The changing face of mass protest
As the world marks the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death on January 30, we examine the role of non-violent protests and the conditions for their success.
by Bharat Bhushan, 360info
Public protests in democracies drive institutional reform. They have always signified a yearning for greater democracy, political participation and a say in policy reform.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic saw protests turning digital and taking other forms of socially distanced engagement, mass protests have returned with resilience despite the pandemic. Often they were about the pandemic-induced lockdown itself, but they also addressed a host of other social and political issues.
Social protest seems to have increased both in intensity and geographical spread — resisting the slide of democracies into authoritarianism, inadequate state response to public healthcare, growing economic insecurity, and redressing issues related to social justice and outcomes perceived to be unfair.
Whether it is Black Lives Matter, women protesting sexual harassment through #MeToo, or citizens protesting repression, the world is witnessing new forms of protest based on intergenerational, inter-class and community organisation. Action often cuts across national boundaries.
Social media has been both a forum as well an instrument for organising public protest for students in Hong Kong, the Occupy Wall Street movement and for millions of Indian farmers knocking for justice at the gates of Delhi. While some protests have managed to reform society, others have withered after highlighting an issue or collapsed in the face of State repression.
As the world marks the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death on January 30, it seems relevant to examine the role of non-violent protests and the conditions for their success.
2020 saw the emergence of 76 new significant anti-government protests – about one new protest every five days. The geographical breadth of the protest was also significant – 58 countries globally saw anti-government protests.
The countries that are experiencing declining freedom today significantly outnumber those with improvements. Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that are witnessing declining freedom.
Protests such as those of the Arab Spring, the Brazilian Spring and Occupy Wall Street either led to unforeseen and adverse regime changes or did not succeed beyond highlighting specific issues – demonstrating not all public protests succeed.
On the other hand, the Indian farmers’ movement – involving the peaceful participation of more than 250 million farmers, equivalent to nearly 75 percent of the population of the US — has shown that non-violent public protests can still succeed.
CHARTING THE ISSUE
The new cultivators of non-violent protest
By Rahul Mukherji and Jai Shankar Prasad, Heidelberg University in Heidelberg
What makes non-violent protests work?
Aborted revolutions cut across class lines
By Ajay Gudavarthy, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The latest iteration of global protest transcends lines of class and race, but hasn’t always translated to concrete policy change.
Sympathy, care fuel Hong Kong protest virality
By Rong Wang, University of Kentucky
Police brutality in Hong Kong became a global conversation as the story went viral — but a particular type of tweet had more success than others.