To get a sense of how anarchists and other rebels have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the authoritarian power grabs that accompany it, we have collected pictures of posters, stickers, and graffiti from Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, and the United States. We present them here with translations and notes. Look through these to find new slogans and imagery that you can adjust for your own context.
In clearing the streets, the pandemic has made every city a bit more like Pripyat, the Ukrainian ghost town next to Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Pripyat has long been a destination for graffiti artists who take advantage of its empty streets to create vast murals. Similarly, over the past two months, we have seen daring artists defy curfews to decorate the walls of their cities, re-enchanting the physical world at a time when many of us are marinating in low-bandwidth virtual reality via our cell phones. May we all follow their example.
You can find another international collection of radical street art about the pandemic starting here.
“Repression, propaganda, prohibitions, and confinement are not medicine. These are the solutions the state trots out for every ‘enemy.’”
-an anarchist sticker critiquing the state response to the pandemic in Greece
As should go without saying, we oppose the governments and colonial narratives of all of the countries listed below. We use this taxonomy solely for the convenience of identifying the various repressive national contexts in which people are taking action and to note the different analyses and emphases that are emerging in response.
A flier from Rent Strike Salzburg: “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are now losing their income, or at least part of it. While the government promises billions in aid packages for the economy, we have to help ourselves: Let’s declare a rent strike now!”
In addition to the rent strike group in Salzburg, there is now a similar group in Switzerland.
“We refuse to pay!” with a collection of bills including rent, water, electricity, and gas. From a page promoting rent strikes and the non-payment of bills.
We will not go back to normality—normality is the problem.
Destruction of ecosystems, deforestation, pesticides, diseases. For centuries, the rampant exploitation of people and the planet has caused the multiplication of new epidemics, pandemics, and catastrophes. Despite the evidence, governments tied to the private interests of multinationals have never done and will never do anything to change that. Our strength is in our actions.
Let’s discard capitalism before it destroys us.
Brazil is going to stop.
For the 40 million workers with no rights, documentation, or any safety,
Brazil is going to stop.
For the street vendors, the small businesses, and teachers without pay,
for the cleaning workers still working when they should be home
or at home without payment, Brazil is going to stop.
For the 31 million people with no tap water in the country,
for all the people squatting or living in favelas, subject to floods and landslides,
for those threatened with eviction, unable to pay rent, Brazil is going to stop.
For all those in prisons and their families,
for all sex workers, twice exploited,
for all the threats of layoffs, for everyone living in the streets,
Brazil is going to stop.
For the millions of wage workers and their families,
for the young ones with no hope of a job or a future,
Brazil is going to stop.
For the healthcare workers taking risks on the front line to hold off the pandemic,
for all the employees who refuse to shut off water or electricity to the poor,
for the garbage collectors and those who provide essential services
who did not hesitate to work even facing all the risks,
Brazil is going to stop.
And to the bosses who can stay at home and participate in car protests
when we are the ones who have to take crowded public transit,
risking our lives and those of our families,
and to the investors who keep profiting,
to the banks receiving more than a trillion reais of rescue funds from the Central Bank,
to all those who depend on the exploitation of others,
we say: Brazil is going to stop.
And to those who defend the privileges of the elite,
while we are humiliated
threatened with police and military repression when we dare to organize and rebel,
so that we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves once more for the “sake of the economy”
that was never intended to keep us safe, that always treated us as disposable,
forcing us to choose between survival or shitty jobs
or to die waiting in line in the hospitals
Brazil is definitely going to stop.
Stay at home! Organize!
Keep your rent and resist evictions!
Federal government: the politics of death.
“Colonialism is a plague—capitalism is a pandemic.” This Spanish-language poster appears here with an indigenous anti-futurist manifesto about the pandemic. The original photo of the subject of this poster, a person from the Mebêngôkre people (sometimes referred to as Kayapo), a group indigenous to the land brutally colonized by Brazil, appears here.
In Chile, the primera linea refers to the front-line demonstrators who fought the police in weekly clashes from October 19, 2019—when demonstrators burned and looted Santiago—until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Chile. Since October, many Chilean anarchists have expressed amazement at how swiftly militant combat against police came to be widely seen as legitimate, with the primera linea celebrated on t-shirts, by pop culture celebrities, and even by congressional representatives. However, every victory presents new challenges. Getting past the debates about nonviolence that have beleaguered anarchists for years has not sufficed to impart a thoroughgoing anarchist vision to the general public.
