Considering that this text was published by Jacobin at the beginning of the quarantine, and the strength of the response to George Floyd’s murder in the US, it is clear that 2020 will continue bringing people to the streets, especially when the pandemic has shown the extremely precarious seams that hold social reproduction in capitalism.
“The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a center-right think tank, has attempted to nail down the phenomenon with a new report called “The Age of Mass Protests: Understanding a Global Trend.” The paper’s authors analyzed data from across the globe and found that the current period of mass protests dwarfs any that has come before in size and frequency. Each year between 2009 and 2019, the number of mass protests increased annually by an average of 11.5 percent.
The protests are growing bigger, too, both in terms of sheer numbers and proportion of the broader population. Last year over a million people protested in Santiago and two million protested in Hong Kong. The authors’ regional analysis showed that sub-Saharan Africa saw the largest spike in mass demonstrations over the last decade, followed by South America, while Oceania saw the smallest, followed by Asia. Every region of the world saw an increase.
And wealthy, developed capitalist nations were far from immune. The rate of increase in mass protests in North America and Europe was higher than the global average. The United States has been a hotbed of dissent, especially since the advent of the Trump administration. Even accounting for population growth, the authors estimate that the relative number of people who participated in protests from Donald Trump’s inauguration to the present day is higher than the relative numbers who participated in the Civil Rights Movement or the anti–Vietnam War protests. The period from January 20, 2017 to January 1, 2020 included the five largest protests in US history.
The study’s authors cited several potential reasons for the spike in protest. Internet access and social media is clearly of critical importance, a consensus that emerged early in the decade during the Arab Spring. So too are global youth unemployment and underemployment, intensifying global economic inequality, growing perception of corruption and loss of faith in political leadership, increased education which leads to higher political awareness and engagement, and environmental stress and climate change. The latter have not only elicited mass protests themselves but have also destabilized regional economies and political regimes, spurring mass demonstrations as well as displacing rural people, sending them to cities where they are more likely to participate in protests.”