Last year marked a new wave of global revolt and while the most immediately striking part about the current wave should have been its geographical spread; it’s quite simply been its people and the sheer number of them.
“Power to the People”
Historically, protests have served the grounds for creating transformational change. History hasn’t been short of its social movements either and they have consistently defined the course of the future we are very much living in today. Civil rights, Women’s Suffrage, the fight for independence in Eastern Europe, the Arab Spring and the Indian independence: the one thread loosely connecting all these events together has been one thing and one thing only – power of the people against the powerful.
2019 was a constant reminder of this power. Yes, not all protests have led to significant change and yes, they do fail but that’s not the point. The point is that people are now awake and aware of their voice and the power it holds. The power of a united front, the power of collective disagreement against all of the wicked political and economic tidings of the world, and simply the power of seeking truth.
The desire to have one’s voice heard especially at the time of tectonic political shifts and upheaval where leaders and ideologies have lost their sincerity and credibility, it’s hard not to stay quiet.
And why must we be quiet?
The following pieces of writing were kindly provided by participants and observers of all that’s been happening around the world to give light to all that is wrong and all that must be made right. I urge you to be open-minded, patient and accepting. It takes courage especially in this day and age where people are continuously scrutinised for simply having a say about the current state of affairs.
Citizenship Amendment Act, India
The winter sky hangs heavy above the square, it’s barely 2 pm and we stand huddled trying to keep warm before the protest begins, A woman sees us clutching our homemade signs.
“Are you for or against?” She asks with a wry smile, we share a laugh holding up our posters exclaiming ‘Justice!’ A child clings to her leg.
“Against.” A noticeable crowd begins to seep in between the usual bustle of Dam Square, we can tell it has begun. We stand in a small circle, gloved hands against the slow afternoon chill. A man in a scarf leads the chant, drawing the eyes of tourists walking past and the locals on their bikes. “Inquilab!” He beckons, “Zindabad!” comes the response. Long Live The Revolution.
Experiencing these events, as part of the Indian Diaspora has been a strange experience. I ask myself, how does this affect me? and the honest answer is, it doesn’t. The laws won’t affect my life, the protests don’t block my street. If I wanted to, I could ignore the goings on back home forever. Yet I just cannot. And neither can the crowd of 50 gathered at the town square 6,800 kms away. Neither can the Indian people across the globe. And neither can the students of Jamia Millia.
There is a sense of responsibility that hangs over our heads overcast like the Amsterdam sky. In moments like these, our privilege shines through, we have the option to disconnect, those back home do not; which is exactly why we protest. The truth is, home is changing, for the worse. We fear whether India will be a home we can return to, or simply the empty husk of our childhood homes. And for that we protest. And for that we stand.
- Ashna Wiegerink, Amsterdam
Climate Change, United Kingdom
A chilly Thursday night gave way to steadfast ranks of students, plunging their placards into the overcast sky that bridged Parliament Square. They had skipped the school-run like tens of thousands of others across the UK that day in aid of the next in a monthly series of school climate strikes. Last August was Greta Thunberg's debut march, it saw 1.4 million students world-wide up in arms for climate, and today is their Return of the Jedi.
A feeble attempt to contain the swelling crowd was made by Sadiq Khan's boys in blue. Within the hour a murmur had become a bellowing force that would push out of Parliament Square and march on under Lord Nelson's steely eye. Doc Martens stomped, facemasks were lifted, and the flags were flown.
I had come alone, but I soon found myself in the rift between protesters and photographers. Being a student of journalism leads to questions of impartiality in situations like this, but standing by your convictions, as an environmentally aware individual is equally as important as any journalistic integrity. The silver lining to this internal debate is that the photographs I could capture were as honest to the subject as feasibly possible; for every individual and the beliefs they held were to be a close reflection of myself. I was proud to turn my camera around in introspection.
In the eyes of The Met it was to be a minor disturbance not worth the resources, to many teachers and Tory ministers it would be an exercise in futility at the expense of GCSE results, but to those on the street it felt like a glimmer of hope, as corny as it might sound. Protest is the ability to have your say even without representation in Parliament. It's an act of compassion for your peers, less than an act of aggression against the establishment. It's a chance at making a change for the better; a small chance, but a chance nonetheless.
- Joe Burrows, London
#MeToo, Time’s Up, United States
I recently watched “This Changes Everything,” a documentary about women directors in Hollywood and the hurdles they face, on a plane ride from Melbourne to Mumbai. I find myself watching more documentaries, as I get older, mainly because there are so many outrageous true stories happening that I don’t need to waste time watching something that someone made up.
I attended an all-women’s college in the mid 1990s. At the time I felt that I had missed the heyday of bra burning and Title IX; the best I had was singing in a feminist a cappella group that pushed the boundaries by sending me out into the audience to kiss a female of my choosing and having female singers sing lyrics written for men. But as a middle-aged feminist today it is disheartening to read about what Harvey Weinstein and so many others were able to get away with for all these years. And these were successful adult women who could afford really good lawyers.
