Pracujesz na umowie śmieciowej? Możemy pomóc!

The Need to Reclaim the Public Space for Protest

During the last weeks, members of ZSP organized and/or took part in numerous public actions in a few cities around Poland. It is also planning a larger protest in the upcoming weeks in support of working people affected by the virus and against the government plans that favor public aid to businesses but not to the most precarious and vulnerable members of society.

Many of our members, often together with other libertarian activists, had been involved in direct mutual aid to people – from sewing and distributing masks, to providing more specialist equipment to fellow workers in hospitals, to aiding the homeless. However, for several weeks now, the union also has been calling for a mass protest for „when we can go back out on the streets”. Now it is clear that the government plans to open up shopping malls before it will allow any protests and that it may try to keep protests banned for up to a year (or longer). However, no ban can really stop us.

Poland this week actually saw mass protests – although not in the way typically associated with them. On April 15, the Parliament was voting on a number of crazy draft bills – all of which were submitted by different right-wing lobby groups. The one that caused the most uproar was the bill to essentially ban all abortion; currently it is only allowed in cases like rape, incest or serious health issues – and even then, women sometimes face obstacles to get access. Other bills on the agenda that day were equally annoying: there was one to ban sex education that also would broadly criminalize „the promotion of sex” to minors. (We know what kind of repression and hysteria can be stirred up with this – for example, for speaking to LGBT youth. This bill is largely aimed against the LGBT community and the groups supporting it equate them with pedophilia.) There was also a bill presented by hunters – a group strangely priveleged by the government. (While all other people were banned from entering forests and threatened with hug fines for taking walks, hunters were excluded from the ban.) Hunters want to make it legal to take children hunting with them. (Currently there are some age limitations.) Also there was an anti-semitic bill related to property restitution, which some ZSP members active in the issue of reprivatization had long criticized as an anti-semitic and nationalist campaign to distract people from the real issues.

The week before this, some ZSP unions and members of others declared that they would take part in protests, including just going out on the street in open defiance of the bans. (See: Currently even 2 people may not walk within 2 meters of each other and any „gathering” of more than 2 is banned – except for in church (but even that is limited). Organized and decentralized networks of women using slogans like „Womens' Strike” declared that they would manifest their protests as well and were the main motors behind many mobilizations. Some initiatives were for those who would not leave their homes and that included hanging posters in windows and putting banners on balconies. However, we also noticed that there were many people – from either the libertarian milieu or interested in the Women's Strike that were also determined to go out in public. So a couple of days before that a few of us just went out on the street with T-shirts and posters and showed that we can (and should) reclaim the public space and we can do it, even keeping „social distancing” norms. Later that same day we found that some people would test the waters with some small protests – standing on the street with distance – but with signs in our hands. Clearly a protest. As it turned out, the idea spread and dozens of such protests went out all over Poland, with hundreds of participants.

Motorists and bicyclists also organized. Since there are no real restrictions to driving around in cars, people with cars went en masse through different cities – especially the capital. Many people had posters on their windows, waved flags or even screamed through bullhorns. Given the level of interest and engagement in these actions, we knew that the next day would be interesting.

In Warsaw we were most interested in going to the Parliament. As it turned out, a few hundred people went there, despite the bans. For some days prior, we and other activists had been promoting information about the legal bases for refusing to accept fines from the police. The police did mobilize against those appearing at the Parliament and tried to fine people, but everybody refused to take the fine. In other cities, people carried out different actions in defiance of the protest bans, but with respect for distancing due to health reasons. In some cities people went out and clearly showed themselves as a more typical protest, holding banners, making speeches or setting up tables.

It should be pointed out that in Warsaw police brought their LRAD (a weapon of crowd control which they were not allowed to purchase) and blasted warnings that there is an epidemic and they are posing a danger to themselves. But the only people who clearly flaunted any social distancing norms were the police who did not keep distance from each other or from protesters.

The following day, the government announced a plan to go out of the quarantine in stages, which talks about the stage in which you can go to the forest, the shopping mall or the cinema. However, nowhere in these plans is any information about when they would remove a ban on protesting. It seems clear therefore that people should not wait for permission to express their discontent. The government sees no problem in people working all the time in crowded warehouses or in jobs with no protection at all but pretend that a group of people standing with distance in the fresh air is a huge risk. We will be back on the street soon and we are as angry as ever.