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When protest becomes a drama

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An article in the New York Post put it into perspective for me. The headline read, “Teachers bring coffins, guillotine while protesting NYC schools reopening plan”. Apparently, they weren’t happy about the opening of schools, and decided that the best way to show their distaste was by accessorising with death paraphernalia. Because nothing says “death” quite like a coffin does.

In addition to wondering how, with many New Yorkers not owning vehicles, they managed to bring the props to the protest, and where one would purchase a guillotine in 2020, I was also dismayed by the unnecessary level of drama around this. It struck me as being unnecessarily hyperbolic, and I’m intrigued about the level of energy that must be required to live at this level of drama.

It’s not to say that South Africans are above protest reproach, and it could be argued that the creativity displayed in bringing a coffin to a march is more impressive than rolling the unimaginative burning tyre to a service delivery protest, but somehow it still feels like the real deal. The guillotine, although delightful in a French-Revolution sort of way, just somehow seems a little over the top. Which makes it hard to take seriously.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no need for additional fluff. The global spread has had most of the world confined to its homes. It has all but collapsed the economies of the most powerful countries, and has deprived our children a year of their youth. It has turned parents into teachers, teachers into IT specialists, and social-media users into virologists. It has forced the medical fraternity to confront its own impotence, and has resulted in more isolation for our aged than could have been imagined.

But it has also created the opportunity for every person to become a superhero, and has proven unequivocally that kindness is the most valuable superpower of all.

More than anything, the American approach to the pandemic has highlighted that in many cases, politics is the driving force behind how the virus is perceived, the decisions that are taken in terms of the economy, and even which medical regimes are used to treat patients suffering from the illness. Technology companies have been inadvertently drawn into this, and social-media companies are now expected to be the arbiter of what is and what isn’t helpful, damaging, true, and false. An unreasonable expectation, given the lack of knowledge around the new virus.

As consumers of American media, it means we need to view with caution much of the information that is channelled through our devices. What this means is that it’s up to the individual to apply measure, to be aware of the manipulative nature of the information that we might be consuming, and to be aware when hyperbole is being used to influence our perception and views.

And so, when teachers march with coffins and guillotines in the United States to protest the opening of schools, the best thing to do is to roll our eyes, and then go back to baking banana bread.

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