Historically, protests have been considered one of the most effective catalysts for change. It was the revolutions of Europe and America throughout the 17th and 18th centuries that gave rise to the notions of rights and democratic process. Whereas it was the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions of the 20th century which gave rise to authoritarianism and the erosion of basic civil liberties.
To prove that protests really have been the instrumental factor in catalyzing change, consider this: many normal values we cherish in Western society today – like same-sex marriage, right to due process, freedom of religion – people at one time had to fight for, through being indefatigable in protesting the establishment and demanding change.
What’s important to note is that although all the protests listed below are failures, that’s not to say they may not influence future movements over the same issue. What’s also important to note is that the protests listed below range from focusing on the most significant of issues to the most trivial.
10. Pro-Life Protest in London
Although the debate over abortion has subsided in recent years, it’s still a delicate subject that continues to divide people. In December of 2014, members from the controversial Abort67 group protested outside an abortion clinic in London. In the past, Abort67 have been accused of filming people entering and leaving abortion clinics as well as blocking the entrances and holding up graphic posters of aborted fetuses.
However, on this specific occasion, the protestors outside the London clinic were approached by a pregnant woman who told them to stop “making other women feel guilty.” The pregnant woman went on to tell the protestors that they “don’t know why people are doing what they’re doing,” and that consequently, they should stop “judging and filming.” After quickly becoming clear that the pro-life demonstration wasn’t going well, the Abort67 members decided to abort the protest.
9. Protests Against Gay Marriage in Washington
In June of 2015, tens of millions celebrated following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that states could no longer ban same-sex marriage. Some expressed their joy by taking to the street to celebrate whilst others changed their profile pictures on Facebook. However, a month before same-sex marriage officially became legal, thousands of people – including religious leaders – marched in Washington to protest against same-sex marriage. Carrying placards that read “A Child Needs a Father and a Mother” and chanting “homosexual marriage is wrong,” the protestors proved they were determined to have their voices heard. One protester, Orthodox priest Hans Jacobse, even went as far to state that “society [would] crumble” if same sex marriage was legalized.
Well, despite the impassioned determination and unscientific warnings about society crumbling, the protests ultimately proved to be futile as same-sex marriage did indeed become legal. Finally same-sex couples could get married and enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples.
8. Farmers Protest the European Union
Without farmers, modern day society as we know it would be non-existent. Let me offer a specific example: considering farmers grow apples, potatoes, barley and grapes, we’re reliant on them to ensure we can make cider, vodka, beer and wine. In short, it’s difficult to get drunk without farmers. However, as essential as farmers are, it appears the European Union isn’t as aware of the fact. In 2009, thousands of farmers demonstrated in Brussels, Belgium to protest against the declining price of milk and unreasonable quotas.
The Farmers turned out in full force, equipped with their tractors, trucks, and cows. And to prove they meant business, the farmers went as far as to squirt cow’s milk and throw chicken eggs at the police. Unfortunately, despite their best attempts to catalyze change, the protests eventually subsided and the European Union failed to make any significant amendments to the quotas.
7. Protests in Washington to Simplify Spelling
What’s one thing everyone reading this article – including myself – has in common? We’re all guilty of misspelling words. Sometimes we make a typo on the keyboard and other times we simply have no idea how the word is spelled so we guess according to how it sounds. As it turns out, some people are genuinely angered by how complex words can be to spell. Angry to the extent that they feel passionate enough to protest outside spelling bee competitions.
In 2010 during the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, peaceful protestors gathered outside the Grand Hyatt hotel to demand that we simplify the way words are spelled. The protestors handed out pamphlets which described how “fruit” could be spelt as “froot” and how “slow” could be spelt as “slo.” Furthermore, they also handed out pins which read “enuf is enuf. Enough is too much.” Now, considering the rapidly increasing capabilities of technology and how texting has taken over mail, there’s certainly a chance that the way we spell words could change in the future. However, as commendable as it is to have a small group of people speak out about an issue they’re passionate about, it was clear from the beginning that this protest won’t be changing anything for the time being.
6. Protests Against World War 1
Out of all the protests you wouldn’t have wanted to fail, the protests against World War 1 would’ve been near the top. World War 1, also known as The War to End All Wars, is considered to be one of the most horrifying conflicts in human history – unfortunately not horrifying enough to end all wars, if you hadn’t already noticed. The first global war of its kind drew in over 9 million combatants and resulted in the deaths of over 7 millions combatants. And to make matters worse, it’s now largely considered fact that the Treaty of Versailles – the document that formerly ended the war – was responsible for creating the conditions that enabled Hitler to rise to power.
