Protesting in Pandemic Times

COVID-19, Public Health, and Black Lives Matter

in Contention
Author: Binoy Kampmark1
View More View Less
  • 1 School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Restricted access


The COVID-19 pandemic raised questions about reconciling health priorities with the exercise of certain liberties and rights. Public safety has come into conflict with matters of mobility, freedom of expression, and the right to protest. How can the threat of viral transmission be reconciled with the urgency of political protests, such as in the Black Lives Matter movement? This article discusses various approaches, referring to debates in the United States and Australia, where law enforcement authorities and politicians warned against protest marches, generally citing the protection of public health as a qualifying exception. Numerous epidemiologists, while acknowledging risks, argued that a calculus of risk be deployed, citing public health as a variegated, multilayered concept. A similar balancing act was deployed in Australian courts. Such reasoning led to accusations that public health science had been politicized. Striking the balance remains a pragmatic approach to holding such gatherings during times of pandemic.

Contributor Notes

Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge and is a contributing editor to CounterPunch. Email:


The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 165 165 103
Full Text Views 3022 2248 143
PDF Downloads 2220 1808 52