Peopleless Protest refers to a novel concept of protest developed in the wake of strict lockdowns during the SARS CoV-19 pandemic in March 2020. It was first implemented by the Europe Must Act campaign in the same year, but subsequently repeated by other political activists. Peopleless protests differ from other forms of protest as they occur simultaneously online and offline.
The conceptualization of peopleless protests is based upon a couple of premises, eventually integrating their implications in its design: First, people are restricted in their freedom of assembly and movement. This could be due to a lockdown, as during the SARS CoV-19 pandemic 2019-2020, or a curfew imposed for some other reason. Second, there is a group of people that want to campaign for a certain cause without violating lockdown or curfew rules. Third, the campaign wants to have its demonstration visible both online and offline, namely, on the streets. Fourth, potential participants of the protest are self-conscious about their privacy rights and rather reluctant to upload personal data to the Internet.
On an abstract level, the ingredients of a peopleless protest contain three elements: A marker, a record and an assembly.Participants of the protest iterate this marker in places they live. Second, protesters record their marker, usually by taking a picture and upload it to a webpage provided by the campaign organizers. Finally, the organizers link these individual representations to a joint online protest. Therefore, they gather the pictures’ locations and pin them on a map, creating a virtual assembly. Meanwhile, the individual representations, the markers, remain visible on the street and can be seen, visited and photographed by passersby.
In early March 2020, Europe Must Act planned pan-European demonstrations for the immediate evacuation of refugees from overcrowded camps on the Aegean Islands. The campaign had local chapters in London, Brussels, Paris and Berlin. Yet it became clear very quickly that traditional, physical demonstrations would be impossible as the Covid-19 gained foothold across Europe. On March 9th, Italy was under nation-wide lockdown. A day earlier, France had already forbidden public gatherings with more than 1000 people. Germany’s federal states replicated this measure in the following days: First, regarding events with 1000 people on March 10th, then 100 people and in some states even all public and private gatherings six days later. On March 11th the Belgian police told the campaign that their protest march on March 18th will be tolerated, but changed their mind a day later, forcing the organizers to cancel the event.
In response to these challenges, the concept of peopleless protests was invented by Yunus Berndt and first publicized on a dedicated website on March 13th 2020. He later explained the concept in an interview with Reset magazine.
Europe Must Act adopted the idea for the campaign "Silhouettes of Solidarity". In that case, the markers were silhouettes chalked on walls and streets, photographed and uploaded on the campaign website. According to the website more than 50 markers from Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, Poland and the United States were submitted.
Subsequently, Seebrücke, an NGO advocating for refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea, also called followers to join peopleless protests whereby the marker would be banners and footprints. Picture of these were assembled on the NGO's website.
Healthcare workers adopted the tool on April 17 to ask lawmakers in Washington for more personal protective equipment.
- Newton, Mark (2020-04-17). "Peopleless Protest: Standing up for Refugee Rights Despite the Covid-19 Lockdown". RESET - Digital for Good.
- Yunus, Berndt. "Peopleless Protest".
- "A New Movement in Europe Is Demanding That Cities Welcome Refugees Amid COVID-19". Global Citizen. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
- Europe Must Act. "Silhouettes of Solidarity".
- "Aktionsideen". Seebrücke (in Deutsch). Retrieved 2020-06-04.
- Lang, Marissa J. (2020-04-17). "A D.C. protest without people. Activists demand PPE for health care workers on front line of coronavirus pandemic". The Washington Post.
- Bala, Jasmine (2020-06-03). "Black and POC youth set up people-less protest in Centennial Square in Victoria". Chek News.
- Crighton, Kendra (2020-06-04). "People-less protest in Victoria holds space for victims of police brutality, systematic racism". Victoria News.
- Poon, Dorothy (2020-06-24). "WOC-led activism highlights racialized experiences and the BLM movement through art, community engagement". The Martlet.
- Harmer, Todd (2020-06-05). "Victoria residents rebuild 'people-less protest'". CTV News.
- Crighton, Kendra (2020-06-04). "Dozens show up to rebuild vandalized Victoria people-less protest". Victoria News.
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