A universal history of going against the grain
Why We Protest
A universal history of going against the grain
Picture this: a man clad in nothing but an inundating robe; thin, spherical glasses; and a mustache as white as the rest of his declining hairline sits in a Yerovda Jail cell near Bombay in September of 1932. The already skinny man with thin lips and a small frame decides to take up a hunger strike to protest the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system via caste. His fear was that it would demolish the Hindu society (many minority communities were for the measure but he took issue in giving separate electorates to lower castes). This wouldn’t be his first time nor would it be his longest. It lasted a mere six days -- one day shorter than his third penitential fast in November of 1925 and 17 short of tying himself -- after which the result featured the British Government retracting clauses in the Communal Award, resulting in a single Hindu electorate (otherwise known as the Poona Pact).
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi -- Mahatma Gandhi -- shouldered 17 fasts during India’s freedom movement. He also spearheaded countless protests starting from his time as a civil rights activist in South Africa in 1893 and going until the day he died. Though many do share critiques of his works, Gandhi is a positively controversial, historical figure that has left his mark in the minds of billions of people.
This Saturday, over 200,000 women are expected to march through the streets of Washington D.C. to oppose America’s newly sworn in president. They disagree with how he handles himself, his actions, business dealings and generally everything he stands for. He’s been referred to as a rude, racist, misogynistic. And yet, 53% of white women voted for him. Now, a mostly divided country is scraping up its morals to go against their new leader. But they can’t do much except protest. Where did such a series of actions stem from?
Protestant Reformation: A silent beginning
Protesting goes as far back as the Middle Aged, Early Modern and Contemporary versions of the Catholic Church. Known as Protestant Reformation, the event started by Martin Luther splintered the Church. This 1517 schism was initiated from a book that Luther wrote, The Ninety-Five Theses, that served as the catalyst for a movement that wanted to focus on taking away some power -- such as the idea that the Pope insisting he had control of purgatory -- of the Church. The campaign began in Germany before moving outward, resulting in further fractured factions once it circulated across Eastern Europe. Schisms picked up immensely once Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press became widely available. Suddenly Lutheran and Calvinist churches were scattered around Germany, the Baltics and Scandinavia. Reformed churches took hold of Switzerland, Hungary, France, the Netherlands and Scotland. These new ideals for how theology should be understood even influenced Edward VI and Elizabeth I and the Church of England in 1547. Eventually, Christianity turned into a Cerberus in its own right thanks to those who opposed giving full power to one man. While it wasn’t a protest we know today, the Protestant Reformation molded the way some avenues of Christianity worship.
Was it a success?: The Catholic Church still has a billion and a half members. But without Luther’s rebel-like thinking, there wouldn’t be many other sects of Christianity.
Viva the revolutionary riot
American Revolution/French Revolution/Haymarket Riot
The Americas had its very first evolution in the 1700’s under the American Revolution. Colonists in the Thirteen American Colonies despised the British Government ruling from across the ocean (through monarchy, aristocracy, taxes, and creating laws), so they overthrew Great Britain’s reign. This, of course, resulted in the United States of America. There’s a whole play about it if you’re interested. Later, in 1886, a peaceful rally turned bombing in Haymarket Square in Chicago to protest the killing of several workers by police on the previous day resulted in the Haymarket Affair.
Not only was the West going against the grain, the French began to wise up as well. Six years after the American Revolution, the French also wanted a reform as to who ruled them. In part led by Napoleon Bonaparte, the coup saw the French dethroning the monarchy and starting a republic. Sadly, the new form of government ultimately went under the iron fist of Napoleon -- resulting in wars with other European countries.
Was it a success?: America got its freedom and eventually so did France. Although, lot of blood was spilled along the way.
Martin Luther King Jr.: boycott leader
As one of the most referenced political rallies for human rights, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is a very important moment in America’s history. Its most notable speaker, Martin Luther King Jr., cemented his legacy with a simply endearing speech on the current state and future of colored Americans. His words -- along with the march -- helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving not only blacks but anyone who felt they’d been discriminated against protection. Not to mention it also put a stop to unequal application of voter registration requirements and public racial segregation.
King would go on to participate and lead several Civil Rights protests (some less notable than others) until his death. In many ways, King could be considered the Gandhi of his day -- even as he held a presidential role in the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. His tenure included bus boycotts, marches from Selma to Montgomery, and the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Was it a success?: King’s work did not go unnoticed. For what he was trying to accomplish, his plans and actions did work. There’s still some discrepancy about race today however.
