The protests that marked 2014

In the year that’s been, the world has witnessed recurring displays of fierce resistance and protest. News of rallies and demonstrations frequently dominated our headlines as we witnessed citizens of different governments and nation-states rallying together for democracy, progress and justice.

Former diplomat and researcher at the Australian National University, Dr Alison Broinowski said a loss of trust in the government, exasperation with growing social inequality, endless wars and broken promises were common causes of large scale protests across the world.

“People feel their views are disregarded and public protest is the only way to reinforce each other and get heard,” she said.

In the past year, we witnessed iconic images of impassioned protests that will be etched in our minds and hearts for years to come. Here are some of the few memorable protests that have defined the year 2014.

#ShutdownBangkok

Thailand's protest year
Credit: Victor Durnesny

In the wake of the new year, major intersections in the capital city of Thailand were blockaded by protesters adorned in Thailand’s national colours. The protesters occupied streets of Bangkok, a city of some 12 million residents, to overthrow the elected Pheu Thai party, accused of corruption and populist policies.  Who? The ‘Yellow Shirt’ protesters comprised of urban elites and middle class citizens. The leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, Suthep Thaugsuban, rallied for widespread reform and the transfer of power to an unelected ‘People’s Council.’

Thailand's protest souvenirs
Credit: Dr Burtoni

What did it achieve? The rally was the latest chapter in an eight year conflict that symbolised the rift between elite Thais and the rural poor. The Thai army intervened in May to implement martial law and dismantle the protests. A caretaker government was established and democracy was suspended.

Why was it memorable? Tourists in Bangkok at the time will not forget the festive spirit at the rally sites. Tents occupied major intersections and #ShutdownBangkok t-shirts became a top tourist souvenir.

#BusttheBudget

‘Bust the Budget’ rallies quickly gained momentum across major Australian cities and rural communities as Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced his government’s federal budget on May 13th.

Credit: Takver
Credit: Takver

Who? Thousands of Australians chanted “hey hey, ho ho, Tony Abbott’s got to go” in anti-budget rallies that protested university fee deregulation and significant cuts to welfare. The protests were amassed by students, union groups, pensioners, families and retirees to contest the terms of the budget.

Who? Thousands of Australians chanted “hey hey, ho ho, Tony Abbott’s got to go” in anti-budget rallies that protested university fee deregulation and significant cuts to welfare. The protests were amassed by students, union groups, pensioners, families and retirees to contest the terms of the budget.

What did it achieve? While Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey continued to defend the federal budget, the rally cries increased pressure on a government struggling to push through its measures in the senate.

Why was it memorable? The anti-budget protests of 2014 will be remembered for the strong Aussie spirit that united us in the fight for equality and a ‘fair go’ for all.

#Ferguson

Credit: Elvet Barnes
Credit: Elvet Barnes

It’s August 9th and an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, is killed by Officer Darren Wilson in the predominantly black suburb of Ferguson, St Louis. The death of a black teen at the hands of a white police officer triggered weeks of demonstrations. The Missouri National Guard was called in to assist officers who responded to protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. The recent decision by Missouri’s Grand Jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson fuelled another wave of violent protests, leaving buildings and cars ablaze.

Who? Protesters in Ferguson are diverse, comprising a mixture of black and white Americans as well as members from nearby suburbs and cities. To date, more than 400 people have been arrested in St. Louis for civil disobedience and unrest.

Credit: Amir Aziz

Credit: Amir AzizWhat did it achieve? The protests in Ferguson have exposed the reality of racial tension in the US and brought issues of structural inequality to the forefront of public debate. President Barack Obama condemned the violence but emphasised the experience of inequality is common in many ‘communities of colour’ across the US.

Why was it memorable? Protesters in Ferguson and across America have been defined by the confronting signs and posters accompanying the movement.

#OccupyCentral

Hong Kong’s central business district of Mong Kok was paralysed in September with university students calling on the Beijing and Hong Kong government to implement universal suffrage for the upcoming elections. Hong Kong has not experienced a protest of this scale in years and the protesters will be remembered for their courageous opposition to China.

Credit: Calvin YC
Credit: Calvin YC

#OccupyCentral began in Mong Kok but spread out to three alternate locations across Hong Kong.

Who? Launched by democracy activists and initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong. The civil disobedience movement attracted hundreds of people, predominantly students, who staged a peaceful sit in across four different locations in the city.

What did it achieve? After a meeting on November 26th, Occupy founders and democracy activists from the Pan-democrats party, advocated to end the 61 day occupation. The South China Morning Post reports a total of 69 arrests during the Mong Kok protests. Despite only minor concessions from the government, the occupation has successfully sparked national debate over political reform and economic structure.

Credit: Alcuin Lai
Credit: Alcuin Lai

Why was it memorable? The Occupy movement was famously nicknamed the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ as protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray. Yellow umbrellas and ribbons were a powerful symbol of universal suffrage and democracy.

From the French Revolution to Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, protests have acted as catalysts for change. Despite the outcome, many passive and active forms of protest this year have also made a mark in our modern memory.

Dr Alison  Broinowski said successful protests bring about change but are rarely witnessed.

“Governments and corporations don’t want to be held to ransom by ‘the mob’. But by organising, writing to MPs, asking for answers, civil society groups can push policy towards their desired objective, even if it is slow to occur,” she said.

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