For three years, COVID-19 has spread around the world, and 6.6 million people have died and 643 million are sick. Apart from the deadly trail it has left behind, the epidemic has also affected people all over the world.
The disease has disrupted the governments and economies of countries and has caused political turmoil. It has fueled fascist politics, empowered far-right politicians and opened space for right-wing militias to flex their muscles. But the world has also seen progressive and organized protests that have challenged this.
The epidemic appears to be part of a series of problems that are forcing millions of people to act in extreme, progressive and brutal ways. It seems to be empowering many people to move forward – people who want to stop the next pandemic, fight to end climate change and defeat the right-wing forces.
For students of history, it is not surprising that the plague has caused this. For example, consider the 1918-20 H1N1 flu pandemic, also known as the Spanish flu. It killed between 50 million and 100 million people and sickened 500 million worldwide – a quarter of the world’s population.
In a 2017 article, How the 1918 Flu Spread Across America, author John M Barry said that “the most important lesson from 1918 is to tell the truth.” “In order to keep the public’s trust, the authorities have to tell the truth,” so that they can deal with the problem with “partial” reductions, Barry wrote.
But that’s not what happened with the flu outbreak a century ago and it’s not what’s been happening with the COVID-19 pandemic. National and local governments then and now often did nothing to stop the spread of the disease. Many leaders dismiss it as “the common cold” or “the little flu” or just outright lies, leading to mistrust and misinformation.
As World War I raged in 1918, millions of soldiers fell ill. Even after the war, European measures to prevent the spread of the virus were limited or non-existent. In the United States, there was no international effort to combat the epidemic.
Economic collapse, riots, civil strife and the rise of right-wing populism grew out of the pandemic and the First World War. termination of employment.
During the Red Summer of 1919 alone, white mobs attacked blacks in more than a dozen cities across the US, beating, raping and killing blacks and burning their homes and businesses.
In Italy and Germany, fascist forces took advantage of the pandemic and the economic collapse associated with the war to support the people. Another study also linked the number of people who died from the flu epidemic in various cities and regions in Germany from 1918 to 1920 with support for the Nazis a decade later.
However, there were other effects of the plague from a century ago. In the US, with the flu disproportionately killing white men, more white women found themselves in the workforce in the 1920s, reversing a decades-long decline in the female workforce. This was an early emancipation for women because it allowed women to be present in the workplace.
Some scholars see the folly of the Twenty-Two as an example of the left-leaning youth in dealing with the plague, recession, war and violence of the era. This may be especially true of the young intellectuals who led literary movements such as the Harlem Renaissance and modernism.
In the colonial world, the epidemic also had a major impact. In India, at least 12 million people died, especially during the second epidemic in 1918-1919 when another 2.5 million people out of a population of about 130 million died of the disease in Africa. British Indian and African rulers, in particular, showed disapproval and prejudice to this high death toll, which came on top of the poverty and suffering common in colonial rule.
There is not much to learn about the epidemic from African archives beyond the death toll because, as writer Nanjala Nyabola has pointed out, almost everything in these archives is “how the colonial authorities made the apartheid world”. It is not surprising that anti-colonial movements grew in strength and numbers in the years after World War I and after the H1N1 pandemic subsided.
Today, one can easily draw parallels between the Spanish flu pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past three years, signs of a resurgence of influence in the West have grown and spread with the evolution of COVID-19.
In the US, a clear example is the terrorist attack that took place on January 6, 2021, in Washington, when several thousand protesters attacked the US Capitol to prevent Congress from recognizing the victory of President Joe Biden in 2020. In addition to the actions of former President Donald Trump in launching the coup attempt, it is also clear that the restrictions put in place to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 – which the terrorists of January 6 would call “the government” – played. responsibility.
In Italy, the site of one of the worst epidemics in Europe, Giorgia Meloni and her Italian Brothers party, which has fascist roots, won the elections with the support of other right-wing parties. In the Philippines, which also suffered from poor government management in its response to the pandemic, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, a member of the Marcos family, which led a brutal coup in the 1980s, was elected president.
For those on the right, this type of “government oppression” is part of a theme that includes globalization, climate change and migration. They are all examples of how the pandemic has fueled pre-existing conditions of racism and xenophobia, misogynistic, homophobic and religious extremism, even propaganda.
But COVID-19 has also fueled political activity on the other side. In the US, the strong turnout between the center-left Democratic Party in Congress such as John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Mandela Barnes of Wisconsin against the fascist Republicans is one example. Another is the list of jobs, including more than 50,000 higher education workers who are on strike at the University of California and the New School University.
In Iran, where there was anger over the death toll during the pandemic, mass protests erupted over the killing of police officer Jina (Mahsa) Amini but began to resist government repression. In China, protests began against the government’s policy of zero COVID-19, and against the violation of freedom of movement.
There have also been job disruptions in business, public transport, education, childcare, health care and other sectors in the UK, France, South Korea, Australia and South Africa among many other countries.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has been different from the global epidemics in which people live. The response over the past three years has been to shift efforts online and on platforms such as Twitter, Zoom, Facebook and Instagram.
“Our ‘seats’ [from the disdainful refrain of ‘armchair activism’] they have become the main doors of our political society,” justice advocate Anjali Enjeti wrote in her book Southbound.
Individual actions and planning have not ended with the COVID-19 pandemic. But combined with online efforts and anger over the government’s failure to tell the truth about the epidemic, Zillennials and Gen Zers (people born between 1995 and 2012) have been encouraged. In the US, they, along with Black and Latinx voters, defeated the armed forces in the 2020 and 2022 elections.
It remains to be seen whether this mobilization will prevent the US and other countries from falling into civil war or send them closer to chaos and destruction. Perhaps this depends on answering the questions that award-winning author Imani Perry asked at the end of her book South to America: “When will you be disgusted enough to disrupt the work? When are you going to let interest and loyalty run wild?”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of climate change and the rise of right-wing forces in the US and around the world, millions of people have already been dreaming and doing more to make the world better. This is because they are hurting. Because for them, getting into good and deadly trouble is the only choice.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect Al Jazeera’s influence.