By Raquel W. ’21
We are all familiar with the climate protest, sparked by Greta Thunberg that occurred September 20th, 2019, asking for policy change to allow for a cleaner environment. However, it seems that the time for protests is far from over. On a recent Trever Noah show, he had a segment discussing the many protests that are occurring worldwide right now, inspiring me to research and write this update on some current world events.
Technology has made it easier for protests to gain momentum and more importantly, for people outside of the area to be informed about them. Protests are a key component in giving people a voice and an opportunity to show their government that they want change. However, doing this in a completely peaceful manner has its complications. Though many protests typically begin with peaceful intentions, they can quickly escalate, especially in countries where governments are less tolerant of their citizen’s rights. Nonetheless, protests are a powerful tool, specifically for those who cannot vote. Furthermore, even if a protest does not incite immediate action, it can at least have an inspiring and unifying effect.
Here is a rundown of the protests happening around the world right now…
The increase of violence and citizen arrests has brought the unrest to a new level between the Hong Kong government and the People’s Republic of China’s government. Though Hong Kong technically exists as a Special Administrative Region of China (SAR), many citizens of Hong Kong seek independence and new democratic freedoms. Under their own law, the People’s Republic of China has given Hong Kong “the Basic Law,” a form of de facto constitution (meaning a constitution based on social action and not explicitly recognized by law), providing the citizens of Hong Kong many rights, including the right to protest. Recently, however, the Beijing government decided to enact an extradition bill (meaning citizens convicted of a crime would be extradited or returned to mainland China). Though the bill is now on hold, the levels of violence between the two governments and the citizens of Hong Kong continue to increase to alarming levels as citizens progress the fight for their rights.
In the northeast of Spain, the district of Catalonia is petitioning for its independence from Spain’s central government and its recognition as an autonomous community. This movement began in the late 1800s and protests have been occurring since, mostly in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital. On October 14th, 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced 9 of the 12 leaders convicted of sedition to 9 to 13 years in prison. Their imprisonment has only added to the heat of the conflict in Spain, sparking more protests in Catalonia and bringing domestic conflict as not all Catalonians wish for autonomy. At present, some Catalonians are pushing for another referendum to be held to decide if Catalonia should become an independent state and exist as a republic while some simply wish to see Spain united once more.
Recently, Chile’s people saw a rise in the Metro de Santiago subway fares, which was only the starting point of their protests, beginning around October 14th of this year. As a country, Chile has been extremely affluent economically, yet the majority of its people have been suffering financially. Citizens are seeing prices of goods rise as their salaries lower, forcing them to compromise things such as education and health care. The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, has declared a state of emergency, increasing minimum wage slightly and placing a higher tax on the wealthy classes. This protest has grown much larger than a resistance to a tax and it is now a movement of the Chilean people asking for justice in the form of economic reform. Though there is no quick fix, some protesters argue that a new Constitution needs to be written as the last one constructed was under August Pinochet’s regime, in 1980. These protests and times of hardship for citizens are all too familiar to those who lived during Pinochet’s rule, making protestors push even harder for a permanent change to their government.
Lebanon’s “October Revolution,” a series of protests against its sectarian governing system, began on October 17th, 2019, when the Lebanese government, in an attempt to deal with debt from wildfires, placed a tax on call services such as WhatsApp, which is commonly used throughout the country. Most citizens are calling for a change in the sectarian government system (one strictly adhering to religious differences) because it says that the president must be Maronite Christian, the speaker of Parliament Shia Muslim, and the prime minister Sunni Muslim. With almost a third of the population under the poverty line, the Lebanese are facing a horrific economic crisis. The people of Lebanon are calling for a better form of taxation, a more technocratic government and more specifically, the resignation of their prime minister, Saad Hariri, and his cabinet. On October 29th, the protests proved to be somewhat successful and Hariri stepped down from his position. Now, Lebanon is working to reconstruct its government and it is up to Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s president, to appoint the next prime minister. The next step remains unclear for the Lebanese government but it is inspiring to see protesters unite across different religious identities to illustrate the importance of this reformation and dire need for social change.
All of these protests, though perhaps fighting for their individual causes, all share the common theme of citizens petitioning to change their government to achieve their own definition of justice. They are fighting for their rights and using their power in numbers to encourage social, political and governmental change.