By Polyxeni Fotopoulou
The time of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the profound fissures of neoliberal capitalism.This pandemic discriminates against vulnerable people. This pandemic also allows and justifies state violence and constructs new modalities of living and co-existence under state surveillance tactics which demonstrate a problematic relation between the concept of freedom and security. To paraphrase Michel Foucault, this pandemic seems to be the utopia of the perfectly governed city (/society). In a more precise wording, it could be said that responsible for all the above is not the pandemic itself but the sociopolitical handling of it. Worldwide, presidents’ addresses highlight that we are all dealing with the same enemy. However, the only equal position that we have in the face of the corona crisis is that this virus threatens equally the health of all of us and our loved ones (Butler 2020). In this crisis we do not all have equal rights; homeless people are exposed to the virus, refugees are in camps unprotected without being provided with hygiene products, not everyone has equal access to health care, unemployment rises, there are more and more victims of domestic violence, there are more deaths of African-Americans than any other group in the U.S, there is racism against Asian people and populations are interpreted on the basis of a positivist and impersonal division between infected and non-infected bodies.
Although the dichotomic conditions based on the sociopolitical dilemma of whose lives matter the most, solidarity between vulnerable people becomes their protective shield and a praxis of resistance against inequality. Collective initiatives of creating common spaces of solidarity and resistance emerged during the corona crisis shaping new social movements and collectives against these precarious conditions.
In historical moments of turbulent periods and great depressions, it is observed that spontaneous movements and collective actions emerge whose structure is usually not based on political parties ideologies and they deal with the precariousness of instability through alternative ways. I am referring to anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti- sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic collectives and movements which put clear boundaries against racism and they are in solidarity with vulnerable subjectivities. As Varvarousis and Kallis demonstrate; in a liminal period “sharing solidarity or horizontality are not introduced as indisputable a priori identity values. They emerge as the worth is experienced in practice in solving practical problems or in organizing collective actions” (2017, 132). In other words, it could be said that in the initial phase of a crisis these collective actions function as initiatives of temporary relief of precarity. Particularly, in Commoning Against The Crisis (2017) Varvarousis and Kallis by focusing on the Greek Commoning Movement during Greece’s great depression (2009) present the idea of alternative commoning practices in periods of precarity claiming that these “new forms of commons follows a rhizomatic pattern” (2017, 129). Varvarousis and Kallis reflect this idea on Greek commoning initiatives and projects of austerity period such as the occupied squares by indignant citizens (Aganaktismenoi), communal kitchens and the occupations of Athens Metropolitan Clinic, Plato’s Academy, Empros,Vox, Scholeio, Hellenico, etc. where since the election of the current government (2019) the majority of them was violently evicted by police forces. Some of these commoning initiatives such as Aganaktismenoi (Indignant Citizens Movement) of Syntagma square (2010) became rhizomatic, namely “they have no center or periphery…and they are not stable but appear and disappear within a highly accelerating spiral” and others are still sustained till today and adapt to the new conditions such as the communal kitchens and occupations (ibid.,141-144) . While the Indignant Citizens Movement started as a collective spontaneous anti-austerity initiative, after a while the square was divided into the lower and the upper part(ibid.,138). This distinction had to do mainly with the “different functions of each zones”; the upper part in front of the Parliament was identified by protests “with the presence of nationalists or xenophobes” while the lower part was a space of “settlement, discussion and creation” (ibid., 138). In 2011, the presence of the Aganaktismenoi Movement in Syntagma square began gradually to weaken especially due to the violent intervention of police forces. Varvarousis and Kallis’ study shows us thoroughly how Greece, despite its deep rooted tradition in party interdependence, started to believe in the potentiality of heterogeneous assemblies with anti-capitalist and anti-racist character as well as in the existence of commoning initiatives outside the party orientation and hierarchy. The evolution of this phenomenon can be seen in recent movement of #SupportArtWorkers that started by people of the Greek art scene in May 2020 in the face of the corona crisis claiming support for the arts and cultural sector which has been particularly affected by the general lockdown.
Although the recent Greek extremely conservative government represents itself in local and international mainstream media as a great “rescuer” protecting Greek people from the “invisible enemy” some important visible facts are missing from this representation. Importantly, since the beginning of the corona crisis a number of significant shortages emerged in the public health care system such as shortages of ICUs (Intensive care units) and insufficient number of medical supplies, such as shortages of medical face masks, gloves and antiseptics. On top of that, according to the government decree which was published at the beginning of Covid-19 outbreak, due to the lack of medical staff in public hospitals doctors are forced to work overtime and to perform overnight duties without getting paid.
Furthermore, numerous professions that have been hit by the pandemic are not included in the two-month state support allowance. In particular, the Greek government is completely indifferent about the irreparable damage of the sector of Arts and Culture as theater performances, concerts, dance performances, museums and gallery exhibitions have been postponed until this summer. In the face of this precarity, in May art workers started on Avaaz webpage – one of the most known nonprofit organizations which promotes activist practices – an initiative of gathering signatures asking for solidarity support in their fight against the marginalization of Greek art workers. The movement appears on Facebook and in other social media with the hashtag #SupportArtWorkers, and art workers have already held a number of performances in public spaces and protest rallies in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities publicizing their demands. (1)
The “Art Workers Initiative” claims three key rights: firstly the enactment of a long term support plan which will contribute to the economic recovery of Arts and Culture sector, secondly the radical reformation of Cultural workers’ rights, as especially musicians and songwriters have for decades been enduring the results of a flawed and non-transparent system, and thirdly the governmental decision for an immediate and precise plan of the gradual return of Arts and Culture sector as it has already been announced for other professional sectors. The #SupportArtWorkers movement is not connected to any institution, organization or party-based politics, it is a spontaneous initiative which through these demands pursues to claim the immediate relief of art workers’ suffering. The spontaneous gatherings of art workers in squares and public spaces through dancing, singing and performing acquire a festive, powerful and bodily character. The forcefulness, the peacefulness and the non-hierarchical principles of the #SupportArtWorkers movement reminds us of the pulse of the first period of the Indignant Citizens Movement. The Art workers’ movement either becomes rhizomatic or expands to claim further fundamental rights, at least for now it has achieved to create a solidarity circle and a common space of resistance where art workers claim their rights which have been depreciated by the Greek state.
Some of us constantly live under the “feeling of precariousness” with a “damaged sense of future” related to the fear of unemployment, the “anxiety of illness and mortality” – especially if we do not have the privilege to be covered by health insurance – and the fear of the threat of violence (Butler & Athanasiou 2013, 43). In this crucial sociopolitical moment of high precarity, solidarity and collectiviness between us, the vulnerable, seem to be (once again) our only option.
Butler, Judith. “Capitalism Has its Limits”. Verso. March 30, 2020. https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4603-capitalism-has-its-limits.
Butler, Judith and Athena Athanasiou.“Dispossession: The performative in the political.” John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison.” Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage 1 (1995): 977.
Varvarousis, Aggelos, and Giorgos Kallis. “Commoning against the crisis.” Another Economy is Possible: Culture and Economy in a Time of Crisis, 2017, 128-159.