What do Shaheen Bagh and Farmers’ protest have in common, besides the fact that each of the protests were in their own rights one of the largest protests at their respective occurrences? I believe it is the way to manage and mobilize large populations from settlements of various scales. These two protests which have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people from various parts of their respective states, across the nation and across the world, is exemplary of how an event like protest becomes a lesson in also disaster management. Imagine a similar form of strategy, organization, and mobilization during the beginning of the pandemic when the mass exodus, especially millions of people from the low-income groups who fled the city, several of them on foot, due the abrupt imposition of nationwide lockdown. Imagine instead mobilizing strategies of organizing movements and protests, organizing quick, temporary, and mobile infrastructures necessary for either camping.
Another important aspect that is common between these two protests and which is true for all protests, is that the street becomes the place of occupation, of settling, of dwelling, of solidarity, of blossoming. While the house is threatened the street becomes the new home. This is important to note because the street is simply not a conduit of movement or simply the outside or the in-between space, street becomes the site of reorganizing human life.
It is this possibility of reimagining the street as a home a place of inhabitation for another life, for a new form of life, is what marks these two protests and several other protests like these exemplary case studies for organizing lives even when threatened by conditions like plague and pandemic.
The strategies to quickly setup tents, food stalls, organizing events, vehicles, electricity, candles, speakers, medical facilities, communications, and so on are important learnings from these protests.
Of course, one can say this is how all protests are organised, so what? Well, the interesting thing about these two protests are their scales and their distributed occurrences across the nation and even across the globe. What is interesting is that, both these protests effectively mobilized not just a few thousand people but hundreds of thousands of people -with some estimates for the farmers protest going up to several millions. Like the pandemic, these protests are in response to events that have direct impact on the lives (and deaths) of millions of people. In that sense, these two protests inform that even if certain events threaten the lives of millions it is possible to rapidly reorganize resources, spaces, and lives -establish new settlements particularly on streets, roads, and highways. It is possible to preserve life, sanity and solidarity of the lives that are being threatened. A disaster like the mass exodus from the big cities after the lockdown could have been avoided if the state machinery could have seen the potential of rapid strategy and organisation in these protests.
Didn’t eventually the most affected cities did the same thing? Set up camps? Then why not make this as a protocol etched in the institutional memory for future mobilization?