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Issue Two: Protest

‘This year may well come to be remembered as a year of crisis and global revolt,’ ... Couzens, a historian at University College London. He goes on to suggest that 2020 will be remembered alongside 1848 and 1968 ‘as an important moment of international political crisis and transition.’ [1] Indeed, 2020 has been politically volatile, from the death of George Floyd in May sending shockwaves across the Western world, to the continuation of the 2019 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in Hong Kong, people around the world have demanded change. In this issue we asked young people across the globe to tell us what they saw in 2020’s protests.

A recurring theme was social media and the myriad of ways it interacted with activism. Karim’s piece examines how protest in the West has become a continuous process, rather than a distinct event, through the use of social media. Does the tendency to sensationalise and over-simplify within this arena have consequences for our political positions? Yes, he argues. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, sensationalism within the media and WhatsApp groups are specifically identified as key barriers to public coherence, leading to polarised positions in the fight to decide this city’s future. On the other hand, governments themselves are becoming increasingly aware of social media’s capacity for mobilisation, with attempts from the Nigerian, Indian and Belarusian state to quell dissent through internet shutdowns. The limited success of these governments reveals a lapse of state capacity to co-opt these newer digital mediums. Melody’s piece on Nigeria makes this explicit, as she positions social media as Nigerian citizens’ best weapon against an antiquated gerontocracy.

Another theme was the infringement of the political upon the personal. Karim argues that the Western world has allowed the personal to obscure the political, with our generation focusing excessively on individual etiquette and niceties at the cost of targeting real systemic and institutional problems. In Hong Kong, the political became personal with sharp intergenerational differences disrupting familial relations. These protests weren’t just happening on the streets; they were dividing homes. Supriya describes a similar dynamic in India, as she was pronounced a ‘traitor to the nation’ by her family for her support of equal rights for India’s Muslim minority. In contrast, Nisrine argues that Lebanon's deeply entrenched sectarianism was discarded by many, as citizens united against its corrupt leadership. A similarly unifying spirit is perceived by Ksenyia, when the fight to remove the president of 26 years, Lukashenko, united Belarussians in national protests. In these cases, personal identities seem to have been displaced by larger political goals.

the political became personal with sharp intergenerational differences disrupting familial relations

Finally, despite disillusionment with the existing political leadership emerging as the purpose of protest in all bar Karim's piece, and whilst many of these protesters' demands are yet to be met with any substantial political change; still, many of the pieces express an overwhelming optimism towards protest. We see protests cast as a form of self-determination in Belarus and Lebanon, citizens taking it upon themselves to revive a new, unified, national identity. In Nigeria, Melody envisages a future moulded by the youth and their use of social media to dismantle the corrupt heart of Nigerian politics. Even in the less optimistic articles, such as Hong Kong, the author takes care to state that both sides are united in wanting the best for their city's future. In a sense that is what seems resoundingly unanimous across all of these examples, people driven to protest by a desire for positive change. Yet, lest we forget Crystal's warning against homogenisation of activism in her piece on Uganda, each of these protests cannot be understood without its rich and varied context, and for that you will have to delve into the pieces themselves...

I do hope you enjoy reading this month’s issue, it has been incredibly exciting to produce.

Maddie Anstruther



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