Are we living in a historical era of protest? A new study released Thursday, looking at demonstrations between 2006 and 2020, found that the number of protest movements worldwide more than tripled in less than 15 years. The study found that every region saw growth and saw some of the largest protest movements ever recorded, including farmer protests that began in 2020 in India, the 2019 protests against President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. since 2013.
The study, titled “Global Protests: Exploring the Key Issues of Protest in the 21st Century,” was prepared by a group of researchers from the German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Colombian-based non-profit organization Initiative for Policy Dialogue. The university adds to the growing body of literature on our era of growing protests. Looking at more than 900 protest movements or episodes in 101 countries and territories, the authors concluded that we are living in a period of history such as 1848, 1917 or 1968 “when large numbers of people rebelled against this path. things required change. “
But why? Here the authors highlight one specific problem: the failure of democracy. Their research found that most of the protests they recorded – 54% – were caused by the alleged failure of political systems or representation. Roughly 28% included demands for what the authors described as “real democracy,” the largest of all demands found by the researchers. Other topics included inequality, corruption and inaction due to climate change. But the study’s authors say politicians are not responding properly.
“Too many leaders in government and business are not listening. The vast majority of protests around the world are making reasonable demands, already agreed upon by most governments. People are protesting for a good job, a clean planet for future generations, and a voice in decisions that affect their quality of life, ”said Sarah Burke, senior global economic policy expert at FES and author of the study.
Protests mean different things to different people. The study was published in the same week that The Washington Post published a massive three-part investigation into the January 6 uprising that began in part as a protest over conspiracy concerns among some Democrats. There will also be significant climate change protests later this week, but some European leaders are concerned that the cost of ditching fossil fuels could trigger reactions such as the yellow vest movement in France.
In the United States alone, there have been huge protests in recent years from the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives campaigns to Tea Party and Stop Theft. But keeping track of the scale of global protests is no easy task. Other projects, such as the Google-maintained Global Event, Language and Tone Database, collected news articles in search of data on protests. Burke, along with co-authors Isabelle Ortiz, Mohamed Berrada, and Hernan Saenz Cortez, opted for a more labor-intensive method instead. Researchers worked with the media in seven languages to identify protests and protest movements, finding articles “by hand,” Burke said in response to questions from The Washington Post.
The collection alone represents over a thousand hours of work before the analysis even began. But the trends were clear. In 2006, a study recorded only 73 protest movements. In 2020, there were 251 – more even after the 2008 financial crisis or the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Europe and Central Asia saw the largest growth in protest movements, with more protests in high-income countries than in other countries. countries in other income categories, but protests have increased across all regions and income levels.
(The authors kept records of protest movements in different years, marking them as separate “protest events” when they lasted more than one year, for a total of 2,809. This does not mean that there were only 2,809 individual protests; other studies have shown that the number of Black Lives Matter totaled nearly 12,000 in 2020 alone.)
In addition to problems with democracy and political representation, the report identifies growing inequality as another broad topic of protests around the world, accounting for nearly 53% of the protests surveyed. Individual issues raised by protesters included corruption, working conditions, and public service reform that followed “real democracy” as the most frequently mentioned.
There has also been a significant increase in demands for racial or ethnic justice, for example in connection with the Black Lives Matter protests, but there has been a small – but growing – number of protests aimed at denying the rights of others during the period, as pointed out by the authors. regarding the far-right Pegida movement in Germany, anti-Chinese movements in Kyrgyzstan and the yellow vest movement among them.
The study authors acknowledge that their work is political in nature. “There are no neutral numbers in protests,” Burke said, acknowledging that the vagueness of some numbers, such as estimates of crowd size, leaves questions for interpretation. Internet research is also limited to what is reported. “We can only study what we see, and what we see depends more and more on where and who we are,” added Burke.
When asked what defines “real democracy,” Burke admitted that it was somewhat subjective: “One man’s democracy is another man’s autocracy.” But the researchers tried to take the protesters at their word. In the case of January 6, 2021 in Washington DC (which was not included in the study because it was outside its timeframe), Burke said that this too would be classified as a demonstration of “real democracy”, but also a protest directed denial of rights, among other things.
The study found that most protests are not violent like the Capitol uprising, but there was a slow but steady increase in violence between 2006 and 2020, with just over one-fifth of the protests recorded were related to mob violence, vandalism, or looting. … … Nearly half of the protests investigated had reports of arrests; just over a quarter had received reports of some form of violence from the police.
Perhaps the study’s main argument is that as protests grow, leaders should take them more seriously. Approximately 42% of the protests in the study were found to be successful, although this varied significantly by region and type of protest and included partial successes – a higher rate than some other studies. If our era of protest continues, it means that many more protesters will get at least some of what they want.
“Protests around the world have recently acquired a dubious reputation,” said Michael Bröning, director of FES’s New York office. “We must understand that protests are not prohibited behavior, but the basic principle of democracy. What we need is nothing more than a global rehabilitation of the protest. “