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National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
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CWA # 345, 17 September 2020

GLOBAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS
Technology in contemporary global protest movements

  Sneha Tadkal

The most ubiquitous thing that sets these uprisings apart from pro-democracy movements in the past is that millions of citizens are armed with a stockpile of tech resources. Over a period of time, protestors have learned to evade these tactics of state and become more aware. From the vantage point of both sides, the use of technology has benefited them to withhold their stand. Technology is a double edge sword here!

Background

The last decade has witnessed an increasing number of protests around the world. These protests have a lot of resemblance among them, especially the fact of masses of people coming to the streets. Yet these protests are diverse in nature, which define their unique characteristic. The increasing frequency of global protest has become a major trend in international politics. Though these protests have had different breaking points and varying catalysts leading the protests to survive for a longer period of time than expected, the impact of each remains indispensable.

The present time that we live in is called the “information age” and the 21st century is often referred to as the “age of information technologies “.  The developments over the years have changed the kind of activism in a more innovative and creative way then we used to see otherwise. We do not see a complete shift in activism to nonviolent action but we have definitely moved away from the usual means and methods used in the protests. Activists continue to respond, opposing the repressive regimes in unconventional ways. They are using social media sites and other technology benefits to drive the current surge in global dissent. It has been noted that there have been more than 300 methods of nonviolent resistance, constituting plenty of innovation, specifically on the tech and digital front. At the core of these rising numbers is the increased accessibility and advancement of specific technologies — namely, ones that help activists use mass communication tools more easily and cheaply. In a way, we have seeded the growth of electronic protest and there is a need to deal with another aspect of today’s activism, which is virtual activism and the kind of impact it is going to bear on us.

 Arab Spring, during 2010-2015 was a time of great mobilization in half a dozen countries by citizens attempting to bring down authoritative rulers and uphold civil society. Since then there has been a rise in the tide of citizen protests elsewhere in the world. Just in 2015, significant protests erupted or continued in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Brazil, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Iraq, Japan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, and Venezuela. Many of these protests have been profoundly important events in the countries where they have taken place. They are often large-scale gatherings of citizens who are determined to challenge fundamental policies or structures of power and improve the economic status of the people. The agenda of these protests vary from fighting against the autocratic and oppressive regimes to raising voices in view of increasing environmental, climate and humanitarian crises to gender equality. Harsh and violent retaliation by the state, security forces, and other pro-government elements tried to control these protests and were successful to some extent. But over a period of time, protestors have learned to evade these tactics of state and become more aware. From the vantage point of both sides, the use of technology has benefited them to withhold their stand. Technology is a double edge sword here!

Click the PDF file to read the full essay. It was first published in the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issues 2&3. 

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