Oct 28th, 2019, 03:30 PM

Global Uproar: The Biggest Protests Happening Now

By Amy Thorpe
Protesters in Paris march by the charred remains of a motorcycle this September / Image Credit: Amy Thorpe
From Hong Kong to Santiago, no city is spared

Around the globe, this year has seen citizens rise up in the hundreds of thousands against injustices perpetrated by their governments. 

The circumstances underlying each protest differ, but the desired outcomes are similar: strengthened democracy, security for the middle class, and a better quality of life. 

The fight for these changes has manifested in France's Gilets Jaunes movement, for instance, which has now been raging for about a year demanding economic reform. In the United Kingdom, controversial and seemingly unending Brexit negotiations have motivated dissatisfied citizens to take to the streets, many urging for a second referendum. Russia, in addition, experienced its largest political rallies since 2013 over the barring of independent candidates' participation in the 2019 Moscow City Duma election. 

Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa are undergoing what some have referred to as a second wave of the Arab spring, with Sudanese and Algerians heading major protests against their respective presidents. Along with Syrians resisting the withdrawal of American troops from their border with Turkey. Iran and Iraq, all who have been fighting government corruption and economic instability in country-wide demonstrations.

In South America, countries including PeruColombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela have also been subject to unrest. The latter has experienced especially fiery clashes between protestors and law enforcement, leading to over 100 deaths in the nearly 300 days Venezuelans have been advocating for their president's removal from office. 

The list of countries in turmoil goes on, and it seems this onslaught of citizen-driven pushback will not be quieting down. 

“The data shows that the amount of protests is increasing, equaling the amount in the 60s and has been since about 2009,” Professor Jacquelien van Stekelenburg at Vrije University in Amsterdam revealed to The Guardian. 

What does this mean for the future? Examining some of the biggest protests shaking the world right now can help to clarify. 

Hong Kong

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hong Kong, September 2019 © Rémy Soubanère People gathered around Mong Kok police station, prince Edward, MongKok, and Yau Ma Tei MTR stations to ask for aug 31st CCTV where police used force and tear gaz in Prince Edward station. — From “Frontliners” photo series. This series shows “the braves” as the frontline demonstrators call themselves, police and all those who take part of these near everyday fights. — Full series at: http://remysoubanere.com/hk — Context. The 2019 Hong Kong protests, also known as Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement or Anti-ELAB Movement, are an ongoing series of demonstrations in Hong Kong, which began with the aim to oppose the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill proposed by the Hong Kong government. If enacted, the bill would allow local authorities to detain and extradite criminal fugitives who are wanted in territories with which Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements, including Taiwan and mainland China. People were concerned that the bill would subject Hong Kong citizens and visitors to the mainland Chinese jurisdiction, undermining the autonomy of the regionand its civil liberties. As the protests progressed, the protesters laid out five key demands, including over the alleged police misconduct and democratic reform which has stagnated since the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. The Chinese central government has stated it is “the worst crisis in Hong Kong” since the handover in 1997. — Prints at: remysoubanere@gmail.com — #hongkongprotests #hongkong #hongkongprotest #standwithhongkong #documentary #photojournalism

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Hong Kong's protests began to pick up in April this year, triggered by proposed amendments to extradition laws that would allow suspected criminals to be transferred to mainland China and tried in Communist-controlled courts. Public resistance originated over concerns that approval of the amendments would undermine Hong Kong's autonomy as granted in the "one country, two systems" policy, and would give China the ability to target political enemies. 

The first large march in Hong Kong was on June 9, during which more than a million residents came out to make their discontent heard. Just three days later, police deployed tear gas on protesters for the first time, marking a point of no return and beginning a sharp increase in the violence of the demonstrations. Another four days and Hong Kong saw the largest protest in its history, with a turnout of as many as two million people. 

Since June, protests have targeted everywhere from Hong Kong's Legislative Council to airports, and have resulted in over 2,000 injuries and 10 deaths (all of which were suicides). The police, who on August 5th fired a total of 800 rounds of tear gas, have been criticized as heavy-handed in their responses. 

“The situation has evolved into a war in Hong Kong society,” commented 23-year-old front-line demonstrator Tin to the Associated Press. “It’s the protesters versus the police.”

