Highlights of Nonviolent Civil Resistance in 2017

 

2017 was a year of protests and resistance on every continent.

 

Right-Wing marches

Right wing protesters came out in large numbers in Poland calling for a “white Europe.”  The US had neo-nazis march with torches in Virginia and killed a counter-protester. Many countries in Europe had numerous rallies and protests to end immigration and calling for cultural preservation. Right wing protesters also came out in large numbers in Korea in support of Park Geun-Hye who none-the-less was impeached and removed from power for corruption and misrule.  In Tamil Nadu, enormous protests erupted over the government decision to end bull-fighting.  In Pakistan, Islamists protested over a proposed change in the oath of elected office that would permit Ahmadi and other citizens to serve in Parliament. None of these protests were creative or distinctive, but right-wing populism is on the move in many countries.

 

Protests for social change generally evolved around 4 themes of Elections, Corruption/Unemployment, the environment, and women/girls.

 

Election Protests

In the election arena, there were many failed protests including the people of Venezuela who were attempting to stop election fraud and one-man rule. Some of these demonstrations were violent and the government used live ammunition and killed many. Other countries with election related protests were Kenya, Moldova, Belarus, Honduras, and Bolivia. Bolivia’s strikers are currently fighting a month-long effort stop the president, Evo Morales from running for re-election.  Medical workers showed up in strength to help lead this movement this week.

 

In Turkey, opposition political parties marched across the country seeking to end one-man rule autocratic rule by President Erdogan.

Economic and Corruption Protests

Economic issues riled many citizens, particularly as the world’s billionaires increased their net-worth by $1 trillion dollars. The year started off with Romanians successfully protesting the enactment of secrecy laws designed to increase corruption. In the Rif region of Morocco, the death of a fishmonger resulted in sustained protests against unemployment and corruption particularly in Berber communities.  A number of countries had unsuccessful protests against legislation reducing pension benefits including Chile and Argentina. Ukraine has seen dramatic confrontations between anti-corruption activists parked in front of Parliament and the authorities. Iran this week saw widespread protests against unemployment and corruption.

 

Global Voices documents many social movements. Here are excerpts from an article about creative resistance in 2017 by L. Finch:

 

‘Resistance songs’ provide the soundtrack for an Ethiopian protest movement.  Amid sectarian protests, “Ethiopia’s government has made many efforts to censor “resistance songs” that speak out against oppression in the country. Although several popular musicians have been arrested and jailed, the popularity of the resistance songs has not waned. On YouTube, channels carrying montages of protest images linked to the resistance songs regularly attract hundreds of thousands of views.”

“Serbian websites went black to resist media intimidation by the government. More than one hundred media outlets and NGO websites staged a website blackout after an independent weekly magazine was forced to close. Vranje Newspaper said the publication had suffered administrative harassment and other forms of pressure from Serbia’s Tax Authority, a tactic authorities have used in the past to punish “disobedient” media.”

 

Successes in civil resistance movements in 2017 were few and far-between:

 

  • Korean protests of a million-plus people in January called for Park Guen-Hye to resign. She was impeached and removed from office.

 

  • In Paraguay, an attempt to change the constitution to allow the President to re-run for office was met by ferocious street protests, including the burning of parliament. The election law change failed.

 

  • In Zimbabwe, pro-coup demonstrations were so massive that Mugabe resigned after almost four decades as President.

 

  • Catalan citizens conducted an independence referendum despite opposition by the Spanish state. Dramatic photos of citizens defending voting locations gripped the world. The referendum technically succeeded, but whether Catalonians attain independence is uncertain.

 

Environmental Protests.

Ecology friendly citizens protested on a host of local issues documented again by Finch of Global Voices including: “years ago, the Ava Guarani people in Paraguay were forced to leave behind their land and the river that runs through it because of the construction of the Itaipú hydroelectric dam. In 2015, the community returned to reclaim the territory. Ever since, members have faced violent evictions by the authorities, but remain steadfast in their resolve to demand justice.”

“Residents of the town of Gevgelija overwhelmingly voted to block the opening of gold mines in the area that they fear will harm the environment, in the first successful referendum since Macedonia became independent in 1991. The vote was an important assertion of the will of the people at a time when the country’s outgoing ruling party has been implicated in election fraud.”

“Thousands of Vietnamese risked the government’s wrath to protest on beaches and in boats against a Taiwanese-owned steel plant, one year after a toxic spill from its operations caused a massive fish kill and lingering damage. Fishermen argue that the compensation they have received is inadequate and has not helped the people most affected.”

“From India to the US, a movement is taking root around the world to promote “open source” seeds. Supporters say corporations’ patents on plant material is compromising the food industry because the gene pool is continually shrinking — at a time when genetic diversity is more necessary than ever thanks to climate change.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests in the USA ended in the winter of 2017 with temporary success, but ultimately a failure as the Trump administration pushed the pipeline through.  Pipeline resistance however has spread with great intensity through-out North America.

Women/Girls protest

The most successful movement this year has been women and girls’ rights. The Women’s March became a coordinated global event of five million people in response to the election of a rapist to become US president. Women have won many local election in the US in 2017 and the #metoo movement against sexual harassment and assault accelerated through out the year. In India, two courageous women testified against a rapist religious leader whose supporters subsequently rioted leaving more than 30 people killed. In the US, Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a sadistic and aggressive attacker of women. This inspired many to then expose many more high profile men in politics and entertainment. #metoo, a hashtag for the movement, also spread India, France, and many countries with women speaking up about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment and naming names.

2018 will undoubtedly bring more creative civil resistance as governing authorities in many countries fail to address or remedy various injustices.  Some of them will go unreported if the media is muffled, fined, arrested, killed and suppressed. Be inspired by the journalists of Argentina this week who raised their cameras in the air for free speech.

 

 

 

Michael Beer

Nonviolence International

 

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