Before the outbreak of total war, protests were staged all over Europe and America to protest the dawning catastrophe. Anti-war protests were predominantly supported by anarchist and Marxist groups, Christian Pacifists, Canadian and Irish nationalists, and women’s groups. Unfortunately, when the outbreak of war finally did occur, the majority of groups and organizations which had previously opposed the war began to support their governments and the war effort.
5. Anti-Nuclear Power Protests in Japan
In 2011 Japan was shaken – quite literally – following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake of the cost of Tōhoku. The tsunami that ensued caused a nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant, an event considered to be the largest nuclear incident since Chernobyl. The disaster hasn’t just caused immense problems for Japan but also the world, as the damaged nuclear plants have leaked significant amounts of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean and raised concerns over the reliability of nuclear power.
In 2012, over 70,000 people demonstrated in Tokyo to protest against nuclear power. The majority of the demonstrators stressed that their major concern was radioactive contamination in water and food supplies. Japan’s government has insisted it’s working on solutions to ensure the country doesn’t have to rely on nuclear power by 2030. However, the government also recently authorized the reopening of particular Fukushima plants, raising concerns over whether they’re serious about it’s nuclear-free proposals.
4. Pro-Democracy Protests in Hong Kong
Is it just me or does it seriously feel like almost every product reads “made in China” on the back of it? Great, I’m not the only one. Anyways, one thing that isn’t made in China is democracy. This became especially evident in 2014, when the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress made a controversial decision regarding Hong Kong’s electoral system.
Immediately following the committee’s decision, pro-democracy protest groups colluded to stage non-violent demonstrations throughout Hong Kong. The protestors were largely made up of students, although it’s significant to note that Occupy Central with Love and Peace and the hacking group Anonymous were also present. Despite the hundreds of thousands that participated and the immense media attention, the Chinese government hasn’t done anything substantial to address the issue of electoral reform in Hong Kong.
3. Protests against Israeli Settlements
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a seemingly ceaseless struggle; centered around religious interpretations and geopolitics, soaked in a long history of suffering and bloodshed. Over the decades there have been many attempts by the global community to expedite the peace process between the two states, however to this day all efforts have ultimately proven to be futile. Many Palestinians have argued that a crucial obstacle to the peace process is the expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians protest Israel’s policy of settlement expansion daily and unfortunately the latest demonstrations have turned violent. According to a recent UN report in 2014, more than 2,220 Palestinians, including over 1,400 civilians died during summer conflicts in the Gaza Strip – the highest recorded death toll since 1967. Despite the array of Palestinian protests and criticisms from the UN, IOC, the United States, the European Union, and many others, Israel continues to expand settlements into Palestinian territory.
2. Tiananmen Square Protests
In April 1989, Chinese students and labour activists in the tens of thousands began demonstrating for democratic and economic reforms in Tiananmen Square. The protests were sparked in response to the death of Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer who was forcefully removed from office after pushing for political and economic reforms. It’s reported that by mid-May, around a million Beijing residents actively joined the cause and demonstrated in over 350 cities nationwide. However, despite the size of the demonstrations, the movement lacked unanimity and leadership.
On June 4, the People’s Liberation Army, equipped with tanks and 300,000 soldiers strong, moved into Tiananmen Square to crush the pro-democracy protests. Although Chinese authorities state there were only 300 deaths, Amnesty International estimates the real number to be around 1,000. Due to the high casualty rates and reluctance on the part Chinese government to implement any reform measures, the pro-democracy demonstrations ceased and the movement quietened.
1. Occupy Wall Street
Ever watched The Wolf of Wall Street and thought, “hmm, I wonder if that sorta corruption and greed still exists within the financial sector today”? Well, the answer is yes, and that’s similar to what the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting: corruption and greed, as well as income inequality and wealth distribution in the United States between the wealthiest 1% and the 99%. The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in New York in 2011, encouraged protestors to occupy banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, foreclosed homes, and college and university campuses.
However, despite the protests receiving global support, the Occupy Wall Street movement ended up failing for a number of reasons: it lacked a central message, failed to articulate specific aims and strategies, and was left weakened by numerous coordinated crackdowns by authorities – often in riot gear. To this day, there have been no significant changes in regards to the United States’ financial services sector and unfortunately, corruption and greed remain a pressing issue. Now, although the movement didn’t manage to trigger any substantial changes, Occupy Wall Street did manage to inform millions of people about the shocking inequalities in the United States and gave rise to a larger Occupy movement which focuses on social and economic disparities worldwide.