What do you do when you don’t like the way things are run in your country? Well, if it’s a democracy you can vote. But suppose all the people you could vote for are basically saying the same thing? Then it might be time for more decisive action, in the form of a protest. In every free country, protesting is a legal right and in countries that aren’t free it’s even more important to make your voice heard. Not every protest works, but some can change the world. Find out the events that made the politicians listen, in our Top 10 Most Momentous Protests.
10. Occupy Wall Street
A recent one to start with, from September 2011. The protest was anti-consumerist and calling for politics to be free from the corrupting influences of big business. It started when around 200 people set up camp in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan and didn’t leave until they were evicted on November 15. As part of the movement, there was a protest march involving around 15,000 people bearing the slogan “we are the 99%”, which refers to the fact the the wealth in America is disproportionately spread, with most going to the top 1% of the population. The movement has been criticised for not having clear aims, and being full of “professional protesters” who will jump on any bandwagon, but it was certainly an effective way of getting attention, with worldwide coverage of the occupation and offshoots in other major cities, like London.
9. Iraq War Protests
8 years before Occupy, there was another huge protest that gained worldwide publicity. It was co-ordinated between 600 cities around the world and the cause was the impending Iraq War. On February 15th 2003, 3 million people marched in Rome, in the biggest anti-war rally ever seen, another million marched in London and 1.5 million in Madrid. The message was clear – the ordinary men, women and children who marched (as opposed to professional protesters) didn’t want war. They didn’t trust the claims the government were making about Iraq’s military capacity (this would later prove to be justified) and they suspected that the war was all about the oil in the region (this too may have been justified). The protests were huge but the war went ahead anyway, and the repercussions are still being felt.
8. Vietnam War Protests
Of course, the Iraq War Protests were influenced by an older generation of protesters, who took to the streets to make a stand against the war in Vietnam, and the draft that saw young American men being forced to fight and die for a cause they didn’t even understand. The protests started in December 1964, folk singer Joan Baez leading a demonstration of 600 people. The next year saw students organizing rallies on campuses and it spiralled from there. The movement coincided with the growth of peace-loving hippie culture and “flower power” and so it captured the imagination of both the young people and the press. Musicians such as John Lennon sympathized and got involved, with his “bed-in for peace”. The protests went on as long as the war did, both tailing off in the 70s. They may not have stopped thousands of Americans dying, but they did create a generation of activists.
7. The Miners’ Strike
Talking of futile protests, here’s a heart-breaking example from 1980s Britain. Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taking radical action to shake the country out of recession, and part of her action was to start closing coal mines. Miners who had done this job their entire lives now faced redundancy and poverty and so called a strike to protest against the closures. They held out for a year, from March 1984 to March 1985 but the notoriously hard leader was not going to back down and eventually they were forced to return to work. It was merciless. The strike was also characterized by the brutal treatment of the miners by the police during the blockade, with 51 miners injured at Rotherham in June 1984. An ugly episode in the history of industrial relations.
6. Salt Satyagraha
When your country is being oppressed in so many different ways by the British Raj, how do you choose what to protest against? Non-violent protester Mahatma Gandhi chose salt. The British in India had forbade the Indians from collecting or making salt themselves, and subsequently they all had to buy it from the British, at a premium price. With such a hot climate, salt was a necessity to replace the salts lost in sweat and Gandhi knew that it would be a cause every Indian could identify with. He protested by marching 240 miles to the coast and producing his own salt, in defiance of the British rules. It was a breakthrough in the struggle for independence and showed the population (still in shock over the bloody end to a previous protest) that it was possible to defy the British in a peaceful manner. A landmark protest.