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Thousands of people demonstrate in Cologne, Germany, Saturday June 6, 2020, to protest against racism and the recent killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, USA. His death has led to Black Lives Matter protests in many countries and across the US. A US police officer has been charged with the death of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The Age of Global Protest

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Popular protests are on the rise, and they are increasingly going global. Over the past two years, popular movements demonstrating against fiscal austerity and corruption have brought down governments—in democracies and authoritarian regimes alike—from Europe and Latin America to Africa and Asia. And with the advent of new communication technologies and media platforms, what happens anywhere can be seen everywhere.

Popular protests are on the rise, and they are increasingly going global. Over the past two years, popular movements demonstrating against fiscal austerity and corruption have brought down governments in democracies and authoritarian regimes alike from Europe and Latin America to Africa and Asia. And with the advent of new communication technologies and media platforms, what happens anywhere can be seen everywhere. The messages and actions of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, for instance, have inspired and guided demonstrators in other continents.

The Black Lives Matter protests in the United States have been particularly resonant. Building on centuries of international abolitionist and anti-colonialist protest, the latest round of demonstrations, sparked by the May 2020 death of George Floyd after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes, spread rapidly around the world. In addition to standing in solidarity with U.S. protesters, demonstrators in Europe, South America and Asia connected the movement to their own experiences of colonialism, racism and state violence that have been perpetrated by their governments.

Pro-democracy protesters raise three fingers, a symbol of resistance, during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug, 16, 2020.
New communication technologies and media platforms are not only raising awareness. They are also enabling movements in different countries to learn from and engage with each other. The leaderless pro-democracy protest movement in Thailand is connected to groups guiding similar efforts in Hong Kong. There is some concern, though, that the ease with which protest methods and tactics can be shared might obscure the amount of work required to organize effective movements that can successfully achieve political change. As a result, nascent efforts could splinter or fail because protesters are not adequately prepared to maintain them, particularly when they are challenged by government forces. Meanwhile, governments are actively looking to contain the rise in civil resistance, deploying strong-arm tactics and, increasingly, using the coronavirus as a pretext to curb demonstrators and arrest activists and journalists—a strategy deployed from Algeria to the Philippines. Beyond cracking down on demonstrators, leaders like Hungary’s Victor Orban are leveraging the emergency to seize powers and pass laws that will continue to limit political speech even after the pandemic ends.

Will the emerging leaderless protest movements be able to maintain unity and momentum? Will the BLM protests have an impact on President-elect Joe Biden’s domestic agenda? In Algeria, will the Hirak protesters that drove former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power be able to overcome new efforts to silence them by the regime that survived him? Latest Coverage How the Waitangi Tribunal Has Helped New Zealand Confront Its Troubled History More than four decades ago, New Zealand established a tribunal, unique in the world, to address historical wrongs done to its Indigenous people. Since then, the Waitangi Tribunal has changed New Zealand’s culture. What lessons can it offer to other countries that are also grappling with troubled histories? The Power of Protest—and Its Limitations Globally, the proliferation of protests that marked 2019 has continued, despite the restrictions on movement and assembly put into place to contain the coronavirus pandemic—and at times because of those restrictions and the economic hardships they have generated.
Meanwhile, events in Algeria, where the protesters who ousted enfeebled President Abdelaziz Bouteflika have so far been unable to dislodge the entrenched military elites that really hold power, have exposed the limitations of civil resistance. What’s driving the emergence of a feminist protest movement in Mexico, in ‘Don’t We Deserve More?’ Mexico’s Spike in Femicides Sparks a Women’s Uprising How Hong Kong’s protest movement is adapting to China’s security crackdown, in Hong Kong’s Darkening Future, Through the Eyes of Unbowed Protesters What protesters in Nigeria can learn from Sudan’s successful popular uprising, in How Nigeria’s Activists Can Keep the #EndSARS Movement Alive What’s ahead for Thailand’s pro-democracy protest movement, in In Thailand, Protests Enter an Uncertain Phase as the King Offers an Olive Branch Sharing Technology and Tactics Global connectedness might be the most significant driver of civil resistance, with protesters exposed to and inspired by social movements they see online. They are also learning from other activists by sharing strategies and organizational approaches. Demonstrators from around the world, for instance, have emulated Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, modeling its leaderless structure but also its tactics, like using umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas canisters and leaf blowers to disperse the gas. How governments are using the coronavirus pandemic to limit the free spread of information online, in How the Pandemic Is Accelerating a ‘Splintering of the Internet’ How a leaderless movement in Thailand is pushing the envelope of political protest, in Why Thailand’s Leaderless Protests May Have Already Succeeded How young people shaped Mali’s anti-regime protests, in The Crisis in Mali Holds Important Lessons for Government’s Everywhere Why civil resistance is on the rise, in ‘The Best Hope We Have.’ The Promise of Protest Movements Going Global The Global Scope of Black Lives Matter The Black Lives Matter movement that began in the United States has been seized upon by activists around the world, who are deploying similar language, symbols and actions in very different political contexts. Because BLM, itself, is drawing on the historical Black liberation struggle, there is space for a variety of movements to seize its expansive vision of justice and apply those demands to their own experiences of racism and prejudice. How today’s anti-racism protests are historically linked to the broader critique of imperialism, settler colonialism and capitalism, in As BLM Goes Global, It’s Building on Centuries of Black Internationalist Struggle Why the U.K. and France have their work cut out for them on addressing racial inequalities, in Legacies of Colonialism Are Holding Back Racial Justice in Britain and France How progressive movements in the United States are helping other societies confront their own histories of racism and inequality, in America’s Overdue Reckoning