People Are Protesting but Are Governments Listening?
Why is there an increase in protests around the world?
The Black Lives Matter Protests, the Hong Kong Protests, and the protests in Chile are just some of the current protests happening in our world right now. Images of buildings on fire, thousands of people, riot police, tear gas, smashed windows and cars are constantly portrayed in the media but they often fail to examine the deep rooted cause of such dissent. What is really causing this spike in global protests? Are governments accurately responding to this? How can we,as global citizens strive to understand and actively promote change during these movements?
Is the frequency of protests actually increasing?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify the frequency of protests due to vague definitions of what type of activity determines a ‘protest’ as well as the difficulty in tracking protests that occur in remote places. This makes it hard to come to a precise numerical measurement regarding the amount of protests that have occurred since the last decade.
In more authoritarian states, a small number of protesters that critique the government can be viewed as a national, political event. While, in democratic states with freedom of speech, a large number of protesters do not evoke strong political attention.
However, data from the past several years do point to a rise in global uprisings that call for social and economic reforms. In a survey by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue reported a consistent increase in protests worldwide over the past decade. There were 56 significant protests around the world in 2006, yet that number doubled in the first 6 months of 2013. Protest size has been on a steeper incline since 2010.
Furthermore, a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies found that global protests have increased annually by 11.5% from 2009 to 2019 particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
What has sparked global protests?
It seems that political factors have been the driving force for today’s more recent protests, particularly in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian states. For example, since 2019, Hong Kong protests have been largely fuelled by calls for democratic action against increasing Chinese interference into Hong Kong’s national affairs and freedoms. These specific political issues can further trigger anger for a country’s wider social and economic issues.
Economic hardship is seen as a secondary factor in many of these global protests. For instance, the 2019 Lebanon protests over the government’s proposed Whatsapp tax was the final catalyst that exposed the country’s deep seated economic crisis. These protests being exacerbated by decades of poor financial management by corrupt politicians.
In contrast, protests in democratic states seem to have a socioeconomic nature. A current example would be the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, which call for an end to systemic racism and police reform. This being sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd by the hands of police officer, Derek Chauvin. Furthermore, protests in Chile have erupted regarding food shortages and lockdown laws caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while these protests initially start with calls for policy change, rather than a change in a governing system. Over time, these protests tend to highlight corrupt flaws within a country’s governing system which then evolves into a blatant hatred against the entire institutional structure as a whole.
What enables protests to continue?
The rapid advancement in technological communication has allowed the spread of protest information on a global scale. Social media and news outlets have given people greater accessibility and awareness of the current global, political climate. This allows people to compare their own country’s economic and social progression against others and see how other protest movements are demanding change to their own governmental system.
These technology communications have also made it easier to organise and promote events to a large number of citizens, and easy access of logistical information such as transportation routes for potential protesters to gather. It has also given people a platform to express individual opinions and experiences regarding the protest issue, which leads to the creation of formal organisation dedicated to the cause.
Do governments accurately respond to protests?
The response of governments in the wake of protests is largely determined by how democratic one’s state is. Under a nondemocratic government, protests that are labelled disruptive and pro-democratic have generally been quelled with force without making any significant political changes. This has been seen in the current Hong Kong protests, where China has readied a national security law that threatens Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous freedoms and right to protest. In a nondemocratic regime, the government would tighten the screws on their power and enact forceful attacks that seek to undermine protester freedoms.
However, under a semi-democratic to democratic government, some protests are proven to be effective in pressuring government leaders to enact legislative change and enquiry, yet this is only achieved due to immense public pressure and scrutiny. This is seen in the current Black Lives Matter protests, where the U.S President, Donald Trump has signed an executive order that aims to improve police practices and reduce the use of excessive force. Hence, these protests have galvanised national support against police brutality aimed at African-Americans as well as increased awareness of the issue in other countries. It can be said that some protests in democratic countries have lead to socioeconomic policy reform rather than a overhauling of the whole governmental system.
What can we, as global citizens do?
Awareness and education about the global protests happening around the world can change or confirm our perspective on our own country’s national policies. Having an understanding of why such protests occur can open a debate about the current flaws within our own institutional structures and seek to promote reform. This ultimately gives minority groups a voice to speak about their own experiences in order to garner awareness and understanding to the majority.
To conclude, protests around the world have been increasing in frequency which has largely been fuelled by political, economic and socioeconomic factors. Today’s current protests have been a reflection of citizen’s desire for change and increasing distrust of those in power. The rise of technological communications have further enabled public awareness of such issues. Likewise, governmental responses to protests vary differently which speaks to the great diversity and complexity of protests around the world.