By Francisca Carvalho
September 18, 2020
Since we were children, though unaware, we have protested – for food, attention and protection. As adults, this tendency to declare our needs is still present, only now we protest because we are aware – aware of the injustices and inequalities that continue to plague our society. Protesting is a part of human history, but its effectiveness and validity is still largely questioned, despite the fact that walking in the streets with signs, shouting slogans, chanting songs and challenging the actions and attitudes of those in power, has proven to be an effective way for civil society to exert influence over politics and bring socially marginalized groups to the forefront. At times it feels as though only cries from the streets reach the ears of the government, and even then, they are quick to revert to childish games of “I can’t hear you”. When you protest, you are breaking the silence – not just yours, but that of a community or group – showing that there are those who care, those who are watching, and those who are fighting. Especially in the age of social media, opinions that were once restricted to conversations between a handful of people in meeting rooms, cafes and in bars – scattered and unconnected – became visible and generated new conversations. This wave of opinions and the union of people for a common goal was created, along with the ability for people to form their own judgements and not rely solely on what was presented to them by commercial media and the government – those who often legislate in their own causes. It promoted a drastic change in attitude of no longer adhering to the idea that politics should remain a prohibited, untouched affair. People have come to terms with the fact that we can longer afford to be passengers on this train of injustice. Rather, we must become the drivers and change the direction of the countries we were born and grew up in. Protesting signifies the growing belief that we cannot leave our destiny at the hands of those, who through politics and partisanships, often legislate in their own cause. To illustrate this, below is a brief explanation of three of the many powerful protests that have taken place recently that has swept international attention and have proven the importance of mobilization.
Case Study 1: Black Lives Matter Movement.
The past few months have been marked by protests, and the motto “Black Lives Matter” that echoes in the street of several cities around the world, seems to follow. Though in a period of social distance, the press and social networks have been flooded with photos and videos of crowds, a united front marching to seek justice for the death of George Floyd – a 46-year-old black man who was murdered at the hands of the police, an institution meant “to protect and serve” but that has proven to be incompetent at both. The moment Floyd is handcuffed, thrown to the floor and suffocated was recorded and posted on social media platforms and ultimately became the fuse that ignited a series of protests. Floyd’s case is nothing new, as for the murder of black people by the police has been repeated systematically, not only in the United States where this particular crime occurred but worldwide, such being the reason why this movement has spread internationally. It was the death of a young black man in the 1950s that boosted the civil rights movement and in 2012, the death of Trayvon Martin at the age of 17 gave a new impetus to the anti-racist demonstrations. For years, prior to and following these events, racism and hate crimes have defined the US and many other countries – the only difference now is that they are being exposed to public attention. The Black Lives Matter movement has a much broader meaning than one tragedy, it portrays a deeper indignation towards the blatant inequality that is experienced by the black population in societies that so often pride themselves on being “democratic, free and equal”. When the state itself fails to make meaningful change and eradicate the injustices present in public institutions that the people fund to protect them, the only option is to make their voices heard and cause unrest until mistakes are rectified. With a police department taking more lives and causing greater fear than preventing it, and a lack of action by those in power, the gathering and mobilization of the people who recognize that the killings of the black population is a tragic reality that needs to be addressed without postponement, feels like the only way to obtain justice. In the time of a pandemic, Floyd’s last words being “I can’t breathe” can be used as a metaphor of a virus that has plagued the world for ages – the inequality and injustice present in police brutality, in the unemployed numbers for minorities and the neglect of authorities. Floyd has become more than a reason to protest; he has become a symbol of solidarity capable of igniting change.
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Below are a few links (many more available with a quick search – go ahead) to help the victims of these injustices, to become more educated, and involved in this movement to transform the system.
https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory – An extensive list of bail funds by state.
https://www.gofundme.com/f/i-run-with-maud – GoFundMe page to help the family of Breonna Taylor, and EMT, who was shot by a police officer while sleeping.
https://time.com/5846732/books-to-read-about-anti-racism/ – A TIME’s magazine curated anti-racist books list to teach yourself about racism and protest history.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/edit – Anti-racism resources for white people and parents to deepen the understanding of anti-racism work.
Case Study 2: Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement.
Hong Kong is a small, rocky island off the coast of China. A piece of land handed to Britain as a peace agreement to end the conflict between the two states in the 1800s. Over the years, it became a bustling place with its own identity, possessing a capitalist economy with democratic values. Upon the termination of this agreement, a new international binding treaty was made to allow Hong Kong to keep some of the elements that made it unique. It followed the principle of “one country, two systems” – allowing Hong Kong to have its own flag, currency, laws and government. Much like the previous agreement, however, it also has its own expiry date. According to the new treaty, Hong Kong would have a total of 100 years of autonomy and the ability to make decisions on its own affairs, though many feel that China has been trying to impose on the nation for years. Though many demonstrations have occurred in relation to this issue, none have compared to the recent pro-democracy protests that began in June of 2019. Thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the street to protest against the undue interference by mainland China – fighting the progressive erosion of the rule of law, humans’ rights, and the freedom within its borders. Young protesters have proven to be at the core of this movement, aware that if they remain silent, by 2047 Hong Kong will solely be a shell of the nation it once was. The protests initially arose against a bill that attempted to authorize extradition to mainland China, which came up against such intense opposition that authorities had no choice but to reject it. Since then, the movement has expanded to denounce Beijing’s control and demand universal suffrage – the right for every adult citizen to vote and elect their government. Yet, as the pandemic hit and protesters were expected to stay home, the Chinese government used the opportunity to bring in new security laws and ensured that it did not have to go through Hong Kong legislature. While authorities state their purpose of such laws is to solely protect Hong Kong and keep China united, concern grows over the possibility that these new laws will be used to limit Hong Kong’s freedom, resulting in a detrimental effect on the independence of the nation. It is now believed that with the silencing of protesters, due to the awareness of the strength of the people, no change can be done without the aid of the international community.
Case Study 3: The 2020 Belarusian Election Protests.
In a historic moment in the capital of Belarus, more than 100,000 protesters gathered to demand the resignation of president Alexander Lukashenko – the man considered to be the last dictator in Europe, and who has remained in power for 26 years. The election results, released on August 9th, which declared that Lukashenko had obtained more than 80% of the votes, generated revolt in the population and a wave of protests has since taken over the county, largely led by women including the opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Tikhanovskaya is a 37-year-old teacher, who was never an activist, but decided to engage in place of her husband who was arrested in May upon his candidature as an opposition member. Her campaign was based on two proposals: freeing political prisoners and establishing a democratic regime. Prior to the fraudulent election, Tikhanovskaya led the presidential campaign and despite the declared results, continues to claim her victory. Upon this occurrence, the people felt cheated and concern began to rise as they began to realize what was at stake – their autonomy and ability to assume their own political destiny. It awakened an unsatisfied population and massively put their concerns on the streets. The people of Belarus began to challenge the government and their policies, and with such a strong and symbolically charged leadership of the opposition, they became motivated and filled with real hope of fundamental change. While the movement began with young protesters, now all age groups and professionals are represented in the marches – from members of the symphony orchestra to factory workers. Women gained massive prominence; barefoot, dressed in white, and with flowers in their hands, they stood strong in front of uniformed officials holding teargas grenades and shotguns, hiding behind their protective gear. Lukashenko has often made fun of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, saying that a “little woman” was unable to command a country, but with her leading thousands on the street, it is evident that the strength and courage of women in the country is shaking the foundations of tyranny is Belarus and drawing international attention to this electoral fraud, President Lukashenko and his repressive system.