a curfew, however legitimate it might be, is a prime opportunity for policy makers to pass unpopular laws and to circumvent usual political participation processes. In short, a curfew is a threat for democracy.
A Peopleless Protest - or personless protest - is a concept to ensure democratic participation even if citizens are limited in their freedom of movement. It leverages modern technology and creates a virtual, online demonstration.
How does it work? The first thing to define is a marker. A marker is a symbol that is outwardly different from the usual surrounding, for example:
A flower pot placed at the doorstep
A silhouette drawn with chalk on the sidewalk or living room
A yellow cloth hung out of the window
Be creative, think of something unusual, something that appears extraneous when seen, smelled or heard. Avoid markers that involve personally identifiable data, such as faces or ID information. That could create privacy issues in step three or entail fines for participants if the action has been unintentionally taken in a place falling under the curfew. Once you have chosen a symbol, ask participants of the campaign to iterate this marker in the place where they are. For instance, every protester places a flower pot in front of their house door; or goes out with the roommates and draws a silhouette on his or her terrace.
The second step is to record. Ask your fellows to make pictures or videos. If they are drawing silhouettes with chalk on the ground, they would need to take a pic and upload it on social media or on a dedicated campaign website, or they send it to a dedicated email address.
The third step is technically tricky but possible. All these individual representations/ demonstrations need to be linked to a massive, joint, online protest. On social media this works nicely with a common hashtag; if you have asked submissions via a website upload, email or mail, you would need to bring them together manually. Ideally you take the locations where the pictures had been made and pin these locations on Google Maps. This way, you assemble the fragments to a virtual assembly. The protesters might have never met in person, but their representatives - the flower pots, the silhouettes or yellow flags come together in that space we call the Internet.
Has this ever been tested? As the Coronavirus is currently inhibiting the Europe Must Act movement, we are currently developing a technical solution to run the first peopleless protest. I am happy to share our experiences with all those whose legitimate wish to express their voices cannot be met due to an epidemic, war or repressive regime. A Peopleless Protest can save us from contamination, injury or persecution. More than that, it may save democracy.
Ideas, Suggestions, Requests, Experiences
Copyright Yunus Berndt, 2020