It could have been a year of street protest in any of the dozens of countries for 2019. The Yellow Vest protest had already caused mayhem on roads and roundabouts throughout the world, smashing through Paris. This soon developed into a much broader campaign for the disaffected country, sparked by an increase in fuel duties. The French are known for their protests on the streets, but they were not alone in 2019.
Over the past 12 months, similar movements have sprung up around the world, often sparked by seemingly minor changes such as France’s fuel duties. Unfortunately, time and time again, these small domestic gripes have been transformed into global demonstrations by social media that have become something much bigger.
An increase in food prices in Sudan brought people out into the streets in unprecedented numbers-eventually overthrowing a monarchy. In March, Hong Kong’s bill to change the rules on extradition turned into a massive anti-China and pro-democracy movement that continues today. In Chile, a small increase in the Metro price sparked a social justice movement in the most impoverished country in the region.
Following fuel price spikes, the scrapping of fuel subsidies in Ecuador contributed to a nationwide movement to end austerity, forcing the government to leave the country temporarily.
During violent protests against an increase in fuel prices in Iran, hundreds died. Anti-corruption demonstrations grew against the ruling class in Iraq into a mass movement.
“People’s power this year really matters, there’s a big gap or vacuum in many countries between the political elite and the people. That’s where the demonstrators come in, bridging the gap,” says Srdja Popovic, a Serbian political activist and leading author of the movement to bring down Slobodan Milosovic.
We’re going to make a protest here in Hong Kong,’ says Steve Crawshaw, author of Street Spirit: The Power of Protest and Mischief. “I believe there has been a gradual increase in the confidence in political force[ this year],” he says.
Perhaps the most totemic protest of 2019 originated from Hong Kong, wherein the former British colony legislation allowing extradition to mainland China has grown into daily running battles with riot police.
The “Be water” motto of the protesters-a quote from a film by Jackie Chan-has helped to develop and maintain a fluid, leaderless movement that can perform with apparent spontaneity on a large scale civil disobedience.