Outside the borders
Vietnam War Protests/Mexico 68 (Ideological fight against generations)
War has always been protested but a new wave of thinking thanks to the onset of the seventies brought in a different way of protesting. The Vietnam War protests started as far back as 1945 when US Merchant Marine sailors disagreed with the government’s use of their ships to send French troops to Vietnam (ten years prior to the actual conflict). It wasn’t until the sixties that more protests popped up. Demonstrations were carried out as far as England and Australia. The first U.S. protest in 1963 came in under the War resisters League who disapproved of the war as well as “anti-Buddhist terrorism.” A multitude of protests and anti-war propaganda were on display for at least 11 years. During such objections, President Lyndon B. Johnson was hung in effigy as 19 men from the Berkeley draft board burned their cards in 1965; 92 Peace Corps volunteers denounced the war; and veterans and John Kerry testified against the war during many congressional panels. These are just a few of the various other acts defying the war.
Around the same time, Mexico saw Mexico 68 -- or the Mexican Student Movement of 1968 -- where older and younger generations clashed ideologically. The introduction of The Pill (yes, THAT pill) caused a divide between the two factions. The younger breed thought it to be an innovation and they embraced it as much as they embraced other advancements of the time; the older crop, on the other hand, saw it as an attempt on their beliefs and practices. And this wasn’t just happening in Mexico. Notably, though, the region's’ youth took their lives into their own hands. Student protests popped up here and there as they tried to cite what was giving them cause. The government didn’t give in to their demands. Without notice, the government. This would go on to happen a few more times until the students essentially gave in. forced its way into the National University, killing all who opposed. This tense era in Mexico, America and the rest of the world was doubly heightened thanks to music from the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and others.
Was it a success?: The war cost the US taxpayer $25 billion dollars per year and left homegrown casualties at 15,058 with 109, 527 others wounded. King even voiced his opposition to the war. The US finally pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, nearly two years after a protest at Nixon’s inauguration in 1973.
Beyond our eyes
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
China experienced one of history’s biggest protests in the summer of 1989. Known locally as the June Fourth Incident, the Tiananmen Square protests spoke on the distaste of martial law declared by the government. Sadly, much like Mexico 68, this one also included a massacre during which troops with assault rifles and tanks opened fire on and running over the crowd of thousands that stood in their way. The impetus that started everything was the spring death of Hu Yaobang, a high ranking official of the People's Republic of China. His funeral saw nearly 100,000 attendees headed toward Tiananmen Square to demand a change in the government socially, politically and economically.
Was it a success?: Many, many people died or were arrested, tried and/or executed. There were leadership changes as Zhao Ziyang was ousted; Jiang Zemin was promoted to General Secretary of the Communist Party; and Bao Tong was convicted. The Western government and media was soon denounced by the Chinese government. An economic hit was taken as well.
Turmoil in the Middle East
Iraq War Protest in 2003/2011 Iranian protests/Arab Spring protests
More recently, Americans have protested the instillation of the US government in foreign issues. In 2003, on February 23, anti-war protests against Iraq took place not just in America but the entire world. But America alone had a reported 150 cities participating. BBC News estimates that some six to thirty million participated in protests across sixty countries.
Eight years later, “The Day of Rage” occurred in Iran, starting a myriad of civil unrest protests that lasted for over a year. Around the same time, Arab Spring was another set of demonstrations in the Arab world. Social media and in-fighting led to the causes of the revolution. Authorities responded to protests with violence. Pro-government militias were formed and counter-demonstrators even took to the streets.
Was it a success?: Sadly, in all three territories, there is still unrest between the people and the governments. US forces are still in Iraq and Iran is not doing terribly well. But the Arab Spring did bring to light many faces of the unstable Arab World.
In the pockets of the fat cats
Occupy Wall Street
One of the more recent and popular movements spoke on the evils of social inequality, mirroring the teachings of Martin Luther King. The Occupy Movement had many focuses at certain points. However, the gist was to take the monopolized power of larger corporations -- that essentially controlled a large part of the world’s financials -- who would use their wealth against poorer citizens (99% poor vs the 1% wealthy). Protesters referred to this ownership as unstable. Again, this demonstration not only happened in America (over 600 communities participated) but also nearly 950 cities and over 80 countries. Occupy was said to be inspired by Arab Spring, where many of those protesters shared solidarity. The movement would later influence the likes of Black Lives Matter and other ideals of modern American thinking.
Was it a success?: Not one bit. The rich are still miles ahead of the worse off poor.
