In a primarily democratic society, it is not only a legal right for people to speak their minds through protesting but also a necessity for a fair regime to keep running. However, although protest culture is relatively popular nowadays, some people believe it rarely brings about profound change and is mostly pointless. So, how important is it to protest? And is change the only point of demonstrating?
First and foremost, it is crucial to understand that protesting is a luxury available to some but not to all. The right to protest is protected by many countries' legal systems, as well as by several international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed by 173 parties worldwide. However, many cases have been where protest activity has been shut down, and freedom of assembly violated in different countries.
A prominent example is Russia, where the right to assembly has been increasingly repressed recently. With rising discontent about the government, massive protests broke out in the winter of 2021 to support a political opposition leader, Alexey Navalny. These have continued into 2022 and became anti-war demonstrations against Russia's actions in Ukraine. Most of these were violently suppressed and dissolved, leaving citizens little to no freedom of speech and room for expressing their opinion. The government is gradually revoking the freedom of peaceful assembly by implementing significant laws to contain protest activity. Moreover, under a new rule about defamation of the army, .
Another country limiting its citizens in their human right to criticize the government would be China. to oppose officials' plans to establish a crematorium on territories promised to become environmental parks. The government didn't hesitate to arrest and even use violence against demonstrators, no matter their age, gender, status, or behavior. Reportedly, around 50 people were detained the next day and claimed to have allegedly participated in protests. Spectators have also posted evidence of police brutality in videos and photos. These were, however, later taken down from local social media, with only a few.
According to Professor Christian Göbel, who has analyzed over 70,000 protests, 25 percent in total were repressed, with 19 percent of those being violent repressions. Even though most demonstrations are peaceful, the government still chooses to dissolve them forcefully. Göbel argues that Chinese authorities are more likely to dissolve marches that threaten them with financial losses.
A less violent instance of repression of freedom of assembly would be the during the COVID-19 pandemic. These were unlike any other example described above as the government only limited the ability to gather, thus restricting demonstrations. Protests were indirectly affected and became a simple casualty of the new regulations to contain the virus. Furthermore, after easing the rules post-first lockdown, the authorities changed the laws to explicitly proclaim protests as a reasonable excuse to gather and leave the house.
However, during the second lockdown of 2020, this clause was dropped, and demonstrations have, once again, become somewhat illegal. The pressure of the lockdowns and the new lifestyle made citizens anxious and angry enough to start protesting against restrictions. Consequently, the Metropolitan Police. It was made clear that not all arrested were in for breaching coronavirus regulations, although that was hard to believe.
Besides, the restrictions were legally supported. For example, in the UK, the government saves the right to interfere with any protest for legitimate reasons, such as public safety and wellbeing, which was the case during coronavirus lockdowns. Here comes the most challenging part of the debate. Are such measures justifiable in terms of human rights? Since lockdown was a factor concerning every person, should they not have a chance to express their position in hopes of turning the situation around? After all, this is precisely what laws guarding freedom of assembly represent: the ability to express yourself against any ruling, crime, incident, etc.
Despite some protests being repressed and people unheard and disregarded, others have achieved meaningful political, economic, and social changes. It is impossible to predict whether or not the demonstration you attend will be significant. However, it is essential to remember that protesters are joining events such as the 2017 March For Our Lives, 2020 Black Lives Matter, 1969 Stonewall, and others who never knew of the outcomes. It is only now apparent how crucial these were in starting the conversation and changing existing laws, as well as minds.
There are many reasons why freedom of assembly is essential. Above all, it is to be able to share your despair, anger, anxiety, discomfort, hopelessness, and other negative feelings about seemingly unattainable and unchangeable issues. When you know you are not alone, not the only one feeling oppressed and ignored, you have the power to change things writhing yourself, as well as in the outside world. Once people come together, there is no fear of the future. Therefore, protest culture unites and gives hope to those who are usually silenced.
Aside from personal reasons, demonstrating society's displeasure with the government and its laws is crucial for developing a fair community. Suppose Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Margaret Sanger considered protesting and standing up for their beliefs pointless. Where would we be right now? How different would our lives be simply because some people decided issues of racism, sexism, corruption, etc., were too big for them to change?
Besides, there is a big difference between peaceful and violent protesting. It is impossible to expect the government and the community, in general, to support people's ideology and beliefs if, instead of speaking their minds, they exert violence on other people, often affecting innocent citizens. Although sometimes it may seem like violence is the only way to bring about significant impact, it is essential to remember that dialogue is the first point to refer to.
All in all, it is apparent that not all protests are successful, and many of the most significant ones are either violently repressed or ignored for a long time. However, despite all failures and fears, participation in such is still crucial, according to the positive examples given above. Even if it seems as though there is no point in fighting, people must remember that if they don't speak up, then who will. Actions speak louder than words, but words need to be heard first for the change to stick around. Once people start giving up on expressing their opinions out loud, society becomes stagnant. After all, if nothing is said, nothing is heard and understood.
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