15 Dec '14    home | more politics

Protests and Purpose

Groups of people protest to communicate their grievance, hoping that something will be done about it. It's supposed to be a group enterprise for social remedy rather than some kind of individualistic self-satisfaction, or fun. It's a common view that those who join a protest and loot are sending a message counter to the purpose of the protest. The success of protest demonstrations rests on demonstrators staying focused on public opinion. An example of success is Czechoslovakia in late 1989. Police assaults were followed by great crowds demonstrating peacefully, overwhelming Communist Party rule, shaming it into stepping down. Public opinion was with the demonstrations. What in Czechoslakia was called the Velvet Revolution was coinciding with the coming end of the Berlin Wall.

In August 2014, China's government ruled that only candidates it approves would be allowed to run for the office of Hong Kong's chief executive. BBC News describes more than 100,000 people joining a protest against this in Hong Kong's streets. They wanted what is implied in the words "People's Republic" – democracy – and they became known as "pro-democracy demonstrators. The issue was how closely Hong Kong, recently under British rule, was to be linked to mainland China. Hong Kong's police warned the demonstrators of "serious consequences" if they blocked traffic or charged government buildings. In the weeks ahead the demonstrators did that and the police responded. But rather than supporters going into the streets in greater number as they had in Czechoslovakia, the demonstrators diminished in number. Many in Hong Kong had been inconvenienced and looked upon the demonstrators as a nuisance – however much or little they may have agreed with their position regarding election procedures.

By the second week of December the number of protesters in Hong Kong was down to a few hundred. The demonstrators had publicized their grievance, but they were not accomplishing their intended purpose. Some of the protesters were unwilling to acknowledge failure. Three leaders, joined by twenty-four other demonstrators, gave up, turned themselves over to the police and were quickly released. Some others took the martyrdom alterative and were swept off the street by force, perhaps psychologically self-serving but without adding any success to the purpose of the demonstrations.

Hong Kong's streets have been cleared. The demonstrations have ended, as demonstrations always do. The hope for change has shifted from the streets to opinion that will be expressed with less blare. The change that the demonstrators referred to as a greater democracy they will have to work for with patience with Hong Kong as part of greater China.

Another Kind of Protest Demonstration

In the last couple of days we have seen protest demonstrations that have been labeled as terrorism, one in Australia the other in Pakistan. The one in Australia was a protest against Australia's air force joining in the bombing of ISIS. The one in Pakistan was carried out by a few of Pakistan's Taliban demonstrating what they describe as their opposition to Pakistan army operations in the Khyber and North Waziristan areas. But, the only protests that win are those that move a society politically, and this requires appeal to a broad segment of a nation's people. The best example of this were the protests led by Martin Luther King Jr.

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