Essay on Human Rights Movements All Over the World
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Martin Luther King Jr. said those words in reference to protests. Protests have been a source of civil discontent, revolutions, countless deaths, equality, women’s suffrage, liberation, and freedom. In modern day, protest continues to be common with the Women’s Protest happening every year, Black Lives Matter protesting commonly, March for Life happening annually, and an assortment of other protests on countless issues. Each protest is exceptionally different with protests having different goals, utilizing a wide arrange of tactics, either compromising or not, and most importantly succeeding or failing. Throughout history, protests have been a common way for people to create change; some of these protests have failed while others succeeded and since we are living in a time of protests, it is imperative to understand what makes them effective to create change.
A common attribute of many successful protests has been strong management. Successful protests commonly have adaptable, distinct plans which the management set in place. A plan is a guideline, a rubric to allow others to know what the protest is for and to lead the protest forward. Protest plans must consist of locations, rules, and goals otherwise risk failure, according to social activist Deevra Norling (B2). Without, a plan the people will be unwilling to join the protest being unfamiliar with the protests plan, and the plan assists in the far and near future. Alongside a plan, protests also commonly need support from governmental institutions to succeed. The government is what runs the country, not the people, it is the source of laws, order, and change. Micah White, one of the many co-creators of the Occupy Wall Street protest, supports this saying “Activists assume that if we get enough citizens into the streets then we, the people, will magically exert a popular authority over elected representatives” (I2). Without support from within the government of a nation itself, protests would have to wait for an election in a democracy or use violence if their voices do not matter. Protests aren’t built off support and plans alone, leaders and managers are needed as well.
Most successful protests are associated with a single individual from Martin Luther King Jr. to Gandhi and behind both these leaders were hordes of managers and assistants. Deevra Norling said while addressing protest starters “choose your players wisely: visionaries, strategists, researchers, planners, project managers, administrators, and diplomatic negotiators” (B1), and these “players” are critical to the success of a protest. When protests lack leaders, the likelihood of success is greatly lowered. After the protest is over, the fight for change must not end. The most common attribute of protests which succeed is the protest either not ending until success or continued fighting after the protest. William H. Westermeyer, a sociocultural anthropologist who researches social movements, in reference to the successful Tea Party movement stated: “There action was not episodic; it was routine” (N7). The utilization of relentless action pressures institutions to change.
The view of the public is as important as the protest itself if the public has a negative view of the protest, the protest may as well be over. The message the protest has and it’s relatability to the public at large contributes greatly to how the protests viewed and the protests recruitment. A study commenced by Harvard Business Review writers Greg Satell and Srjda Popovic evaluated the importance of the message. In the study, Greg Satell and Srjda Popovic stated: “The path to victory is not to create a coalition through awkward compromises; but rather to expound on your values” (E4) and “Anger is an effective mobilizer” (E6). Multiple tactics exist within the message, however, clarity and good tactics are extremely important for the message.
Alongside the message, an important thing to do is to not ostracize the people in the middle ground or strong opponents. Jesse Marczyk, a psychology professor, analyzed the effectiveness of this tactic (C1). Marczyk says “calling those who disagree “baskets of deplorables” suggest they’re too stupid to understand the world, or anything to that extent doesn’t tend to win their hearts and minds”(C4). The importance of not ostracizing or insulting is extremely important to gain public support. Media is a dominant player in modern-day protests, deciding who gets to see the actions and which the light the protest is portrayed under. Herbert W. Simons, professor of communications, analyzed social movements and media's effect on them. Professor Simons stated “Reformist and revolutionary movements… must either play by media’s rules or risk rejection and inattention” (F5). Without media support, the protests are likely to fail. Speakers are the face of a movement. As the face of the protest, speakers must be charismatic. Herbert W. Simons also analyzed the role of speakers saying “movements rely on verbal appeal” (F1). Though the media is extremely important, protests need something to give the media.
Protests have a decision to make between the usage of choosing to use violence to achieve their goals or to strictly be peaceful and gain the advantages associated with the nonviolent approach. Violence has proved successful in the past from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution. Though, looked down upon in recent history violence is useful against oppressive regimes. When the Tiananmen Square protests refused to fight against the Chinese government, they were crushed(F3). Violence should not be dismissed for any protest facing suppression, however without starting with support is likely doomed to fail. Recently, nonviolence has become a popular method for protesting.
Nonviolence popularity is warranted, due to being more attractive to the average person. Psychology professor, Jesse Marczyk, said: “nonviolence is a useful rallying cry for social support” (C1). Through the usage of nonviolence, protests gain societal support. Victimhood is tied to nonviolence and media’s support. By utilizing nonviolence, if someone uses violence against the protest, the protest has access to claim victim status. The victim status according to communications professor Simons “gradually undermines their opponent’s support”(F6). Nonviolence and the government’s retaliation leading to victimhood undermines the government's support.
