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5 Of The Most Successful Protests In History

Updated: May 7, 2022

“Nonviolence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used.” – Mohandas Gandhi

In July of 2020 vegan activists poured red dye into the fountains of Trafalgar Square in London, the dye was used to make the water look like blood. They were protesting against world governments which, they say, are to blame for the SARS-CoV2 pandemic. Animal Rebellion, who organised the protest, claim that the pandemic can be linked back to humans exploiting other creatures. "We are here today to demand that the government prevent future pandemics by ending animal farming and transitioning to a plant-based food system." They hoped that their action would lead to a real change in the way that animals are used and exploited and to raise awareness of what animal agriculture involves; the way animals are treated as commodities and how doing these things is going to lead to more pandemics and death, aside from that it's cruel. So far nothing has changed, but this doesn't mean that their protest has achieved nothing, change takes time. The protest was reported across the world, millions of people saw the water of the fountains turn red, spreading out, looking like blood. It was a powerful image. Hopefully, this protest will change the minds of many people, hopefully it will encourage them to go vegan, or at least eat less meat and think about their actions.

What Makes A Successful Protest?

Many people believe that the most successful protests are peaceful ones, they think of the million man march, the Montgomery bus boycott, times when people used their presence, or absence, to make their feelings felt. But, some of the protests that brought about real change weren't peaceful at all, even though protesters may be peaceful the opposition may not be.

The Salt March

The Salt March is a protest that took place from March to April 1930 in India. It was an act of civil disobedience led by Mohandas Gandhi to protest British rule in India and the injustices that Indian people faced. Britain’s Salt Act of 1882 prohibited Indian people from collecting or selling salt, which they needed for their food. Indian people were forced to buy their salt from the British rulers, who, in addition to having a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt, also charged a heavy salt tax.

The march started with thousands of Indian people following Gandhi from his religious retreat, near Ahmedabad, 240 miles to the Arabian Sea coast, they collected salt as they went, which was against the law. The march resulted in the arrest of nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi, with many protesters being brutally beaten by the police. British Viceroy Lord Irwin finally agreed to negotiate with Ghandi in March 1931; they agreed to the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which ended the protest in exchange for several concessions including the release of thousands of political prisoners. While the agreement didn't massivley reduce the Raj’s monopoly over salt, it gave Indian people living on the coasts the right to produce their own salt from the sea.

Suffrage Parade

The Woman Suffrage Procession, in 1913, was the first suffragist parade in Washington, D.C. USA. The aim of the protest was to give women the right to vote in elections. It was also the first large, organised march on Washington for political purposes. The procession was organized by the suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The demonstration consisted of a procession with floats, bands, and various groups representing both women that worked and those that didn't. The rally ended at the Memorial Continental Hall with prominent speakers, including Anna Howard Shaw and Helen Keller. Little more than a month after the parade the Susan B. Anthony amendment was re-introduced in both houses of Congress. For the first time in decades it was debated on the floor, however, women didn't secure the right to vote in the USA until 1920.

Delano Grape Boycott

“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanity, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non violent struggle for justice.” - Cesar Chavez

The Delano grape strike was a workers strike that was organised by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), against table grape growers in Delano, California. They were protesting against the exploitation of farm workers. The strike began on September 8th, 1965, and one week later, the predominantly Mexican National Farmworkers Association (NFWA) joined the strike. In August 1966, the AWOC and the NFWA merged to create the United Farm Workers (UFW) Organizing Committee.

The strike lasted for five years, with consumers joining the workers by boycotting the Delano grapes and buying other brands. The action gained national attention and in July 1970, the strike resulted in victory for the farm workers, when a collective bargaining agreement was reached with major table grape growers, affecting more than 10,000 farm workers.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. It was a seminal event in the civil rights movement. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955 — the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person — to December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling of Browder v. Gayle took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Prior to the bus boycott, Jim Crow laws mandated the racial segregation of the Montgomery Bus Line. As a result of this segregation African Americans were not hired as drivers, they were forced to ride in the back of the bus, and were frequently ordered to surrender their seats to white people even though black passengers made up 75% of the bus system's riders.

African-American passengers were also attacked and shortchanged by bus drivers in addition to being left stranded after paying their fares. African American passangers had to pay their fare at the front of the bus then leave the bus to board at the back door, bus drivers would often shut the door and drive away. This led to African-Americans organising a boycott of the Montgomery Bus Company. This boycott proved extremely effective, they lost enough customers that the future of the bus company was in question as, instead of riding buses, boycotters organised a system of carpools, with car owners volunteering their vehicles or driving people themselves to various destinations. Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and lightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery's black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere rather than ride the buses. Boycotters were often physically attacked.

"If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence." - Martin Luther-King

The boycott officially ended December 20, 1956, after 381 days. The city passed an ordinance authorising black bus passengers to sit virtually anywhere they chose on buses.

Singing Revolution

The Singing Revolution is the name that is commonly used for the protest that took place between 1987 and 1991 for reinstatement of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Baltic states. After World War II, the Soviets threatened to invade and occupy Estonia, they also did this to Lithuania and Latvia. All three countries surrendered with the agreement that they would keep their sovereignty. Soviets broke their promises and took over the governments, they killed or deported almost all the country’s political and business leaders. Estonians started to worry that they were losing their national identity to the Soviet way of living. In 1986, it became widely known to the public that the USSR was planning to build a hydroelectric power plant on Latvia's largest river, Daugava. The building of this power plant would have led to the destruction of Latvia's landscape and cultural and historical heritage. In the press journalists urged the public to protest against these decisions. The public reacted immediately. Although singing patriotic songs was a major part of the protest it was not the only action that people took. In Estonia it was illegal to own an Estonian flag during these years. Estonians protested this law by flying three separate blue, black, and white banners that effectively became the flag when flown side by side. Many non-violent actions took place across the Baltics with the different nations coming together, protesting the Soviet actions and singing togther until Russian leadership recognised the independence of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

More Protests That Brought About Change

Throughout history there have been many protests throughout history, people coming together to force change for the better, far too many to include here. These include, The Protestant Reformation, The Storming of the Bastille, The Boston Tea Party, South Africa's National Day of Protest, March on Washington, Tiananmen Square, Berlin Wall Protests, the Iraq War Protests.

The take away is that, with no individual power, we can come together to be a force that cannot be ignored, a force that has to be respeceted and heard, a force that can change legislation and laws and help to make a better world.


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