On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi reached his limit. He was a 26-year-old street vendor in Tunisia who was frustrated with being unable to find a better job.
He was also aware of corrupt officials’ demands for bribes. On that particular morning, inspectors confiscated Mohamed’s supply of pears, bananas, and apples. When they took his scales, he resisted; and some witnesses say that a female police officer slapped him.
Humiliated and enraged, Mohamed went to the nearby government office to complain but could not get a hearing. In front of the building, he reportedly shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?”
After dousing himself with a flammable liquid, he struck a match. He died of his burns less than three weeks later.
Mohamed Bouazizi’s desperate act resonated with people in Tunisia and beyond. Many consider his actions the trigger for an uprising that toppled the country’s regime and protests that soon spread to other Arab countries.
The European Parliament awarded Bouazizi and four others the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and The Times of London named him its 2011 person of the year.
As that example shows, protest can be a powerful force. But what is behind the recent wave of protests? And are there any alternatives?
Why The Surge In Protests?
Many protests are ignited by the following:
Dissatisfaction with social systems: When people believe that the local government and economy serve their needs, there is little desire to protest—people work within the existing order to address their problems.
On the other hand, when people feel that these systems are corrupt and unjust and rigged in favour of a select few, conditions are ripe for social unrest.
A trigger: Often, an event moves people to action, to change from resignation to a belief that they must do something. Mohamed Bouazizi’s case, for example, set off mass protests in Tunisia.
In India, a hunger strike against corruption by activist Anna Hazare set off protests by his supporters in 450 cities and towns.
Recently in USA, people protest over the killing George Floyd, who died after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Footage of the arrest on 25 May shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck while he was pinned to the floor.
What Have Protests Accomplished?
Proponents of social unrest would claim that protests have accomplished the following:
Provided relief for the poor: In response to so-called riots that spread all over Minnesota and beyond that seek support for BlackLives and in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., that occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, city officials suspended evictions and arranged for some of the rioters to get work. ALSO READ:Here’re 5 Reasons Why You Should “Calm Down”
Similar protests in New York City restored 77,000 evicted families to their homes.
Addressed injustices: Ultimately, the 1955/1956 boycott of city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.A., led to the overturning of laws for segregated seating in buses.
Stopped construction projects: In December 2011, tens of thousands of people protested the construction of a coal-fired power plant near Hong Kong because of concerns about pollution, so the project was canceled.
Of course, protesters do not always get what they want. For example, leaders may crack down rather than give in to demands.
Sometime ago, the president of one Middle Eastern country stated regarding the protest movement there: “It must be hit with an iron fist,” and thousands have died in that uprising.
Even when protesters accomplish their aims, the aftermath invariably brings new problems. A man who helped depose the ruler of an African country told Time magazine about the new regime: “It was utopia that immediately descended into chaos.”
But the question remains; Is there a better way? Is protest just the answer?
Coined from AWAKE!