Do Mass Protests Accomplish Anything?
Mass protests have been a part of societal and political change for generations, and millions of people have gathered around the world over the past 60 years in order to air their grievances to their governments and leaders. A protest as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is “a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something” (Protest). Protests can be in the form of a demonstration, or an “action by a mass group or collection of groups of people in favor of a political or other cause” (Demonstration). The United States alone has seen many different protests over diverse situations in its history, including the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and the movement against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, protests are occurring all around the world, most notably the mass protests in Hong Kong against the government’s anti-democratic policies. With so many activists currently fighting for what they believe in, the question arises of whether or not these mass protests accomplish anything.
The Logistics of a Protest
Before addressing the question at hand, it is valuable to know how mass protests are organized and in what forms they can be expressed. Not every protest is created the same, and how one is organized can be a major factor in its effectiveness. Some demonstrations can be sparked by a single protestor and garner momentum as more and more people exercise their right to protest, which is exactly how 16-year-old Greta Thunberg sparked a global climate change protest movement from single-person protests in Sweden. Other protests can be organized by a specific group that rallies around a certain cause, as in the case of the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the American Civil Rights movement that was championed by a group of black women fighting for civil rights. African Americans refused to ride the Montgomery bus system for over a year in protest against the country’s racial segregation laws. Still, other protests have no true leader, such as the Hong Kong protests that have gone on for over six months as of January 2020. The protests in Hong Kong have been fueled by activists spreading strategic information about upcoming protests through social media, resulting in hundreds of thousands flooding the island’s streets in opposition to the government. No single protest looks the same or is organized in a one-size-fits-all fashion.
Accomplishments of Mass Protests
There are many examples of mass protests accomplishing their goals both in history and in the present day. The nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights movement resulted in both small scale and foundational improvements to the plight of black Americans. The Montgomery bus system was ultimately integrated after the year-and-a-half-long boycott by African Americans. The Civil Rights movement saw many other monumental changes in response to citizens of all ethnicities practicing their right to protest. A notable example is the integration of interstate bus terminals after peaceful protests by young people nicknamed the Freedom Riders riding interstate buses became violent from their opposition, but due in part to their actions, the Civil Rights Act ended segregation in public places in 1964. Looking forward to the present, the protests in Hong Kong began in opposition to a bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited to China for criminal trials, which would have likely resulted in the loss of many rights for the accused as well as unfair trials. Protestors were able to force the leader of Hong Kong’s hand in scrapping the bill altogether, accomplishing their initial goal of protesting. There are many other examples throughout history of protests accomplishing both big and small goals and creating a better world for those in the eyes of protestors.
Protests Don’t Actually Accomplish That Much
For every example of a successful protest, there is another story of a protest that was ineffective or didn’t accomplish enough. Even now in Hong Kong, the economy has entered a recession because of the mass protests that have been occurring for months, and the retail industry has seen great losses because of the protests. Hong Kong residents have also failed to gain their independence from the country of China, which in actuality controls the small island country and is the decider of the country’s fate. The protests previously mentioned lead by Greta Thunberg have garnered attention from millions of people around the world, yet no government has taken any of the major initiatives that protestors say must happen now. This raises the question of whether or not these protests will truly make a difference on a global scale. Another less-covered example of protesting is happening in Iran right now, where citizens protested first the exorbitant price of gas and then the Iranian government itself. These mass protests resulted not in systemic change in the country but instead in the Iranian government putting the country in a media blackout and killing an estimated 200 protestors. These protests have either not accomplished their goals at all or achieved small goals but missed overarching ones.
Do Protests Accomplish Anything?
In conclusion, whether or not mass protests actually accomplish anything is determined by the goals set by the protest and the context in which it occurs. Protests such as those seen in the Civil Rights movement did result in major changes to the American way of life, but race issues still haunt the country in 2020, except those issues play out in different ways than in the 1960s. The protests in Hong Kong have achieved the goal of scrapping the extradition bill, but they are still under the thumb of China, and the country’s democratic values continue to be under attack. Climate change protests have brought a sense of urgency in solving the world’s climate problem to millions of people, but big governments have yet to make any meaningful progress in reaching the milestones required to save our planet. Therefore, whether or not a protest accomplishes something is determined by what the desired outcome is and the effects of the mass protests.
“A Deadly Crackdown in Iran.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/podcasts/the-daily/iran-protests.html?showTranscript=1
“Demonstration: Definition of Demonstration by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/en/definition/demonstration
History.com Editors. “Civil Rights Movement.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement