While COVID-19 feels like a radical shift in the order of things, the viral crisis builds upon and exacerbates fierce but existing forms of expropriation, exclusion and exploitation that constitute the global world order. Further, while we want to fight to protect the most vulnerable in the community, we do well to remember the revolutionary energy that was already directed squarely at this world order only months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, most notably in the Wet’suwet’en #ShutdownCanada movement. Viral containment responses themselves have provided an alibi for containing this prior revolutionary activity (for instance, many revolutionaries in Beirut associate the Lebanese government’s virus containment policies with using a moment of crisis to temper—and inflict divisions in—the popular uprising). Many Indigenous revolutionaries in Canada (as well as their allies) are highlighting the difference between the public’s outcry against #ShutdownCanada, compared to its demand to #CancelEverythingNow.
Those of us in universities express fears that neoliberal forces are using this moment to establish emergency crisis policies as the next “status quo” after the pandemic is over. Online courses and “e-learning,” which have been creeping into higher education for years now, are the new “efficient” pedagogical model for learning, reconfiguring not only the labour of teaching and learning, but the value placed on different forms of pedagogy over others. Arts spaces–always precariously run on the margins of established culture–face the acute possibility of folding in the face of “social distancing.” Even so, the crisis has made possible propositions that seemed radical only months ago—a universal basic income, a guaranteed stipend for students in the summer, debt forgiveness.
Coronavirus crisis management and public responses have brought to the surface both existing local and global social ailments, and systematic injustices and dysfunctionalities (xenophobic populism, increased resource and labour extraction, and neoliberal inequality in access to healthcare, increased vulnerability for cultural workers). None of this is new to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has certainly been exacerbated, made especially visible in the language and imagery circulating since the onset of the outbreak.
How does the temporality of “crisis” itself shape our experience of the pandemic? How does it resemble other “crises” (the financial crisis, the migrant crisis, etc.)? What does seeing the crisis as continuous do to our understandings of the pandemic as an “outbreak”? What other temporalities, forms of eventfulness, modes of living in time are eclipsed by the language of “crisis”?
What has already become the “new normal” since the outbreak? How does it continue from “new normals” that preceded the outbreak (pipeline construction, racialized violence, neoliberal labour conditions)? What reconfigurations of feminist labour are being imagined, and by whom? What new precarity, overwork, conditions of work are being implemented as “temporary emergency measures” for feminist critical and cultural workers?
While racist and phobic discourses are meant to pit us against each other (“foreign viruses”, “foreign bodies”), what tools might allow us to come together in the crisis? To see it as the result of systemic failures of a crumbling neoliberal colonial world order? To actively contribute to more justice in the birthing of a new one? How can we enact models of “co-citizenship” (Azoulay), particularly with those denied full rights (undocumented peoples, front line workers)?
In the university, what does and can the virtual classroom mean? What new forms of ‘scaling’ are imagined by this shift? What is being devalued? How is pedagogy imagined? Conversely, what new possibilities might emerge here? New forms of accessibility and participation? Connection? On what and whose terms?
How do our solutions to this ‘crisis’ also solve the ‘crisis that was already here’? How do we rebuild a vibrant “public” on different grounds after the pandemic recedes? What new collective spaces would need to be imagined? How might a “general strike” work to curb instances of “business as usual”, to resist demands for overwork and emergency adaptation in times of crisis? What politico-aesthetic strategies might be mobilized to do feminist work in the pandemic? What different forms of making might this entail? New modes of distribution? New collaborations? New conditions of care? New languages for this pandemic moment?
Technological acknowledgement is a tool we devised to recognize not only the territories on which hosts of events are located, but the territories on which the media infrastructures of videotelephony, which we use to gather during the pandemic, are located.
Our Community Needs check-in invitated the FMS community (and potential new community members) to enter into conversation to imagine how the Feminist Media Studio might work from the ground up, providing resources, activities, and potential forms of sanctuary for feminist artists, scholars and activists during the long and enduring pandemic conditions. We specifically meant to undo the anticipatory thrust many institutions had (the FMS among them) to organize events based on the imagined needs of participants and community members. Rather, we meant to open the space to collectively share and identify real needs, constraints, affects, and desires.