The COVID-19 Delta variant is on the rise across the United States. Every year, our organization, Pace e Bene, coordinates the Campaign Nonviolence Action Week (Sept. 18-26). During this week, tens of thousands of people will take action for peace and a culture of active nonviolence, free from war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. Everyone is welcome to join in. Over 3,300 actions and events are already in the works.
We want everyone to stay safe as the pandemic gears up for Season 2. Dispersed actions is how we’ll do it.
The rise of the Delta variant doesn’t mean we have to cancel our plans — indeed, it heightens all the crises and social injustices that we’re organizing to stop — but it does mean that we need to take precautions to be smart and safe. Protecting your health and others’ is in keeping with the Campaign Nonviolence approach of practicing “nonviolence toward yourself, one another and the whole world.”
Dispersed actions have been used for hundreds of years in campaigns around the world.
So, what can we still do? Fortunately, there are over 300 methods of nonviolent action. (You can find a full list on Nonviolence International’s website here.) In nonviolent struggle, there are different categories of nonviolent methods. “Concentrated actions” require us to bring our physical bodies to a certain place — like a mass demonstration, blockade or sit-in. “Dispersed actions,” on the other hand, can take place when we’re scattered (or hunkered down during a pandemic).
Dispersed actions — like a boycott, a call-in-sick, or strike — have been used for hundreds of years in campaigns around the world. They keep people safe when repression is high. For example, during Pinochet’s dictatorial regime, Chileans banged pots and pans from their windows, holding the protest where the police couldn’t get them. During Sudan’s 2019 nonviolent revolution, organizers chose to empty the streets (instead of filling them) after a police massacre in an effort to keep people safe. Amidst the 2020 pandemic lockdowns, people held mass sing-alongs from apartment balconies, held nightly “clap for caregiver” demonstrations, wore hazmat suits to parliament blockades, put sculptures in parks to protest instead of live humans, and much more.
In the uncertainty around the Delta variant, it makes sense to have a back-up plan for your Action Week ideas. Here are some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.
Go digital: Wherever it makes sense, move your meetings, trainings and prayer services online. You can also coordinate a social media effort to post messages of peace and nonviolence, or change banners or profile pictures. Plan a Zoom meeting where each person brings a letter of your protest message and take a screenshot (find a handy how-to guide here). Organize a Twitter storm on a particular issue, using hashtags and @(insertyourpoliticianhere) to deliver the message. (Don’t forget to use #CNV2021 so we can support you!) Have people take selfies with protest messages and circulate them online (like Siberians did to stop Arctic pollution).
Social distancing = big banners: Paint eight-foot wide banners and hold the corners. That’s putting social distancing to good purpose! You can also plan a socially distanced action with masks. Paint your masks with peace signs and plan to spread out along an entire street rather than cluster on one corner. One way to have a big, safe impact is by gathering two to three friends and dropping an overpass banner over a freeway that will be seen by hundreds of commuters.
Go into stealth mode: A little secrecy can be fun, right? If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, craft stealth actions and use an element of surprise. Paint your slogans and protest messages on rocks, and leave them in places where others will see them (like students did during March For Our Lives). Go out under the streetlights and sidewalk chalk your neighborhood with nonviolence quotes. Use wheat-paste to put up social justice posters on telephone poles (like pipeline resisters did to oppose Enbridge Line 3).
Mutual aid: Mutual aid networks are how we help one another break free of poverty and classism. Distinct from charity, mutual aid networks are based on mutual respect and common cause. There are over 400 in the United States and they are constantly helping families stay in their homes, put food on the table, keep the lights turned on and so forth. Find a project near you and ask all your friends to support mutual aid during Action Week.
Sculptural stand-ins: Your physical body isn’t the only thing that can make a protest statement. Use art and sculpture to put a pandemic-safe statement into the streets. In Turkey, climate activists used life-sized sculptures to hold signs. In Norway, snowmen blockaded government offices. The #NoKidsInCages sculpture galvanized the movement to stop migrant family separations. In England, a herd of sculpted elephants shut down London to demand increased conservation efforts. Australian Indigenous artists made a reclaimed plastic whale that’s now touring the world to oppose plastic pollution.
Posters and signs: Put signs and posters up in windows, church lawns, or schoolyards. Make a portrait or photo display in a public space to humanize those impacted by injustice (like Detroiters did with a pandemic memorial).
Car caravans, motorcades and more: It’s no secret that the United States is car-addicted. But, you can use that to your advantage. Plan a car caravan or motorcade with protest messages painted on windows or posters taped to them. You could also use a “motor vehicle slow down” and drive really slowly to raise awareness of your issue.
These are just some of the many ways you can prepare for a Delta variant-safe Action Week. We want you to take action for a culture of peace and active nonviolence. And, we want you to be as safe as you can while you do it. You can find more ideas for Campaign Nonviolence Action Week, Sept. 18-26, here. Most can be adapted for changing public health conditions.
Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.
Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.