There are protests in progress on four continents right now. Each one has a different reason for being, but they’re still worth exploring individually for a second. The purpose of this post isn’t to go into drastic detail on each one — I’m (a) not qualified and (b) not intelligent enough to do that — but rather, to try and parse out whether there’s some kind of similarity we could take something away from. In Kiev (Ukraine), anti-government protestors have actually seized control of portions of the city. At issue is the fact that Ukraine appeared to be ready to join the EU — post-Soviet fault-lines are still in play — but then did a quick reversal at the 11th hour. Here’s a quote from one protestor:
“We’ve just had enough. We’re sick of this,” said Alexander Yabchenko, a 33-year-old oncologist from Lviv in western Ukraine, who had travelled to Kiev to take part in the protests and was now offering medical help to those injured in the clashes at a makeshift medical centre inside the town hall. “I’m not part of any political party but I understand that only by trying to be more European can we end our troubles. Even from my own experience, I see so many problems with the medical system, and we just need to modernise.”
In Bangkok, seeing its worst violence since 2010, the issue is Prime Minster Yingluck Shinawtra, whom protestors see as a proxy for her brother, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup but is still an essential part of Thai politics. Protestors’ stated goal is to overthrow the government and replace it with an unelected council. They’re attempting to end a political dynasty accused often of abuses of power. The primary leader of the protestor is framing it as a peaceful quest for a purely democratic nation, but it hasn’t always worked that way.
In Cairo, protestors are denouncing the killing of a student (two from Cairo University have died in the past month) in a recent demonstration. The university has pinned it back on the police. It’s gotten fairly ugly, and there’s a pro-Morsi element as well.
Here’s a rundown of three (Cairo, Bangkok and Kiev) protests, with some amazing photos. Here’s a more politicized take on the Ukraine and Thai riots’ similarities and differences, mostly as viewed from the West.
And now, not that this holds even remote resonance to the four examples above, but …
Why do people protest? There’s tons of research on it, including here, here and here. There’s a 2010 study of social protest research that argues it comes down to a few basic factors: belief in a cause, belief that protesting could potentially affect the outcome, and a form of “social embeddedness” with fellow protestors who believe the same thing. The core of the entire thing is belief in a cause, and typically a cause where you feel wronged. That’s how “Arab Spring” came about, essentially. All these examples above come down to a basic issue of haves and have-nots, with the haves acting like jerks. Election fraud, corruption, turning away from the EU, etc. Inequality is a big issue these days, and sometimes you need drastic action, especially as the world appears to be becoming less free (less legitimate avenues to make your voice heard).
People are fed up. That’s what happening on a majority of continents (4 of 7) right now: protests and push-backs. It would be good if we all took notice — and instead of saying “Whoa, that’s awful,” actually thought deeply about some of the underlying issues and whether they’re at play wherever we live. People want to be free, to be respected, and to have a chance at a better life; that seems like basic human decency, but sometimes tear gas and bulldozers need to come in play en route to that outcome.