The Protests From Around the World That Defined 2017
Considering that 2017 began with the question, “is it okay to punch a Nazi?”, it should have been no surprise that last year saw unprecedented social upheaval and protests taking place across the globe. It is equally unsurprising that the tone and content of many of these protests both at home and abroad can trace their roots to the immediate aftermath of the election of President Donald Trump.
While many countries saw protests last year, it is certain that no single figure was as galvanizing for political activism across the globe than the US President, who has already triggered new protests in Pakistan after a series of his Tweets suggested that the United States will be cutting aid to the country. It is mainly for this reason that most of the items on this list take place in the US.
1. Women across the globe kick off a year of protest
A running theme for nearly every 2017 protest in the US, and many across the world, is the Trump presidency. Arguably this began during the presidential campaign in 2016, when protestors showed up at Trump rallies and even tried to prevent him from speaking by blocking roads. But the international Women’s March on January 21st made it clear that the demonstrations during the election were just the beginning. Indeed, the biggest protests in the United States were in direct opposition to the policies of the Trump administration. Carrying signs in support of women’s rights, the rights of LGBTQ citizens, the rights of people of color, and the rights of immigrants, over than three million marched through the streets of DC, New York, Denver, Portland, and elsewhere around the country and the globe the day after President Trump was inaugurated.
The series of marches were collectively the largest protest in US history and pink “pussy hats” became an international symbol for women’s protest against misogyny and sexism. Other marches in the winter and spring echoed the model and tone of the Women’s March, including the March for Science and the March for Truth. A sequel to the Women’s March is scheduled for January 20th in 2018.
2. The NFL takes a knee to protest police brutality
What began with San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick protest for criminal justice reform at NFL games grew into a nationwide debate about free speech, patriotism, and the nature of protest in 2017. The string of well-documented and contentious deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police officers, including that of recent high school graduate Michael Brown in 2014, and the Black Lives Matter movement encouraged Kaepernick to pledge donations to activist organizations. During the 2016 preseason he chose to sit rather than stand while the national anthem played before the start of a game.
After a conversation with former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick chose to kneel during the anthem to avoid seeming disrespectful to members of the armed services. During a postgame interview in August, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
While this protest was somewhat overlooked during the 2016 presidential campaign, “taking a knee” triggered a heated national debate after President Trump tweeted in September that NFL owners should fire NFL players for kneeling during the anthem. As the practice of having NFL players stand for the anthem before each game did not begin until 2009, and is not required of the players according to the rulebook, roundtables on ESPN and other sports channels ended up producing in-depth discussions about a tense political topic, something these channels tended to avoid in the past. Despite this, the path for criminal justice reform is unclear at best under the current administration.
3. Venezuelans protest a looming dictatorship
While Venezuela has seen countless protests for and against the national government since the death of President Hugo Chaves in 2013, 2017’s Mother of All Marches stood out for the use of violence against participants. Under Chaves’ leadership in the early 2000s, the Bolivarian government built the entire Venezuelan economy around oil exports. When the price of oil dropped, many of the socialist policies instituted by Chaves became unsustainable and the effect on the lives of citizens has since been catastrophic. When confronted with a collapsing economy, a climbing crime rate, and growing levels of poverty Chaves’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, veered towards an authoritarian government. This was especially evident on March 29th, when a Maduro-friendly Supreme Court stripped the opposition-led National Assembly of its powers and assumed legislative authority.
On April 19th, hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of anti-Maduro protestors took to the streets of Caracas for the Mother of All Marches. In a disturbing move to observers, Maduro armed militias with rifles to quell the protest. By the end of the day, more than 500 protestors had been arrested and three killed. In 2018 the situation in Venezuela remains volatile, with shortages of food and medicine defining the lives of many, but Maduro has shown no signs of stepping down from power.
4. Death at the hands of American fascism
One of the starkest contrasts in 2017 was between the rallies of white nationalists and their “antifa” counter-protesters. The Unite the Right rally on August 11th saw several hundred white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and neo-Confederates march through Charlottsville, Virginia, carrying torches to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The two-day event was met with counter-protestors and caused the governor McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency when it became clear that public safety could not be guaranteed. On the second day, state police authorities forced the dispersal of the increasingly violent rally. Shortly after a man in a Dodge Challenger drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer.
After the arrest and charge of 20-year-old James Alex Fields, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Attorney General Jeff Sessions almost immediately labeled the attack an act of domestic terrorism. President Trump, however, was criticized for inadequately condemning the attack in his statement. In his statement he said, “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides”, which sounded as if he was equivocating Nazis to the counter-protesters.
5. Juggalos outnumber Trump supporter on the National Mall
On September 26th, around 1,500 fans of rap group Insane Clown Posse (ICP) gathered in D.C. to protest being designated a “gang” by the FBI at the same time as a right-wing rally in support of President Trump. The second event, called the “Mother of All Rallies” (in reference to a bomb dropped on ISIS fighters in the spring), featured right-wing militias like the Oathkeepers and Latinos for Trump founder Marco Gutierrez. Despite MOAR’s organizers hope to show mass support for Trump through a neither “a left or right rally,” the event was overshadowed by the larger group of colorful ICP fans, also known as “Juggalos”, who are famous for wearing clown makeup, drinking Faygo, and wearing shirts that say things like, “sorry, I’m not that great at peopling.” Speaking in front of the crowd, several Juggalos told stories of losing their jobs, getting pulled over by the police, and even losing custody of their children for displaying ICP merchandise or attending a concert.
Despite the turnout and widespread media coverage of the Juggalo rally, ICP and the ACLU lost a lawsuit against the Department of Justice in December. If nothing else September 26th illustrated that, while President Trump’s large and dedicated base of support has rallied in public spaces, pro-Trump demonstrations have not delivered the same numbers that Trump’s opposition has across American cities.
6. Zimbabwe ousts its 40-year dictator
In contrast to Venezuela, Zimbabwe saw the relatively peaceful ouster of its 2nd president, who ran the country for the past thirty-seven years as a dictator. Robert Mugabe was first elected Prime Minister at the dawn of Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority control in 1980 and was the world’s oldest head of state in 2017. A well-educated African Nationalist, Mugabe began his political career in the 1960s as an activist and guerilla fighter. By the late 70s he was one of the key players in creating the future state of Zimbabwe and often called for extreme violence towards white residents, something he would do repeatedly over his political career in times of economic crisis. Under Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe entered an unpopular war in Congo, suffered from food shortages and staggering inflation, saw several constitutional crises, and witnessed routine state-sanctioned violence against white and black citizens alike.
By 2017, it became clear that the 93-year old was considering naming his wife, Grace Mugabe, his successor. Mugabe’s political party leadership did not approve and a coup d’état began on November 14th, when military officials seized several government buildings and arrested dozens of officials. While gunfire and artillery were heard in Harare, there were few reported deaths. Over the course of ten days the military blockades were removed, Mugabe’s party cut his membership, the government drew up impeachment proceedings, Mugabe resigned, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president, and thousands of peaceful protestors filled the streets in support of the change.
Despite the criticism of unconstitutionality, foreign leaders have characterized the end of Mugabe’s rule as peaceful and overdue. Mugabe and his wife are currently living under house arrest, while the future of Zimbabwean democracy and its economy remains unclear.
7. Catalonia Votes For Independence
Over the course of the summer the Parliament of Catalonia, under the leadership of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, worked on a referendum that would create an independent Catalonian Republic. The autonomous community of Spain, with its capital in Barcelona, then joined other provinces across Europe in the divisive struggle to redraw the map of post-war Europe. Similar to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the Catalonian referendum immediately drew ire from the national government, which attempted to tamp down a series of marches and rallies of support across Spain.
Despite the occasionally violent crackdown and the arrest of several Catalonian secessionist leaders, a referendum was held on October 1st. The referendum asked Catalonian voters, “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” More than two million voters said “yes”, securing 92% of the total number of votes cast.
Due to a host of flaws in the vote, including changes to the census and Spanish police shutting down some polling stations, the vote was voided. In December, regional elections saw secessionist parties win a majority of the seats in the Catalonian parliament, but the unionist party remains the largest single party. At the start of 2018, things are looking as they did over the summer, with the separatists preventing the unionists from forming a majority government and the Catalonian relationship to Madrid as fraught as ever.
8. Ultra Nationalist March in Poland
The United States was far from the only nation to see ethno-centric nationalist demonstrations in 2017. On November 11th, Poland’s Independence Day, tens of thousands of far-right nationalists marched through Warsaw. Burning red smoke bombs and chanting racist, anti-semitic, and anti-refugee slogans such as “pure Poland, white Poland” and “Death to the enemies of the homeland”, the estimated 60,000 marchers overshadowed other Independence Day events and counter protesters, including the event attended by Poland President Duda.
Outside observers have commented that this annual march has been seen as a rallying point to far-right movements across Europe since it began in 2009. Leaders of the increasingly conservative Polish government have also turned away from European leadership in Brussels for a more nationalistic agenda. While President Duda and Deputy Prime Minister Glinski condemned the march, Poland’s interior minister Mariusz Błaszczak called the event “a beautiful sight”, adding that he was “proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”
9. Palestinians and Lebanese protest against US embassy move to Jerusalem
Another divisive announcement from the Oval Office was the decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be its national capital. While the option to move the embassy has been on the president’s desk since the early 90s, the last three presidents have not signed off on the move for a myriad of reasons, including the safety risk for those who work in the embassy and the desire to appear a quasi-neutral negotiator between the Palestinians and the Israel’s. Trump’s decision fulfills another campaign promise, although it has further alienated him from the international community, which almost unanimously condemned the move.
The immediate outcome of the announcement was a series of protests throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon. In Beirut, protestors crowded around the US embassy, throwing rocks and other projectiles at its barricades. Whatever the political gains this president will receive at the Knesset, the protests seem to guarantee that the Palestinians and other Arab leaders will no longer see the United States as a fair negotiator.
10. The tide turns against powerful male sexual assaulters
Perhaps the most well-known of 2017 protests with the broadest cultural impact, the #MeToo movement set off a string a high-profile firings of men who were accused of sexual assault and/or harassment. Many of these men are members of the so-called “Hollywood elite”, including comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey and producer Harvey Weinstein, which in turn triggered discussions about hypocrisy among members of the political left and misogyny’s presence at all levels of society. The resignation of Minnesota Senator Al Franken (D) following a series of accusations and alleged sexual predator Judge Roy Moore’s (R) loss in Alabama’s special senate election kept #MeToo in the national discourse for the entire year, with the more than a dozen sexual assault allegations against President Trump looming over discussions.
#MeToo shows no signs of stopping in 2018, with Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain and others making statements against misogyny and sexual misconduct at the 2018 Golden Globes. Eight actresses brought social activists as their guests and many others wore black attire to show solidarity.
11. Iranians defy their theocratic government
In case you thought 2018 would start with a sense of calm to contrast with 2017, a surge of protests is taking place in Iran. The Iranian government has not seen this much criticism from its own citizens since the dawn of the Arab Spring in 2009, when Iran became a staging ground for political activists learning how to use social media as an organizing tool. Back then, reformists called the election of conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rigged, leading to protest rallies involving thousands that took place in mainly in Tehran and other large cities.
The current protests, which began at the end of December, are more spread out and are the result of a stagnant economy, rising food prices, government restrictions on social media sites like Instagram. While it is still unclear how widespread these protests are, there appears to be a much stronger sentiment against the regime altogether, with a younger population venting frustrations at an increasingly economically stratified system.