What does protesting achieve?

Thousands of people gathered in front of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London to demand a change in the lack of sustainability policies.

Article and photos by Ana-Maria Molnar

What the last few years have seen is a scale of protesting unprecedented before. Both the rise of climate change awareness and constant flow of new scientific reports supporting the claim that human actions are driving the earth towards an absolute environmental catastrophe, and the highly polarized global political scene, have seen communities around the world recognise that democracy has reached a very fragile state and come together on numerous occasions to make their voices heard.

A sign on the ground on Trafalgar Square saying “this is change”, as people gathered for yet another climate crisis protest there on 19 October.

We hear of a new protest or demonstration happening on an almost daily basis at various locations around the world, and many of us have taken part in one or know someone who has. The sense of community and togetherness at these events, if kept peaceful and under control, plays a massive role in why people choose to invest their time in such actions, and partially explains the massive numbers recent gatherings have achieved. But here comes the question of the effectiveness of protesting and if it actually generates any significant change. Undoubtedly, were protests not powerful enough to bring about even the slightest change, they would have been discredited as a useful mean to exercise democracy and freedom of speech a long time ago. So, what difference do they actually inspire in solving the respective issue discussed?

One of the many that day who had painted their palms red in order to state that the blood of all those affected by the climate crisis is on the hands of people who can actually do something to help relieve the issue.

Here in the UK, the last couple of years have been saturated with new and powerful movements such as Extinction Rebellion and the two sides of the Brexit ordeal. The former has managed to seep through the consciousness of all age groups and societal classes and establish itself as the leading activist organisation spreading awareness about climate change and its destructive consequences.

Flags depicting animal species endangered by extinction due to climate change.

Often criticized about their approach to gaining the authorities’ attention and its members purposefully getting themselves arrested on many occasions, XR have, however, managed to gain a centre-stage position in UK culture and politics, and unite and invite millions new climate activists all around the world. As a result of a year of protests and acts of civil disobedience, backed by strong scientific research on the topic, XR succeeded in getting the UK parliament to “tell the truth” and declare climate emergency, which has recently been followed by the EU Parliament. What this means is that some rather ambitious but hopeful, nonetheless, goals have been set for all EU countries in response to the approaching ‘point of no return’ and their policies on sustainability and climate preservation. Despite these declarations, however, no policies have been officially installed in order to truly tackle the problem of climate change. This is tightly linked to the current state of British politics and the people in charge of the country. The Tories do not see climate change as a real issue worth worrying about, so they are purely focused on coming up with new Brexit deals to present the EU with.

A woman’s bag with an outline of how Berlin was divided during the Cold War, relating it to the current goal of UK to separate itself from the rest of the EU.

As we can see, the people in charge of the UK and therefore Brexit are intertwined with the climate problem. Which is part of why people have come to the realisation that they must not remain in power and execute Brexit. The evident issues it poses and with the more and more people seeing what leaving the EU could actually mean, many have expressed their frustration of not being able to have another vote on the problem.

A woman wearing the French flag underneath the EU one on her back.

It has been three years since the British voted Leave but what this time has done is give a tiny preview of life apart from the EU and the implications it would impose on so many levels. But no second vote has taken place. In late October, an estimated one million people took to the streets of Central London to make their voices heard and filled Parliament Square despite the rain and cold. Highlighted were the divisive and polarising nature of the problem, as the people in power have been trying to impose the “us versus them” mentality on UK’s citizens ever since Brexit was introduced as an idea  and claiming the EU is holding the country back and limiting it way too much. Which is why the 12 December is a key date that will remain in history as the General Election which decided both Brexit and partially the UK’s involvement in reversing the climate crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of people marching towards Parliament Square are on 20 October during the People’s March in London to demand a second referendum on Brexit

Among both these movements, people have tried to highlight that we do not repeat certain mistakes previous generations have made in the past and take action now, and not stop until change really does take place for the better. What is fascinating about them is the encouragement young people have been given to become more aware of the reality of the world they live in and their rights to defend their future from those trying to take it away. Millions of below 35’s have registered to vote in this General Election and could have a fundamental impact on the future of the country, as it is their future being decided. Therefore, even though it takes millions of people and a massive amount of team effort and time, non-violent protesting with a clear goal, can indeed achieve what it has set to do and eventually those in power will have to listen to their citizens’ voice.

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