Uprooting the government
Egyptian Protests in 2013
With the one year anniversary of Mohamed Morsi’s inauguration as president came an Egyptian coup d'état. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a group to remove the president from power and put the Egyptian constitution in stasis. This move is in response to the military’s ultimatum: find a solution to the widespread national protests or face consequences. Sisi’s men kept Morsi under house arrest at the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo. Other officials and high ranking figures were also arrested. Another historical massacre happened in August of that year in Rabaa during which 817 people and 904 across the country were killed.
Was it a success?: Much like Iraq, Iran and Arab World conflicts, there is very much still some turbulence in the Egyptian community. The coup really did help nevertheless.
Modern day protesting
Black Lives Matter
Probably the most popular in terms of cultural zeitgeist, Black Lives Matter protests kicked off under sad conditions. In response to the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin as well as Michael Brown and Eric Garner (Ferguson proved to be a major turning point), protests for the rights of black people again broke out across the nation. This one also proved to be louder than others thanks to the age of social media. Summer 2015 had the protesters taking part in the 2016 election as they opposed the leading republican candidate, Donald Trump.
With all that they’ve done, Black Lives Matter has received its share of criticism. For one, while it’s largely a non-violent movement, there have been many unexpected, extreme and destructive positions held. That’s not to say that there wasn’t violence during the original Civil Rights movement. Furthermore, two years of inner progress have yielded 30 local chapters with no clear pecking order.
In response to the anger against the police (who were themselves subject to a good portion of the hate from the movement), Blue Lives Matter started as an opposition to teach that not all officers shoot first and ask questions later. Other misguided groups reared their heads too under All Lives Matter, the White Student Union and White Lives Matter. Even still, organizers of Black Lives Matter focus onward as they have four years of hard work ahead.
Was it a success?: Black Lives Matter still has a lot of work cut out for it. Shootings have been curved, thankfully, but gun control is still a major topic. Prejudice also rears its ugly head almost every week at this point.
A fight for the other side
Women’s March on Washington and other anti-Trump protests
These protests and movements all lead up to the upcoming march against America’s future under Trump. Even though he won the majority of electorates in most of the states, Trump’s inauguration on Friday will be protested in all 50 states and 32 other countries. The Women’s March On Washington is the biggest protest -- thus far -- to come under the Trump administration on the following Saturday. With such a large turnout expected, buses are even set to bring in out of towners -- proving to be a boon for bus-sharing start ups.
For many women, USA Today writer Heidi M Przybyla suggests, this protest will incite a new wave of female civic activists. For many, it’ll be their first time being outspoken on such a large scale. But, much like Black Lives Matter, there is a wide swath of attendees with very little cohesion between ethical goals. The march stands against Trump as a whole but there are other meanings behind it. What’s more is that they’re fighting for women’s right’s from all backgrounds according to their Unity Principles. That means white, black, hispanic, asian, transgender and everything in between have someone in their corner. One of the bigger issues, though, stems from the proposed fight for things like “intersecting identities --” think equal pay for black women as well as their victimizations in criminal justice -- as pointed out by some critics.
Critics are asking whether or not the Women’s March should work in intersectional feminism, effectively putting the women into groups. Again, this would ultimately divide -- not focus -- their argument. Another issue critics take up with intersectionality is the unintentional promotion of being a victim and infighting between these sectioned off groups.
As with Black Lives Matter, there’s no clear solution for large groups like this. The only thing these women and men can do is march. Arguments are bound to pop up. Another feminist group is bound to splinter off. It’s just a matter of getting the right message out there.
Was it a success?: This remains to be seen. The inauguration itself if being boycotted but there is sure to be a large viewer base. Women have marched before for countless causes, from suffragists to a full overhaul of reproductive health care options. As long as the Women’s March remains focused and vocal, then America will listen.
The real question...
Why do we protest? Is it to defy those that pressure their ideals on us? Do we have this natural inclination to stand up for the rights of those who cannot stand up themselves? No matter the case, it looks like the world is in it deep for the next few years. As long as there is discrimination, oppression and inequity among our people, there will be protests.
A skinny, malnourished Gandhi sitting in a Bombaian jail cell is fighting for identity. Martin Luther King Jr. leading 90 percent of Montgomery’s black citizens to stay off of their buses is a fight for equality. The various coups and demonstrations in the Arab World during the Arab Spring is a want of peace. While messages do get muddied over time -- and to that fact, most of these groups are purely fighting for their people -- it’s very possible that change could come.
We could finally have minimal disparity between the treatment of races and sexes. Women could finally be on par with their male counterparts. A young black teen can walk down the street without fear of having a gun pulled on him. A muslim woman can board a plane without being called a terrorist. A latino family will be able to comfortably speak their native language without some ignorant buffoon telling them to go back to their country.
Until then, we must march.