For example, in the above video, we briefly see a masked primera linea demonstrator who later invokes the need to physically fight back against police handing out electoral propaganda and describing the primera linea as the “people’s army,” a concept that, despite all noble intentions, is stained with the blood of millions. As the Spanish language anarchist journal Kalinov Most put it, “[Romanticization of the primera linea should] be viewed with a certain amount of caution, given the tendency towards heroic exaltation of certain roles within the uprising that can lead to fetishism and militaristic mentalities.” Of course, the young rebel in this video doesn’t represent the views of everyone who identifies as primera linea. No one does—like the black bloc, it is an anarchic tactic, not an organization or political ideology.
What is exciting about the validation of the primera linea is simply that it puts people who didn’t previously have the experience of fighting against state oppression into contact with anarchists and others who do. At best, this has equipped many of those on the primera linea to understand how authority structures our society and to see, as the subjects of this video do, how fighting the police in the streets goes hand in hand with fighting the ways that capitalism impoverishes and demeans almost every aspect of our daily lives and public spaces.
The following pictures are taken from la rue ou rien, a twitter account collecting radical political messages seen in the streets of France.
“FFP2 masks 0.70€, LBD40 1240€. ‘We are not on the same side.’ - Didier Lallement [police prefect of Paris].” The LBD40 is a stun grenade launcher purchased for the notoriously violent French police at great expense to the public against whom it is to be employed.
“He who hoards is too lazy to loot. Solidarity, not panic.” In German, this slogan can be read two different ways: as a way to compare hoarding to robbery—or as a way to endorse collective looting and redistribution over hoarding.
We also note the efforts of coview.info in Germany: “An initiative to respond to the political and social impact of COVID-19 and the accompanying measures.”
The graffiti reads “Capitalism is dying. Have no fear!”
“It’s better to kiss and hug for one hour than to have 40 days of Netflix and Chardalias.” Chardalias is the government minister responsible for the press briefings about COVID-19; every day at 6 pm, corporate media broadcasts a public announcement from him. This slogan is a reference to a traditional Greek song.
Many of these sticker designs can be found here along with other stickers from Greek anarchists.
“Tax the rich—freeze military expenditures—hire and protect healthcare workers—close unnecessary factories—amnesty and pardon for all prisoners—seize all privatized healthcare resources—’incompletes’ for all students—freeze rents—quarantine income—closer immigrant detention centers—control of production to the workers!”
We also note a poster series entitled #RicordaiResponsabili, “Remember the ones responsible,” including such texts as the following:
On the outside, six feet apart—In Italian prisons, there are about 10,299 people over capacity. On March 7, riots broke out in 40 Italian prisons. The cause—due to an already exasperating situation—was the suspension of talks with family members, a measure to reduce the infection. Yet prison guards continue going in and out, infecting those inside, as has already happened in a dozen prisons.
They keep factories overcrowded—Decrees insist on quarantining the nation, but they oblige workers to keep on making profits for factory owners. That’s why many workers went on strike in many factories.
They blame a stroll—What’s more dangerous? A stroll in the open air with proper precautions… or working in factories and call centers, in a confined space and without suitable protection?
They fill the streets with the army—Today, to control anyone who moves without “justified reason,” but in the future, to cope with social unrest and protests that will spread from the financial crisis to come. Militarization and surveillance maintain the state of fear, the fundamental apparatus of social control.
All of these posters and many more about the pandemic are from the prolific Gran Om studio of visual arts.
Photographs of a wide range of other anarchist graffiti in Ljubljana about the pandemic can be found on the facebook pages of Komunal.org and the Infoshop in the longstanding squatted autonomous neighborhood Metelkova. Slogans include “I #stayed home and I lost my home,” “They are finished” (a reference to a slogan from the uprising of 2012–2013), “We are not all the same—the poor person will only be alive as long as the system can benefit from him,” and one disarmingly simple expression: “I really don’t feel comfortable.”
Several of the above photos are from Komunal.org as well.
In this charming guide, the longstanding anarchist labor union CNT encourages workers to “wash their hands without extinguishing the flame of revolt,” measuring the proper amount of time for hand-washing by singing the classic song from the Spanish Civil War, “A Las Barricadas”:
Mutual aid—only the people help the people:
Rent strike, Catalunya:
Rent strike call from the anarchist federation of the Canary Islands: