By Veronica Chavez
Photo courtesy of scottlum.
Throughout history, people have joined together in protests for a myriad of reasons. Some congregate with the strong belief that the government is failing the public. Others are angry that societal structures have made basic life practices more difficult. Many simply join the uprising to fulfill the need to do something other than idly watch injustices occur.
Whatever the reason may be, the essence of civil protest has stayed relatively the same throughout history in a number of ways.
For one, protesters still use shock value to get their message across. In the 1960s, peace activists gained the attention of millions by sticking flowers into the barrels of police guns during anti-war demonstrations. In 2014, many people lay hauntingly motionless on the ground pretending to be dead as a silent and symbolic reaction to policy brutality.
The use of cardboard signs with messages of the unrest felt by protesters also still prevails as one of the most powerful protest tools. Additionally, militaristic wartime gear continues to be utilized by police during riots, creating an atmosphere where violence may break out at any time.
That being said, a shift in civilian attitudes toward authority, as well as technological advances in the way we communicate has changed the act of protesting in a multitude of ways.
Protests are leaderless
Political movements today have not all had the charismatic leadership that seemed to be needed in protests of the past. Instead of sharp-spoken speeches similar to ones given by powerful figures like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., or Ghandi, today’s generation is more content dispersing its leadership and organization to all the participants.
Occupy Wall Street, for example, was a movement in which protestors rejected all forms of top-down hierarchy and instead valued peer-to-peer networking. By divvying the accountability of the protests, self-responsibility is encouraged and all demonstrators hold the same level of empowerment.
During Occupy, some expressed disappointment in the dwindling job market they were met with after graduating college, others conveyed anger at the large gap between the middle class and the upper “one percent”. Instead of nodding in agreement to the speech of a leader, these types of protests entail demonstrators communicating how they have been personally affected by system.
Technology and online activism are essential
The rise of social media and communication technology has essentially changed the art of protesting. Twitter and Facebook, have become vehicles for organizing and expressing dissent, allowing virtually anyone to join in on a global conversation with the use of a simple hashtag.
Real-time updates in Ferguson, Missouri during the recent protests have made it possible for tech-savvy protesters to stay one step ahead of police at all times, while also allowing them to reveal sensitive information about meeting places and times at their own pace to avoid being shut down prematurely.
In Hong Kong, applications such as FireChat, which allows users to message others in their immediate vicinity without needing internet connection, proved wildly successful during Occupy Central protests in which Wi-Fi or cellphone service was shut down.
Protesters are willing to disrupt the public peace
During the Civil Rights Movement, most participants were advised to protest as peacefully as possible, as to not incite riot or reason for arrest. While sit-ins and die-ins are still popular today, many recent uprisings have taken an anarchistic turn.
After the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and the grand jury’s decision to not indict the New York City police officer that placed civilian Eric Gardner in a fatal chokehold, marches took place in several major cities. Angered that much of the public was continuing with their holiday routines without a hitch, protestors decided to crash several events including the Thanksgiving Day Parade, Black Friday, and New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square. The Black Lives Matter protesters were also able to shut down major roadways like the Lincoln Tunnel and FDR drive.
Similarly, in Hong Kong, protesters sprawled along the major highway in the city, halting transportation in the main hub of the city, until police forces tore down hundreds of tents and banners a week later.