Violence appears to be a risk with many countries in the present day having strong militaries, however, the Russian Revolution is a prime example of a protest utilizing violence to achieve victory. The backdrop leading to the Russian revolution was backdropped by dropping public support for the Tsar, leader of Russia. Russia faced civil discontent within their own country for a multitude of reasons. Historian Elizabeth M. Fernholz, while referring to the Crimean War, Russo-Turkish War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War 1, said: “This series of war caused great discontentment among people and caused suffering in the country’s economy” (J1). Under Tsar Nicholas, Russia refused to change disallowing nonviolence as a possibility. Due to this backdrop, Russia quickly fell to protests turned civil war. The Russian Revolutions protests utilized various characteristics of previous gears of success mentioned. The Bolsheviks had a strong message of “Peace, Land, and Bread” (K8), used violence “Alexander Kerensky armed the Petrograd Soviet” (K6), strong leadership with Lenin with the BBC’s historian department saying “Lenin’s energy and drive convinced the Bolsheviks to agree on the course of war” (K9), and existed at a time where the media was less prevalent. The Bolsheviks had strong parts of their protest leading to success.
Gandhi’s Independence Movement is on the opposite end of the violence spectrum being strictly pacifistic in nature and popularizing the idea of nonviolence in protests. India was, during this time, under the control of a weakened British Empire. India had various independence movements for years, but now seemed like the perfect opportunity. Social scientist, Clifton B. Parker, said “Timing was crucial” in reference to Gandhi’s timing (M1). With the British war-weary, Gandhi seized the opportunity and succeeded. Also, at this time media was blossoming into a powerful force. Many large news organizations had international reporters on the scene of the Indian Independence Movement. Gandhi had the media working with him, Clifton B. Parker said “the international media, particularly in America, showed that coverage could impose costs on entities, like Great Britain that might otherwise benefit from the violent repression of the nonviolent movement, which allowed Gandhi to utilize nonviolence. Gandhi’s message was also a capable leader settling differences between multiple factions (L5) and feared opponent (L6). Gandhi utilized nearly all parts previously mentioned to gain victory.
The twenty-first century has been abuzz with protests and many of these protests have failed at achieving most of their goals if any are achieved at all. Occupy Wall Street was perhaps the largest failure of a protest of the twenty-first century. Occupy Wall Street had many factors on its side with media coverage and the people’s attention. Occupy Wall Street failed on the crucial points of the message and leadership. Political analyst Andy Ostroy says in reference to Occupy Wall Street “it took a deadly turn when it essentially turned into a “rich bad/poor good theme”” and “every successful protest movement needs a leader”. The movement failed on a popular message and combined with the lack of leadership lead to failure. The Women’s Marches have gone on since 2017 and have had only limited success. The Women’s Marches have had institutional support, media coverage, public support, strict nonviolence, and a plan, yet they have only had limited support. Leadership and failure to attract the middle ground are key reasons the Women Marches failed with them ostracizing males commonly and with the top brass being ridden with anti-semitic controversy (P1). These controversies and failures have caused a cascade of failure with 2019 facing a “massive drop of funding” (P2). Lastly, Black Lives Matter have faced failures due to a multitude of reasons. Black Lives Matter has media support on its side and a strong message yet fails on many other points. According to Conor Friedersdorf, political writer for The Atlantic, Black Lives Matter fails at condemning violence, lacks leadership, and ultimately just annoys the people with stopping people from getting to work (Q3), (Q4). For this multitude of failures, Black Lives Matter has failed.
Backdropped by popular protests failures, the Tea Party movement is a shining example of success in a sea of failure. The Tea Party faced many difficulties, but ultimately continue to be a force in elections today. Tea Party originally lacked popular support or media yet managed to succeed. The success of the Tea Party occurred due to a focus on local politics (N2), a popular message (N3), eventual media support (N6), and continued support according to William H. Westermeyer, a sociocultural anthropologist (N7). Despite the lack of leadership, the Tea Party managed to stay strong proving protests of the modern day can succeed.
Most recently the Yellow Vests protests in France have captured the world’s attention with the protests being large scale and causing civil unrest, however after analyzing the factors leading to past successes, a decent prediction is the Yellow Vest Protests will fail unless a radical change occurs within the movement. The Yellow Vests rose up in opposition to raising taxes on fuel (R1), and this original protest has spiraled out of control. France is currently a first world, prominent, wealthy, affluent, and militarily prominent country affording them strong stability. The Yellow Vests in this backdrop has been continually protesting for months (S1), have been utilizing violence, and refuse to talk or negotiate with the established government of France (R6). The movement is arguing for radical change, which is undecided on even within their own movement. The Yellow Vest Protests are going to likely fail. The backdrop to the Yellow Vest Protests is of a stable, strong nation leading to less likelihood of success, but the protestors themselves have not helped their odds. The protestors have no leadership (R4), lack the willingness to negotiate (R4), with too radical of a message (R3), and cause unneeded grief to the people who do not support the movement with “rioters defacing the Arc de Triomphe and Tomb of the unknown soldier, looted shops, vandalized buildings, and even attacked police.” (R2). Ultimately, unless the protestors change radically in their methods and begin to comprise, the protest is doomed.
In modern day with so many protests currently being attempted to spark change, the understanding of what makes a successful protest to create the change attempted is critical. Successful protests consist of many different gears which like a machine if even a few parts are missing the entire thing fails. The management of the protest is a large gear, which turns many other gears of success from institutional support, to compromise, to planning, to organizing, to continue fighting the management plays a critical role in if the protest succeeds. Also, two other large gears are the media and message to the public. These gears attract supporters, fudning, and also helps with gaining institutional support. All the gears are seen throughout history where the most successful protests utilized these gears to succeed, but commonly the failing protests lack these gears of success. In the future, protests will continue to be a way to create change, but the successful ones will still contain the gears of success.