By now, our hopes ‘for the better’ borderline with absurdity. The distorted temporality of this year became a challenging task, where we began to question our individualism in relation to wider communities. On the contrary, 2020 managed to shed a permeable layer of hope, where we campaigned for a brighter future, a future which abolishes the limiting array of compromises. We discovered that cooperation is the basis for every movement – both in terms of a revolution or our physical navigation through urban spaces. At this stage, one may consider protests to be the pivotal tool for connecting both terms and defining our year for taking responsibility.
I would like to shift my attention to Poland, where protests currently unfold as the far-right government party – Law and Justice – imposes a near total ban on abortion. The political atmosphere in Poland is a pessimistic series of events – with years of populist outbursts and bigoted rulings, many consider the protests to be a breaking point which resulted from absolute frustration. The Polish government is also responsible for an immense degree of polarization, where every social group holds a grudge against each other. What happened over the past two weeks was a sudden reconstruction, a spark of hope which united the liberal and some conservative unions to stand against the violation of women’s rights. What also became blatantly visible was that the protests are a voice of the younger generation, a generation which never experienced the fall of communism in 1989 and the tumultuous bursts that followed. Writing about the ‘Women’s March’ echoes with my idea of responsibility, as I myself have taken part in the walkouts over the past weeks.
What tightened my interest with the protest was the contemporary view of a ‘shared community’, the idea of masses gathering into one space in the urban environment. In other words, one may consider that the logistics of the protest generate a new form of psychogeography, where the existence of the city is concentrated in one space and the rest appears inoperative. The past two weeks expanded my view on the way we navigate through our cities and how gatherings affect the performativity of a given space, whether it is in the open or indoors. There is a possibility that the intensity of the protests was amplified by not only our anger but a longing for a social territory which became distorted since last March – due to lockdown. After a significant break, the city suddenly became an environment designated for a communal premise, which not only brought the anticipated feeling of hope but also a notion of a shared experience, unity and belonging. One should also not forget that the city is a major transition point, where movement is in a constant flux and individualism is at its’ highest. The protest changed this dialectic, where bikers, cars, and public transportation drivers would stop and join the march, signaling the city to stop. The experience of the urban environment managed to reevaluate our personal stance and how our need for social change dictates our physical movement. However, it should be underlined that the protest is not an act of spontaneity, but a rather planned-ahead function which requires some form of groundwork and follows protocol in terms of safety and legal components. This process of ‘planning the protest’ designates the city to become a field for motion and unity, where each person blends in with the crowd – from a distance it looks like a homogeneous substance. Moreover, your perception of familiar streets and corners becomes altered, bordering with a disparate reality. At this point, the concept of time also holds leverage. Your attendance at the protest stops the duration around and limits your self-awareness, partially because of the locked space and the focus you devote towards marching with the crowds. Consciousness returns once you leave the masses, where the vision of the habitual urban environment becomes recognizable. On the other hand, being involved in the protest starts before the actual event, with Facebook and Instagram feeds being our discussion panels – maps, timetables, photos from the streets, transportation information, etc. all come down to the logistics, labeling the city as an area for a movement. I would consider the word ‘movement’ to be the common denominator which fastens the city to the protest, as both the social movement – the driving force of the protest – correlates to our physical movement through the streets.
Poland’s case is relevant to this symmetry, as the scale of the current revolt is hard to compare to any other from the country’s recent history. For the first time since the right-wing government took control, the younger population assembled together to move in one direction, with the objective to fight the nationalistic and strictly religious doctrine. The ban on abortion led the public to confront the involvement of the Church with our private lives, the first ‘movement’ of such nature. The physical status of a Church in the urban background was simultaneously altered, as the government’s advocates decided to create human barriers around Catholic institutions to protect them from “leftist extremism” – a nonsensical allegation. The physical presence of the body is the main constituent of the movement, and the way we utilize space around is dependent on our motif. Taking part in a protest breaks the barrier between time and space where our vision for the better is only stronger when we work collectively in a public territory. Participating in an accessible domain is what gives value to social change, as it should be an open system which gives space for every individual. Looking at the wider picture, some consider the urban zones to be a more ‘exclusive’ ground for protesting, where only city populations are able fight for a revolution – as this was the case in Poland until now. Fortunately, the current marches are being dispersed around the country, giving voice to women who feared expression in the current political and social environment.