Protesting remains one of the most prominent ways to express an opinion in a collective manner for in today’s society. From demonstrations against the Vietnam War to the #MeToo movement, people have come together to fight against the injustice they see in the actions or inactions of others.
A history of successful protests
Protesting has a history of achievement. From the student protests in France in 1968 that led to changes in the French education system, to Extinction Rebellion in 2019 pushing the UK government to be the first to declare a climate emergency, and the first major economy to commit to carbon-free policies.
There are many groups covering many causes, and in a world that threatens to drown under injustices and causes, protests are beginning to change their dynamic, sometimes with violent results. From Fathers 4 Justice dressing up as superheroes to farmers in Brussels squirting milk directly from a cow at riot police, there is usually someone who is unhappy with how someone is doing something.
What do these protests achieve?
Often the answer is creating awareness, drawing the public eye to an issue that is considered a danger or infringement on a person or groups rights. Other times the answer is to express displeasure and vent anger. Regardless of the cause, protesting is considered a democratic right and a feasible way to let those in authority know how the public feels. Yet in view of the number of protests that generally take place, the results are not stacked in their favour.
Take the recent demonstrations in Hong Kong against the proposed extradition legislation, allowing suspects to be moved to mainland China for questioning. Considering China’s record with disappearing those who speak out against the government reemerging with public confessions, it is hardly surprising that many in Hong Kong fear the extensive arm of Chinese rule. Yet despite the large demonstrations and the clear anger, the bill remains suspended, for now. It will be resurrected, most likely once the pro-Beijing Hong Kong establishment has found a way to ensure its safe passage.
Movements and the military
Protests in Sudan against the Transitional Military Council resulted in violence and the Khartoum massacre when the Rapid Support Forces killed and raped many, the numbers still unknown. The people of Georgia continue to protest outside the Georgian Parliament against perceived Russian meddling. Meanwhile, In Russia, under current law, the timing and location of protests that involve more than one person have to be agreed in advance with the authorities.
In some countries, it is clear that governments make it as difficult as possible to protest while others retaliate with violence. This can be seen time and time again. While earlier demonstrations had an impact on the efforts of the Vietnam War, later wars, like the Gulf War in the 90s, have become increasingly more media sophisticated. As protests veer towards a more confrontational manner, the media continues to allow such protests to be condemned. The result of such actions is that activist groups are starting to change their tactics.
Extinction Rebellion recently brought a number of locations in London to a standstill. While derided by some in the media, more people seem inspired. Volunteer lists of those willing to be arrested and detained grew on a daily basis. climate change and the issues that arise from that will continue to draw big crowds for protests. Extinction Rebellion is fast becoming a worldwide movement that could affect real change through civil disobedience. While considered an annoyance to the everyday routines of many, it has proved to be the most effective so far with the UK becoming the first major economy to declare a climate emergency.
Yet in the world of protesting, it is not hard to forget those who don’t have a voice. Across the Middle East, women have virtually no rights and no voice. Rahaf al-Qunun made headlines earlier this year by barricading herself in a Thai airport to prevent her being returned to Saudi Arabia, where her fate would have been, at the very least, uncertain. Other women have not been so lucky;
Protesting is affecting not just people on the streets, it’s affecting how people vote. The Brexit referendum and election of Donald Trump, the US President, are examples of how people have sought to affect change. This year has seen the rise of the Brexit Party, a clear indication of anger towards a government that has, so far, failed to deliver Brexit.
The wider effect
The rise of national populism across Europe is a reaction to liberal policies that have, in regards to far right thought, reduced the strength of nations and their cultures. Many far-right actions have resulted in violence; the fire-bombing of immigration centres and the murder of liberal politician Walter Lubcke in Germany a small example.
Governments are slowly imposing stronger restrictions on protesting. Activists are going to have to adapt to these changes while also find new and novel ways of getting their message across. The public risks becoming desensitised to protests, distracted and defiant. In a world saturated by protest groups and causes, it is sometimes easy to forget that so many exist because there are so many injustices. The public might be less inconvenienced if it participated more in resolving these issues, which aren’t going to go away anytime soon.
Protesting might be just another aspect of daily life, but that means there is something wrong happening. the presence of so many protests suggest that something is still wrong with our society, and change is needed. Making that change is, ultimately, the goal of all protests around the world.
Gunnar Eigener is an environmental and political writer, studying Journalism and Environmental Studies. He lives in East Anglia with 'the wife', 'the dogs' and 'those cats'.