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Illustration by Liene Magdalēna

Amplifying Voices: Power through Protests

This is the era of chants, reverberating on the streets and echoing through screens. The authorities may refuse to listen to protests, but the voices will only get louder.

Nov 9, 2019

In the past two weeks, people from various sects have marched on the streets of Lebanon, buildings have been burned in Chile and protestors have stood resiliently in the face of tear gas in Bolivia. In the past month, citizens have demanded the resignation of the current Haitian President and deaths continue to be mourned in the streets of Iraq. In the past year, a female activist has become a symbol of protests in Sudan, and today marks 240 days of demonstrations in Hong Kong.
“There was a specific energy in being a part of a crowd of people, chanting, dancing, and blasting music,” shared Lebanese student Seleen Barada, Class of 2022. “The same words repeated, the Lebanese flag raised — it was the first time I felt as though I was a part of a unified Lebanon.”
Protests are often imagined as a manifestation of power, invoking, sparking and implementing change, by the people, for the people. The influence of protests is rooted in a demonstration effect; one movement catalyzing various others. One protest in Tunisia became a call for reform that spread across the Middle East, leading to the Arab Spring. And that all started with a burning man, a rise in bread prices or the taxation of transport.
We are in an era of vocalization that is multifaceted: news is continuously displayed on television screens, opinions are discussed on social media and analysis is typed up on online publications.
Yet this interconnectedness, which enables mobilization in a way unimaginable two decades ago, creates spontaneity that can breed short-lived calls for change and a lack of clear goals.
“The power of protests movements dissipates very, very quickly,” explained Leonid Peisakhin, Assistant Professor of Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi. “That initial protest dynamic has to be channelled… or else it won’t translate into actual reforms on the ground.”
We have, with the development of social media, lost our focus on the demands of protests and instead invest ourselves in short-term, spontaneous progression. The increased interconnectedness of our modern day has normalized protests in the sense that it allows people to share knowledge and coordinate at a much easier, much faster pace than ever before. As mobility occurs at a tap-of-the-finger rate, the number of people on the ground, and those supporting through screens, has multiplied. This growth has, however, led to a lack of clear plans or shared aims.
Retrospectively, it is useful to examine significant successful protests in history, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a vital aspect of the civil rights movement in the United States. It was not chance, but rather a strategic decision on behalf of the movement’s leaders to choose Rosa Parks as its symbol. Protests required organized strategy to carry out the shared goals of the people, envisioning outcomes and ensuring their implementation. There wasn’t a social media platform readily available for people to join a movement at the click of a button. While this is a privilege we have today, it has disrupted the long-term effects of protests.
The sporadic nature that envelopes protests shrivels the possibility of sustained change, yet Egyptian student Mariam Amer, Class of 2022, reflects on a different impact of protests. “The revolution really unified the nation and the people,” she explained in regards to the revolution in Egypt. “However, does this regime give us the things that we wanted? Does it give us freedom of speech? It doesn’t. Does it give us social justice? It doesn’t.”
Regardless of the nominal success of protests — the overthrow of dictatorships or the removal of policies — there lies an unparalleled power in collective action that has emerged more prominently over time. The demand for change has led to a unification of people on a widespread level, from gathering in Tahrir square to going blue for Sudan.
This power of unity derived from protests also impacts people on a personal level, it becomes ingrained in the memory of individuals that took part, heard stories of or studied these moments of resistance.
Peisakhin reflects on his own childhood in the Soviet Union, referring to the revolutionary coup of 1991 as one of the very few vivid memories from his childhood, and the reason for his personal interest in collective action. “I became acutely aware of politics and revolutions and regime-change,” he shared.
To those who take to the streets, the strength of these moments is grounded in a unified culture that is brewing within the global collective for reform.
“I am not the type of person that’s political, however, this revolution made every Egyptian political,” Amer added. “The fact that you witnessed such a powerful revolution, it makes a person more political… you always want to voice your opinion.”
This is the era of chants, reverberating on the streets and echoing through screens. The authorities may refuse to listen, but the voices will only get louder.
Sarah Afaneh is Social Media Editor and Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
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