I currently work as a university counselor, educating students about the pros and cons of attending university in different countries. It is getting more difficult to reassure students and parents that the USA is a safe place to study. Living overseas, Trump’s election and continued popularity despite his bad behavior reinforced the fact that I am out of touch with about half my country. It was hard enough when “W” got elected; I am not sure I will ever move home now.
And yet, there have been some good things that have come of it. My father, a Vietnam War-era vet, small business owner, and New England native, and I have bonded making fun of our current president. When so many families have been ripped apart by this presidency, it amazes me that my own has grown closer. On another flight I learned about the “Notorious RBG” and the young women who make up her fan club. This past Halloween I even saw girls dressed as her on Facebook. I am inspired to get my first tattoo of the number “9”, symbolizing her goal for how many of the Supreme Court justices should be female. At the end of “This Changes Everything,” I watched the “Me Too” movement. The same women who were denied support to create movies were in tears joining the masses that filled the streets all over the world. It feels good to realize you are not alone, for them and for me.
I live in India, where you can get anything made cheap. I am toying with the idea of having some tees made that say, “Grab them by the pussy” and when people tell me how offended they are, I will say, “I know.” Really we should all be offended. But at least I will be involved and not watching it from economy class.
- Tiffany Goulet, Mumbai
October 17, 2019. Another casual day in the streets of Beirut. Or maybe, … not so casual. Exactly 2 days before, Lebanon had witnessed devastating wildfires across different regions of its land. The people urged to help the victims. Such a beautiful act of unity and togetherness. “We are all in this together,” that’s how we’ve always been. We’re citizens that love our country, every inch of its land. We love our home and we love its people: “family”. What words come to your mind when thinking of family? Let me state a few: love, unity, happiness, support, bond, backbone. These are some of the words that describe the streets of Beirut since October 17, 2019.
So, what happened on this day? It is afternoon. Everyone is headed back home after a long day of work and little did the Telecommunications Minister know that it would be his last day of work. Why? You may want to find out yourself.
This afternoon, I received loads of messages:
Lebanon: Lebanese Citizens take over the streets of Beirut.
Lebanon: All roads leading to downtown Beirut are blocked.
Lebanon: An unexpected amount of people fills in Martyrs and Riad El Solh Squares.
Lebanon: Thawra! (Revolution!)
The heart is full.
Every citizen, every ex-pat, every person that has Lebanese origins (yeah we’re very attached to our roots) was watching that day. Our hearts were screaming with joy. The screams became real and heard loud when we all protested in different cities of the world: London, Paris, Montreal, New York, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Toronto, San Francisco, LA, Barcelona, Sao Paulo. Oh, and the list goes on and on! We protested in every corner of the world; in cities, I have never even heard of!
A crazy rollercoaster we’ve all hopped into. It was time for change. Time to stand hand in hand for our rights, for a better future for the country. We still have a long way and a very tough one but we will continue to stand together, rich and poor, young and old, Christian and Muslim, ex-pat and local, all together to save our homeland.
- Sarah Sawaya, Beirut
General Election, Britain
Needless to say, another five years of the conservative government feels fucking pretty bleak and is indicative of the vicious circulatory ‘capitalist realism’ we already knew existed. More importantly, we know that this government will continue to marginalise those most vulnerable in our society, and we need to do everything in our power to resist this.
But how can we imagine agency and oppose conservative ideology in our daily lives, despite the election result?
James Scott in Two Cheers For Anarchism suggests that we practise with light daily exercises in resistance.
“One day, you will be called upon to break a big law in the name of justice and rationality. Everything will depend on it. You have to be ready. How are you going to prepare for that day when it really matters? You have to stay ‘in shape’ so that when the big day comes, you will be ready. What you need is ‘anarchist calisthenics. Every day or so break some trivial law that makes no sense, even if it’s only jaywalking. Use your own head to judge whether a law is just or reasonable. That way, you’ll keep trim; and when the big day comes, you’ll be ready.” –James C. Scott
While our everyday lives don’t usually offer electrifying anarchic opportunities in resistance, the sentiment is significant in that it makes resistance accessible to the ordinary person and allows us to begin to imagine agency within our daily lives. To seek ‘electrifying’ revolutionary examples of resistance misses the point. To understand the historical and cultural context is a necessary duty, and it is worth considering that in an oppressive society, resistance can have painful consequences. In such a context, resistance can become subtle and ambiguous.
Where there is resistance, there is always power.
And fortunately for us, vice versa.
Join a union, donate to your local foodbanks, protest, get active in your community, stand against gentrification in your area, put up flyers, hug your mates, burn your nan’s copy of the sun, push back in any way possible.
“Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.” - Angela Davis
What is just, isn’t always easy. Stay hopeful. Solidarity.
- Gemma Lewis, London
A massive thank you to Ashna Wiegerink and Miss Tiffany for getting back to me so swiftly even with our time differences, I know I can always count on you both. Thank you Joe for being so proactive and for all of your photographs, this piece would be incomplete without them. A big thank you to Sarah for writing this out in-between all of our deadlines and to Gemma for being a trooper while writing a dissertation. I’m deeply grateful for your time and words, I hope we did it justice. x
Photo credits: Joe Burrows, Ana Blumenkron, Ashna Wiegerink and Gemma Lewis.