Though the extradition bill that began the protests was suspended on June 15th and fully withdrawn on October 23rd, the concession is too little too late for most protesters. What has now transformed into a full-fledged pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong will likely not be winding down any time soon. 

Catalonia

One of the many Catalonian Independence rallies that have taken place in Barcelona / Image Credit: Sasha Popovic on Flickr
 

The ongoing protests in Catalonia, a semi-autonomous region in Northern Spain, find their origins a failed attempt at separation from the country two years ago. Pro-independence Catalan leaders held a referendum in October of 2017, which was quickly ruled illegal by Spain's constitutional court. Nevertheless, Catalonia declared independence on October 27, resulting in the subsequent dissolution of its parliament by Madrid, which imposed a period of direct rule on the region shortly thereafter.

The lingering impact of this back-and-forth has reared its head this October as the sentences of nine former Catalan leaders charged with sedition were announced on October 14th. The verdicts motivated thousands to take to the streets, causing the city's El Prat airport to come to a standstill. Since then, protests have not slowed down, generating a turnout of around 525,000 people on just the fourth day. 

On October 19th, Catalan President Quim Torra called for talks with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sànchez, who declined to communicate given the violence generated by the protests and the "impossibility" of Catalonia's complete independence. Still, though, many Catalans continue to hold negotiations at the heart of their demands in the hopes that the independence crisis can be civilly resolved. 

Chile

Chile at War/ Source: TIME Youtube

On October 1st, Greater Santiago's Panel of Public Transport Experts made the decision to raise transportation costs in Chile's capital by about 4%. This increase originally meant to be put in place in April of 2020 but since scrapped, set off a wave of outrage among Santiago residents. Chile, despite being one of the wealthier countries in South America, has a significant problem with economic inequality. The proposed fare change would have been particularly impactful for the lower class given that transport costs amount to 13.5% of the minimum wage. 

Protests began October 14th against the transportation fares and Chile's generally high cost of living, lead primarily by secondary school students taking over Santiago's main train stations. Protesters jumped turnstiles and vandalized equipment as confrontation arose with law enforcement, soon expanding out into the streets. The now weeks of conflict have been a battle of stones and Molotov cocktails versus tear gas and water canons, resulting in thousands of injuries and extensive damage to nearly all of Santiago's train stations. 

With the spread of protests to other Chilean cities and arguably the worst civil unrest since the 1990s , President Sebastian Pinera declared a state of emergency on October 18th. A week later, over a million protesters marched throughout the country to demand his resignation. 

"I want this inequality to end," stated protester Camila Dilas to Aljazeera. "Finally, we've woken up and I feel happy that Chile has opened its eyes. These protests will last until Pinera resigns."

Lebanon

The flags of Hezbollah party and Lebanon fly in Mleeta, Lebanon / Image credit: ThinkingNomads on Flickr
 

Lebanon is no stranger to turmoil, having survived 15 years of a civil war ending in 1990. The government, still unstable and wrought with corruption, has tended to prioritize the well-being of the rich before that of the poor in recent years, therefore neglecting to invest in road maintenance, electricity distribution, waste collection, and unemployment solutions, among other things. 

Fueling Lebanon's most recent protest is a newly-introduced 20-cent tax on WhatsApp phone calls, which much of the public see as the final straw in a long-lasting affront to their rights. 

Despite the use of tear gas and the congestion of Lebanon's streets, the largely nonviolent movement continues to amass support. In fact, October 17th saw the largest turnout of protesters in 14 years: an estimated 1.3 million, or 20% of Lebanon's population. It seems as though their voices are beginning to be heard, as on October 29th Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation. 

"We want the entire system to change," explained demonstrator Tima Samir to Agence France-Presse, echoing the ever-determined spirit of protesters around the world. "We'll stay on the streets until all our demands are met." 

Regardless of their varying demands, protesters like Samir are united by a bone-deep conviction that life can be better. From Lebanon to Catalonia, individual differences are being put aside to fight for the greater good on a scale hitherto largely unseen. The breadth and expansiveness of 2019's movements have made it the year of the street protester in many people's eyes, bringing forth a wave of hope for a brighter future.