This week, restaurants across South Africa protested the restrictions on trade, introduced by the government’s COVID-19 regulations. Although safety and health regulations are not the primary issues, it is, among others, the ban on alcohol, as well as the 21:00 curfew that make it very hard for the already struggling restaurant industry to survive. But is there real power in such protests? Can they actually make a difference?
According to a Washington Post article they can, when they have three important measures in place: organisation, messaging and nonviolence. Without good organisation, both messaging and nonviolence can become issues. Organizers have to communicate clearly with protesters, need to obtain the necessary permissions from authorities and have to ensure media coverage. The message has to be clear, consistent and should work towards a single goal. Using one strong slogan or hashtag like #jobssavelives is very important. Nonviolence is, of course, non-negotiable. The moment a protest turns into a riot, it loses credibility and public support.
These are, however, easier said than done. Have there been protests in history that effected the changes they wanted? Yes! These 13 marches changed the course of history (read more about this on livescience.com):
- The George Floyd protests — The recent protests started in May 2020 after the killing of George Floyd — an African American man who asphyxiated due to perceived police brutality. “The protests quickly spread across the nation, with hundreds of thousands of people in all 50 states taking to the streets in opposition to Floyd’s death, police brutality and institutional racism at large. As of June 3, the protests have continued nightly, resulting in 12 deaths, widespread incidents of police brutality as well as looting, and the deployment of nearly 20,000 National Guard troops in 24 states.”
- The March for Science — On Earth Day 2017, roughly 100,000 people marched on Washington, D.C., in a non-partisan rally to celebrate science and promote making policy decisions using scientific evidence — particularly on issues like climate change and public health. It was inspired by the election of President Trump who had previously called climate change a hoax and promised to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on global climate mitigation, abolish anti-pollution regulations put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and cut federal funding for numerous science and research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Marches for Science were held in more than 600 cities around the world on Earth Day 2017, drawing a global attendance of more than 1 million people, according to the organizers.
- The Women’s March on Washington — The day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States, this march in support of women’s rights saw more than 470,000 people march on Washington, D.C. “Experts estimate that somewhere between 3.2 million and 5.2 million people participated in the marches in the U.S. alone, easily making the Women’s March the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.”
- The Protestant Reformation — This started as a very quiet and orderly protest — “the nailing to the door of a German church a treatise on the abuses of Catholicism by Martin Luther, in 1517.” Eventually, this protest would lead to violence and empires tearing apart.
- The Storming of the Bastille — This protest is one we in the Franschhoek Valley are very familiar with. On 14 July 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison. This protest symbolises the French Revolution.
- Gandhi’s Salt March — Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against British taxation, saw him collecting his own salt, which was illegal under British law. It took him 23 days and 240 miles and gained worldwide sympathy for India.
- The Boston Tea Party — No party at all as this protest was in reaction to British tax rules. “Over the course of three hours on Dec. 16, more than 100 colonists secretly boarded three British ships arriving in harbour and dumped 45 tons of tea into the water. The unorthodox protest was a key precursor to the American Revolution.”
- South Africa’s National Day of Protest — The ANC party started this stay at home protest in reaction to a new bill that allowed the government to investigate any political party or organization.
- March on Washington — In an attempt to get civil rights legislation, more than 200,000 demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. when Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
- Tiananmen Square — What started as a peaceful occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, ended in a blood bath. At least 1 million people stayed in the square for seven weeks, when the Chinese military decided to put a violent end to the protest. Hundreds of protesters died.
- Berlin Wall Protests — The East German government finally opened the gates of the actual wall that divided the country for 28 years, on 9 November 1989. This was the result of public protests throughout Germany.
- Iraq War Protest — The invasion of Iraq went ahead in March 2003, despite millions of people around the world protesting. The biggest crowd of these global protests gathered in London — for what is believed to be the largest political demonstration in UK history.
- The Orange Revolution — This protest happened in Kiev in 2004 and continued for 12 days in reaction to the results of the Ukrainian presidential election. The result was a revote and a reversing of the results. The opposition party (with orange party colours) was elected.