An activist's guide to surviving Lockdown #2


13 November 2020

The vast majority of the UK’s population are now in some kind of lockdown. We need to ensure we stay healthy, both physically and mentally, and do what we can to ensure others do likewise. And, as activists, we need to make sure we can find new ways to organise while looking after our own wellbeing and our communities. 

Here are some useful tips and resources to power through the next few weeks (or months?) of lockdown: 

Host online meetings 

Meeting other activists, or at least seeing their faces in boxes on screens is important. We’ve discovered the benefits of online meetings in a big way. No more journey time to and from meetings, for speakers there’s no more late nights getting back from another town hoping to catch the last tube home. We can ask for speakers internationally, experts in their fields who are happy to speak because it only takes the time necessary for the talk and answering any questions. Suddenly Ipswich can attract top class speakers and researchers eager to share their knowledge with a willing audience. 

Draw up a list of organisations you'd like to hear from, invite someone to speak in a month or so and you can quickly get together a series of engaging and informative meetings. 

Global Justice Now marked the first lockdown with a successful series of webinars looking at all our major campaigns and examining the issues brought up by coronavirus. If you missed any they’re still available

Some tips from our local groups 

Our group in South East London has handled the whole coronavirus period really well. They went from having monthly meetings to fortnightly ones in order to keep up social contact during lockdown. The meetings are shorter, often with one member of the group introducing an issue they’ve been active on or read about, sometimes with external guest speakers. During the past few months, they’ve actually attracted new members and the meetings run more easily than when they met round a table in a pub – they get interrupted less and find it easier to hear each other. When they have a guest speaker, at Global Justice Now we can send out an invitation to all supporters in an area larger than the group normally covers. 

The group says they’ve learnt a lot but are worried that they are campaigning less, they feel they will have to be more imaginative in their future campaigning. 

Not in a local group? It’s a great time to get involved in one! Given the online nature of group meetings, geography needn’t be a barrier. Check out the local groups, and contact your nearest to see if they’re meeting regularly – they'd be delighted to hear from you! A new Global Justice Now group started covering Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire this summer on the basis of meeting virtually – they have gone on to do stalls in Hitchin, and we hope to see wider spread activity in the future. 

Keep learning 

More than last time round, with the nights drawing in and the weather keeping us indoors as lockdown begins, there's every reason to get yourself acquainted with the best in political literature and film. There’s one thing more effective than a committed activist and that‘s a committed educated activist. I asked around Global Justice Now staff and other activists for their recommendations. Here’s a tiny number of them: 

Read 

  • Less is More, by Jason Hickel – a compelling and accessible case for degrowth 

  • AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction, by Arundhati Roy – her 2020 collection of political essays 

  • Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein – How governments exploit crises and what needs to happen for humanity to survive climate change, the most important questions of the day. 

  • The Street Art Manual – Bill Posters great ideas for taking your message on to quiet streets. 

  • Bullshit Jobs – David Graeber, the late great anthropologist rants against jobs without meaning or worth. 

  • The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles – David Harvey, academic guru with a wonderfully accessible and concise style, essential reading for those seeking progressive change. 

  • The Return of Nature – John Bellamy Foster, an eloquent demand for a long, ecological revolution from Marxism’s best ecologist. 

Watch films: 

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) – the farcical trial of various 1968 leaders of a militant demo against the Democratic convention in opposition to the Vietnam War. Funny and brutal and devoid of justice. 

  • The Battle of Algiers (Amazon Prime) – best war film ever shot 

  • Mrs America (BBC iPlayer) - excellent series about feminism and its opponents in 70s America 

  • Matewan (DVD, although availability is at times limited) – John Sayles film about the Matewan mining strike 

  • White Riot https://www.modernfilms.com/whiteriot Relive the Rock Against Racism heydays and understand it’s important legacy. 

  • Steve McQueen's Small Axe series of films on the BBC on Sunday evenings will be a real treat.Also on iPlayer.

Watch other online content: 

  • Reel News (especially Cooperation Jackson, part of their American Climate Rebels section) 

  • Double Down News (there’s a LOT of stuff with George Monbiot on here, but also things coming over from the US at the moment) 

  • Global Justice Now’s YouTube channel for campaigning shorts and recorded webinars 

Organising an informal and impromptu book or film club to discuss a title a few of you have read or watched recently is a great way to get the most out of books and films. Some Global Justice Now groups hold meetings based on a verbal book review and a discussion about a few of the key themes of the book. 

Take action from home 

Your MP and the government won’t thank us, but one of the most effective ways of campaigning from home is to write – in your own words – to your MP with your concerns about the matter you want to effect. All too often we depend on some pro-forma message or postcard action that the MP’s assistant will answer with exactly the same email and, if we’re lucky, tell the MP how many people sent in the card or email. A personal email or letter is worth so much more – especially when there’s references to places, organisations and people in the constituency. You can also try to call institutions and even corporations to account. There's no boundary you should bow to in your demand for answers and explanations. 

Get creative and make banners or posters for your windows or front garden / wall. 

Our friends at CAFOD got activists to display their ‘cancel the debt messagesCancel the Debt’ messages in different and inventive ways, aiming at an online audience. 

Become a social media warrior – the window for opportunity is smaller than it used to be, but there’s still value in tweeting and retweeting, sharing things in different Facebook groups and pages and ensuring good content enjoys a huge audience. 

Getting out and about 

After lockdown, in times of lesser restrictions, if you’re feeling daring, try organising an outdoor photo stunt. Remember, the audience you get for some of these ideas is far bigger on social media – take a photo and tweet, Facebook and Instagram it. The quality of the photo is perhaps equally as important as the spectacle you have produced. 

We learned some good things in the recent day of action against the US Trade Deal. Presenting your message in different and imaginative ways can get attention, provoke discussion and debate and helps you to win an audience and hopefully some new adherents to your point of view. You can see some of these tactics in action in our video from the day:

Tactics we used and saw included:  

Beach art  – a couple of rakes and a design (with a good vantage point to photograph your work from) works well, if a little fleetingly. A stop motion film of the work in progress is really good. 

Placards on statues – Activists in Scotland made a good number of placards against the trade deal, then one morning the city awoke to find many of the statues on plinths and buildings holding the placards with the help of a bit of gaffer tape – a great platform for simple slogans. 

Protests and demonstrations  can still work, but don’t go expecting masses of people – think about a spectacle, something that will attract media attention. NHS staff had a great banner and kneeling protest calling for a decent pay rise in or soon after the first lockdown that got reproduced in lots of places.  

Pantomime – The London protest against the US Trade Deal involved a pantomime cow, chickens and a huge syringe of hormones – the media have been using the images ever since.  

There’s myriad ways of displaying your message – it takes some work and imagination, but it can be done.  

Projections  of images and slogans onto different surfaces – a bank, we did some shipping containers, a polluting factory or a factory that produces weapons, a government or local government building, a statue or it’s plinth, your university admin block or a local landmark – whatever suits the nature of your protest. A run of the mill projector, on a dark evening, can be used to good effect. But do think about a power source for the projector! 

We’ve seen a huge slogan painted on the side of a barn, and we made a film of a farmer ploughing a huge ‘NO’ into a field. 

Let us know if there’s more campaigning ideas or survival tips you have to share with others, We’ll share them on here. 

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