5. Stonewall Protests
Another landmark next, and the spontaneous protest that pushed the gay liberation movement forward. In the early hours of June 28th, 1969, New York City police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, seizing their illegal alcohol (which was not unreasonable) and beating up or feeling up the patrons (which was more unreasonable). Outside the inn, tempers were running high and eventually violence broke out, with the gay community outnumbering the police. The police were forced to retreat and call for back-up to fight the chorus-line high kicks of their opponents. The demonstration lasted all day and the next night fighting flared up again. It may have been unplanned, it may have been unorganized but it was effective – the gay community stood up together and claimed their right to be what they wanted to be. And that’s definitely a significant moment.
4. The March on Washington
Around the same time as drag queens were high-kicking their way into history, another minority group were fighting for their civil rights in America, and that was the Black community. They’d been engaged in a struggle for years, and would continue to struggle but the most significant protest of the movement happened 6 years before the Stonewall Riots, and that was Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. The radical preacher gathered 300,000 people of whom around 75% were Black, and arrived in Washington on August 27th 1963. The next day, King delivered the famous “I have a dream” speech and the following year the Civil Rights Act was passed. But the struggle for equality went on, and King was shot dead in 1968 leaving his followers to try and finish his work.
3. The French Revolution
Not all protests achieve their objectives, but every century or so there is a protest that ends in revolution. And that’s what happened in the 18th Century, when the French peasants rose up against the aristocracy and specifically Queen Marie Antoinette, who was seen as spoilt and self-indulgent while her subjects starved. Tensions had bee building for a while, due to an economic crisis, but they boiled over in June 1789. The rebels stormed the Bastille prison, which fell on July 14th and beheaded the Governor. Eventually, Marie Antoinette suffered the same fate as the Governor and a new way was established in France – that of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”. Viva la revolution!
2. Thích Quảng Đức’s Self-Immolation
The 1960s were a troubled time, hence the number of momentous protests that happened in that decade. Thích Quảng Đức was a Buddhist monk, who chose to set himself on fire as a protest against the treatment of his people by the South Vietnamese Catholics, who refused to let the Buddhists fly their flag on Buddha’s birthday. Nine people had been killed by government forces but the peaceful Buddists refused to fight violence with violence. Instead, the press were summoned to the road just outside the Cambodian Embassy on June 10th 1963 and there they were witnesses to Thích Quảng Đức’s final protest – burning himself to death while meditating, and not emitting even a sigh of pain. As one journalist said “As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him”. The picture has since become world famous as a symbol of self-sacrifice for your cause.
1. Tiananmen Square
The most momentous protest of all time is maybe also the most shameful. Like many of the protests on our list, it was a shocking example of government brutality against peaceful protesters. Even more shocking is that the Chinese government has never apologised for it, and now forbids discussion of the event. Bitterly ironic, as the students involved were campaigning for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among other things. The students gathered in Tiananmen Square, and by June 3rd 1989 there were around a million of them there. Then the tanks rolled in, and the military opened fire. It is not known how many died in the square, thanks to the suppression of information from China, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. A noble cause to be protesting about and a horrific outcome, which should be remembered.