A Worldwide Surge In Protests

Protest in Chile Source: Guido Coppa via Unsplash Lately, it seems as if the whole world is in a state of unrest. From Chile to Hong Kong and Iraq to Bolivia, citizens are protesting by the millions and creating movements that are bound to shape the future of their countries and the rest of the globe. But what is causing this surge in protests? Back in the 1960s, flyers and phone trees were the main tools to spread the word and gather people together. Today, the internet is the new ground for political activism. In Hong Kong, the government regulates some internet activity with a tight fist. For instance, online casino gambling is banned in Hong Kong, but the rest of the world-wide web can still be used to rally like-minded citizens and help them rise. The connectivity provided by social media serves as the main platform to quickly organize, catalyze, and communicate the moment-by-moment happenings of a movement. Nowadays, a massive protest congregates faster than ever before and their message is carried throughout the world without filters.

Common Threads of Unrest

Social media might be responsible for the swiftness in gatherings and the increase in crowd numbers, but there are two main factors contributing to the uprisings against sociopolitical systems across the world.

  • Economic Anxiety: According to the Washington Post, “The global economy is in a synchronized slowdown,” growing at “its slowest pace since the global financial crisis. When growth collapses, anxieties rise, especially among the middle class who feel squeezed, get enraged by corruption and inequality, and have the capacity to voice their anger.” In Chile, for example, the protests began on account of a subway-fare increase, but are fueled by economic uncertainty and widening income inequality. The protests in Lebanon and Iraq had different triggers, but again the background remains a choked middle and lower class straining to make ends meet.
  • Distrust in Leadership: At the heart of the protests is the feeling that the common citizen is not being heard and things could be better. In Lebanon, Chile, and Iraq public services (such as health and education) are subpar, extremely expensive, or nonexistent, and leadership is seen as wealthy and dismissive. In Bolivia, Catalonia, and Hong Kong, citizens are fighting to protect their democratic rights against the perception that leaders are working towards their own interests and against their freedoms.

Where we are today: Protests around the world

Let´s take a quick look at some of the protests around the world and what triggered each of them.

Hong Kong

Signs condemning police brutality in Hong Kong Source: Chan via Unsplash Known as the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement, the Hong Kong demonstrations were triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill which, if passed, would have given Hong Kong authorities the power to indict criminals for offenses made in other territories, such as Taiwan and China. Hong Kong citizens worried that the bill would be used to subject the people of Hong Kong and its visitors to Chinese rule, undermining their civil liberties. Even though the bill has been fully retracted, the protests continue. Protestors are now demonstrating against police brutality, the administration’s handling of the crisis, and the ever-growing influence of Chinese communism.

Lebanon

The direct causes of the protests were the planned taxes on tobacco, gasoline, and on-line phone calls such as through WhatsApp and FaceTime. These taxes arose against a background of ever-increasing cost of living, rising unemployment, and an infrastructure crisis that has been going on for decades. Frustrated and underserved, Lebanese citizens took to the streets to call for the resignation of politicians, request a better standard of living, and demand accountability from their leaders. Lebanon has not had capacity to supply 24-hour electricity service since its 1975-1990 civil war. And the electricity crisis is just one of its many infrastructure problems. Lebanon has a potable-water problem, a waste-management problem, poor governance, and rampant corruption.

Chile

After an increase of 3.5 percent of the subway ticket was proposed, Chileans quickly mobilized to the streets and turned violent. Rail fares in Santiago were already the second highest in Latin America (after Sao Paulo) and the average monthly cost per person for the city’s public transport was 13.8 percent of the minimum wage, well above other Latin American cities. In general, Chile, which held a reputation for its economic stability and wealth in the 90s and early 2000s, has been suffering from an increase in cost of living and ever-widening gaps in economic inequality. Chile is the most unequal country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with an income gap 65 percent wider than the OECD average. And the high cost of services go well beyond transportation; the partly-privatized education and health systems are expensive, as are rents and utilities. Chileans could not tolerate one more price hike.

Iraq

After decades of economic deprivation and government oppression, Iraqis are rising up to demand a better life. These revolutionaries are frustrated by their country’s lack of employment opportunities, infrastructure, and government unaccountability. The New York Times quoted a protester saying, “Our patience is over now, we waited 16 years after Saddam and we still have nothing.” The demonstrators have since expanded their mission to include the overthrow of the administration and a halt to Iranian and U.S. intervention.

Catalonia

The public unrest in this region of Spain stemmed from the sentencing of nine Catalan leaders for staging an independence referendum two years prior. The referendum for independence was considered illegal by the Spanish authorities and Catalans took to the streets to protect their civil liberties. Since then, the protests have turned violent with numerous clashes against police authorities. The Tsunami Democràtic, one of the independence movement groups, has been cheered on (and are themselves cheering on) the Hong Kong protestors.

Bolivia

As with Hong Kong and Catalonia, Bolivians started protesting because they do not trust their government leaders to act in favor of their civil liberties. In Bolivia, citizens took to the streets in response to alleged electoral fraud. After leading by a thin and inconclusive margin (that required a runoff), the incumbent Evo Morales declared himself president for the fourth time. The opposition moved to the streets and demanded his resignation. After three weeks of escalations, Morales resigned and the president of the senate declared herself interim president. But the uprisings did not stop. This time, it was Morales’s supporters that were not happy about the outcome of the electoral process. To make matters worse, the right-wing, anti-Morales interim president, Jeannine Áñez, has responded with acts of violence against her opposition resulting in multiple deaths and notices from international organizations. The crisis continues and seems to be escalating as Morales’s supporters take to the streets and the new government uses its military to quell the fight.

What can we expect in 2020?

These protests along with uprisings in other countries such as France, England, India, Honduras, Haiti, and many others, stem from the demand to be heard and the frustrations of a suppressed middle and lower-middle class worldwide. Authorities can retaliate with surveillance, military force, or digital blackouts, but the fact remains that the status quo and the current sociopolitical system are under a great deal of pressure. On the other hand, several media outlets have noted that these protests are mostly leaderless. They utilize social media to congregate and remain widely anonymous. The hope is for change. Perhaps some leaders, organized and attentive to their countries’ needs, can rise from these 2019 movements or from within current administrations. The future of these countries and many others around the world rests on the recognition of the economic plight of middle-class citizens and the protection of civil liberties for all.   Planning to travel any of these countries? You may also like this


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