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Dana Fisher:; Coronavirus will affect the work of the state, its interaction with citizens, the reaction of citizens and their participation in the decision-making process
Dana Fisher, Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland – on protests in the era of social distancing, the changing role of the state, and what level of power is most important in the United States.
Margot Gontard: How do you assess the anti-quarantine protests taking place in the United States?
Dana Fisher: The COVID-19 outbreak has forced most Americans to comply with established quarantine rules. We are seeing a significant decrease in protest activity. A number of small protests did take place in several states. And, of course, it’s worth mentioning that there is something going on in 12 states, but when we talk about large-scale mobilization of citizens expressing their concerns, we imagine something completely different..
The protesters do not represent the entire American community. A poll by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland, where I teach, found that most people in the United States support the governors’ efforts to protect the health of their statesmen. People welcome calls to stay at home and maintain social distance. About 70 percent of the population approves of these steps. But there are always those who disagree. Those opposed are a small portion of the US population and a small portion of those states..
If most Americans were dissatisfied, we would see a much larger turnout – not dozens or even two thousand. For comparison, in March 2020, a women’s march was held – few people gathered for it, but there were much more of them compared to these protests..
M.G .: Online protests have gained popularity in the United States, Russia and other countries. How do you see the future of this kind of protest?
D.F .: The role of online activism has grown over the past 20 years. We have seen over the years how digital technology has helped maintain people-to-people contact and, to some extent, influence traditional methods of protest. This is clearly illustrated by the example of the fight against global climate change. Their participants got to know each other, then continued communication in messengers and social networks, and after exchanging information, they went out to protest actions around the world. Now we see that all this activity has gone online due to the need to preserve the health of the protesters and their families..
For example, it was originally planned that the celebration of Earth Day would last for three days and end with a giant rally on the National Mall in Washington, but all street actions were canceled to protect the health of people in the United States and other countries, and Earth Day went digital..
I think the importance of online activism will continue to grow. But in the future, both live and online promotions will be used. While working on the book, I discovered that large-scale protests, in which more than 25 thousand people took part, played an important role in organizing a public movement against the Trump administration, in mobilizing people who had no political experience or experience of participating in protests. Their first experience of participation in public life took place precisely in the form of protest, and then their involvement in other forms of activity followed. I suppose that without the possibility of personal communication, the ability to go out into the streets, without participation in rallies and concerts, it will be much harder to attract people to other types of social activities..
The coronavirus will undoubtedly affect the work of the state, its interaction with citizens, the reaction of citizens and their participation in the decision-making process. The same will happen with protests. Everything will change. This is what we call the “anthropological shift.” This has many historical precedents, but it is not known what we will get as a result..
M.G .: What changes can happen?
D.F .: To answer such questions, I study people’s participation in public life. For example, I am collecting information about those who participate in the Indivisible movement (“Indivisible” – an organization that emerged after the victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election – MG) – one of the largest groups of progressive orientation. I look at who these people are, how they participate in public life, how their participation is changing due to COVID-19. I am going to observe them until the 2020 elections to assess the results of this activity..
Observing how people interact with each other, participate in the life of the country, you can get an idea of what to expect in the future, because citizens play a very important role in how the country functions.
After all, a repressive state emerges only where repression is supported and encouraged by the majority of citizens. At the moment, my research shows that we have a different future after the pandemic. We will see a very active and engaged civil society pushing for political change much more actively than in the past four years..
Now people interact with each other, but they interact differently. If we take a random sample of people in the United States, it turns out that many of them began to care for their fellowmen through schools, through their religious communities or political associations. To ensure that everyone in their community is doing well. To provide medical workers with protective equipment. These efforts demonstrate that people are highly involved in community affairs and follow what is happening around them. Many “woke up” after the 2016 presidential elections, continue to closely follow the events in the country and are going to participate in the 2020 elections.
We must find an answer to the question: will the pandemic lull people’s attention? So far, everything shows that they are not going to fall asleep. I also expect people to follow the campaigns at the local level more, with race participants talking about local issues that will take on special significance after the pandemic ends..
In the United States, individual states and municipalities are fighting the epidemic. So those who are unhappy with the quarantine should rather be angry with their governor, with local officials, with the school council, and not with the federal government, as is the case in other countries. This means that for Americans, the local level is much more important..
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