You’ve seen the iconic photograph taken of that one man stood solitary and seemingly inferior in front of a long line of armed tanks. That was Beijing in 1989, and 31 years later people are still leading the fight for justice, equality, and freedom. Protest is crucial to this, whether it be social, racial, environmental, or otherwise. Justice has various connotations, but in the broadest sense refers simply to enforcing what is determined to be just. People protesting, both in a violent and non-violent manner have incredible and significant power in demanding and bringing about change and justice.
Amidst protests that occurred all across the world through the start of 2020, it is increasingly important to understand the role that protest plays in fighting for justice. However, it is also important to highlight that people en masse, having to protest, is because of a lack of action and legislation put in place by national governments and international organizations.
Protest has long been a form of action, both peaceful and non-peaceful, which has occurred throughout history, especially for the purpose of demanding justice. Protesters have faced a multitude of challenges, even in some circumstances governmental and military action to restrict them, but the success of protest to create necessary change and justice is evident.
History of Protest
In 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement, which began as thousands of black individuals marching peacefully to boycott the segregation on buses. This protest went on for 381 days and resulted in the end of racial segregation on buses.
In 1963, nearly a quarter of a million students skipped school to fight for educational equity, and protest the substantial differences in conditions, supplies, and the state of schools in black neighbourhoods compared to those in white neighbourhoods.
In 1965, the 54 mile march over 5 days from Selma to Montgomery was extremely arduous, led by Martin Luther King Jr and fighting for changes to voting policies due to the substantial challenges faced by Black voters. They faced racism, violence, and witnessed the deaths of fellow protestors, and thus gained national attention. In early August, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came about, ensuring every African-American had the right to vote.
In 1970, 20 million people gathered on April 22nd, now widely known as ‘Earth Day’, to protest and raise awareness for the detrimental environmental issues that were occurring. All across the US people gathered, to mark this day and the action needed to address these issues.
In 1989, 100,000 peaceful protesters marched in Leipzig for the East Germany civil rights movement, and less than a month later were followed by half a million people who gathered in east Berlin – both peaceful protests, demanding freedom and democracy. These actions led to the demise of the dictatorship and more significantly the fall of the Berlin Wall, just 9 days after the protest in East Berlin.
In the same year, Tiananmen square in China filled with student protesters, peacefully demanding democratic reform and freedom of speech, growing from tens of thousands to over one million. They faced a heavy military response by the government, resulting in the infamous photograph of the ‘Tank Man’.
Since 2019, climate change strikes and protests have been visible across the world. Tens of thousands of youth have been striking on Fridays, following the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement, where they skip school to call for action on climate change, whilst 2020 has seen mass protests across the world. Extinction Rebellion has been at the forefront of climate protesting since 2018 through non-violent civil disobedience, having recently blocked newspaper distribution and led events and protests to highlight the urgent need for action across the UK and around the world.
In May 2020, after an African-American man George Floyd was killed during an arrest by a white police officer, Black Lives Matter protests grew exponentially from the outrage, upset and demand for justice. They are ongoing and have been for almost 16 weeks, with millions across the US and around the world protesting the police brutality and institutional racism against Black people.
Many historical and significant changes have come about because of the power of people, their determination, and struggle to protest and fight for justice. People have protested and will continue to protest as a driving force for change because, without action, there is no change. People will and should continue to fight, and more importantly, the intention, objectives, and the nature of protests should be addressed by the organisers to determine the outcome. Peaceful or non-peaceful, these protests highlight the power of people as a tool for fighting against injustice and bringing about change which will alter the state of current and future events. No doubt this will continue to go on, as people address and fight for justice, understanding the power they have.
The 26 million who protested across the US for Black Lives Matter exhibited the power people have to fight for justice. However, it brings about the question of whether it should be the responsibility of people to demand justice, or do institutions and corporations need to be called to account? Inaction does not bring about change – it is the people out protesting on the ground, amplifying the voices of marginalized groups, and reaching across the globe that is bringing about change and justice.