By late 2019 and early 2020, border closures and confinement measures abruptly interrupted the protests that were emerging around the world. In Hong Kong, the continuation of the pro-democracy protests that began in 2014, the protests against police brutality in the USA, and many protests against inequality in several Latin American countries. In turn, during these nearly 20 months, the restrictions related to the pandemic allowed the strengthening of governments’ totalitarian ways that increased this inequality gap, especially in Latin America.
This paralysis of widespread demonstrations, which left marches and protests at their height, generated the need to rethink and create alternative forms of civil resistance that we wanted to study in the context of the Convergence project of the New Media Class, about the near possibilities after the pandemic. At the end of WS20/21, “Bi0film.net” explored the technologies of the living organisms for this near future, in which the continuation of the social outbreak, in countries like Colombia, was almost inevitable.
Bacteria, which have been here long before us, have developed amazing technologies of distributed communication and self-organized collaboration. Large numbers of microorganisms can act in unison without any leader and their ability to communicate with other species also allows them to easily relate, skillfully responding to any situation in their environment. Many of these biotechnologies are based on collaboration: horizontal gene transfer, for example, through which bacteria can share pieces of DNA to others without being their progenitors, biofilm as a protective covering that allows them to grow undetected, communicate, transport nutrients, among other things, and even virulence as biotechnology, the ability to cause diseases that we humans fear so much.
However, these bacterial resistance technologies have been colonized by militarist narratives that have taken over our living spaces, including of course those of science (Haraway, 1990). Microorganisms are regarded as enemies, the entire world undertook a “war against the invisible enemy” – the SARS-CoV-2, the body is seen as a battlefield, a battle that today “we are losing against the bacterial resistance”, and the immune system is a supposed military intelligence, an idea that insults the real intelligence of the living.
Bi0film.net, our open project, praises bacterial resistance in contrast to the reductionist discourse of war. We took one of the official icons of the movement in Hong Kong, the yellow umbrella, and adapted it based on an open resource created by Andrew McNeil. It is used as a parabolic WiFi antenna to improve the possibilities of communication in a decentralized way. Other than covering, hiding, and protecting the user, Bi0film.net helps them communicate. In other words, the umbrella can act as an antenna for a repeater or as a supplementary part of a cantenna by using different adapters. We aim at facilitating the connection to alternative networks, and at the same time acknowledge the importance of seeking autonomy in our communication technologies. A need that has been increasingly evident in the different protests, due to the use of internet censorship as a tool of repression on the part of authoritarian regimes.
Self-organizing, collaborating, and communicating in a decentralized and distributed way are some of the wonderful actions of the living to breakthrough, and that is what “resist like bacteria” means.
In 2014, the 79-days occupation broke the limit that all Hong Kong people could imagine. But the Umbrella movement ended with failure, and even more, caused a backfire from the local government. The failure didn’t collapse the will to earn more democracy. The strategy of protest evolved over time.
In 2019, a massive protest against the Extradition Agreement is no longer an occupation but liquefied as small units on the street. This guerrilla-style tactic allows resistance to emerge everywhere in the city. Citizens could switch their identity between places, from a worker to a protester. They have an agreement to wear all black, face masks, and hold the umbrella to protect them from pepper spray and police cameras. This anonymity was extended from a local social network forum LIHKG, where people exchange opinions and initiate activities. The decision-making progress on the virtual forum is totally decentralized and depended on public opinion at that moment. An individual needs to be persuasive and debate repetitively, then it’s possible to arouse some movement. Telegram also played an important role, every individual joined in up to 10 chat groups, which are providing diverse information like the update of the frontline report, police tracing, and news fact check. Everyone is both online and offline. Connecting to the anonymous encrypted network makes this decentralized communication happen and lets the protests be fluid and unpredictable.
The result of the anti-extradition protest wasn’t successful. After two years, Hong Kong is now facing stricter governance. A new constitution was promulgated in response to the series of protests. For pro-democracy people, this declaration of the „One country, two systems“ propaganda has ended earlier than the Chinese government has promised. During the pandemic, a large number of residents who got the capability for immigration immigrated to other countries. Young people are very pessimistic about whether they can continue to fight for democracy and freedom in the future.
After all, the protest itself is effective, and the decentralized tactic has presented a role model in the contemporary demonstration. We can find the similarities in Burma and Thailand, the signature black outfit with face mask shown in the protest. This strategy seems to have spread around the world.
Today in Colombia, after over five months of protests that began in April 2021, and which were of course continuously decreasing through time, it is clear to us how life makes its way despite the policies of death: the community and the communitarian practices are the strength behind this possibility. Behind the Front-lines activists ‘Primera Línea’ of every city (a collective of young people and mothers, inspired by the Hong Kong and Chile movements, who mainly protect the other protesters from the attacks made by the police force, the riot police, the army, and illegal armed groups or paramilitaries), the community co-creates this new possible world through artistic and cultural expressions, they cook in communitarian kitchens (ollas comunitarias) that allow people to eat much better than they usually do because of extreme poverty, and also doctors, nurses, and other health care providers serve the wounded and the community as volunteers in communitarian health centers. Likewise, many people have realized what was once considered a minor issue: self-organization makes it possible for life to take place, not thanks to the state but, in Latin America, despite the state, and particularly in Colombia, despite the narco-paramilitary dictatorship.
The role of art and design has been more than transcendental, while the government used horrifying repressive tactics – not to be described here -, the streets were full of graffiti, posters, anti-government propaganda posters, destroyed old monuments, new anti-monuments made by the people, carnival dances in the marches, voguing against the police, concerts, digital projections or mapping projections in the buildings, nomadic communitarian libraries, or even communitarian libraries and cultural centers at the previously destroyed small police stations. Through art, we have wondered about “Other politics of the living” (Otras políticas de lo vivo), other possibilities besides authoritarian and hierarchical political organizations, which by a long experience, particularly here in Colombia, we already know that don’t work for us.
Although messaging apps such as Telegram have been used here too, for instance, to organize cultural spaces or artistic resistance events for those staying at home, the questions about decentralized and independent communication that we explored in the Bi0film.net project continue to be open. To organize better, not only for the protests, but to find alternatives to the rigid structures that we have now, we might also need to explore our communitarian communication channels and practices.
Just like self-organization is seen at the local level, the protest itself has in a certain way become open-source at a global scale. As the oppressive regimes are unified throughout the world, in the dehumanization of the riot police, for instance; resistance is diversified, co-created, and shared among the different regions. These collaborative practices, and not only biotechnologies created in laboratories or digital technologies, are the technologies of the living through which we resist more and more as communities of organisms and less as individuals isolated by capitalism. Living, evolutionary and mutant forms of resistance, to which design and the arts can contribute with new ways of co-creating the near future.