Activism nonviolent protest

Published on January 14th, 2017 | by Carolyn Fortuna


Nonviolent Protests around Trump Inauguration: Local Action on Global Issues

Nonviolent protests around the world have been contesting the legitimacy of Donald Trump as U.S. President. Dozens of groups rallied leading up to the historic event, with the Women’s March on Washington and its 200,000 attendees as the central activist event. Washington, D.C. officials prepared for at least a million visitors to the city for the inauguration and protests. The range of nonviolent protests extended well beyond the U.S. capital to around the globe, too. For example, Sydney, Australia planned a “Stop Trump: Inauguration Day Protest” in Hyde Park.

 Millions worldwide are horrified by everything he represents—from his racist plan for a wall with Mexico and mass deportation of immigrants, to his call for a ban on Muslim migrants, his gross sexism, plan to give massive tax cuts to the rich and his threat to derail any global action on climate change. Trump also threatens to create a more dangerous world through an escalation of military spending and confrontation with China. Trump’s election has already encouraged anti-immigrant and anti-refugee politics in Australia.

nonviolent protests

Civil rights groups including Sharpton’s National Action Network, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza, as well as Democratic lawmakers including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined the earliest marches. U.S. Secret Service assigned 3,000 officers and an additional 5,000 National Guard troops on hand through the events, numbers they indicated would be sufficient to allow the inauguration and protests to go ahead peacefully (CBS News). These U.S. protesters vowed to keep fighting for equality and justice under the upcoming administration with the chant “no justice, no peace.”

Nonviolent protests and rising up against social injustice

For more than a century, campaigns of nonviolent resistance have been “more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in achieving their stated goals,” according to Chenoweth and Stephan in Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent ConflictBy attracting widespread popular support through protests, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of nonviolent noncooperation, these campaigns can break repressive regimes and bring major new changes for justice and peace.

Bound together through social media, networks of far­flung activists oppose social injustices through local action and global awareness.  Waves of protests and acts of civil disobedience around the world urge governments and companies to consider the imperatives of egalitarianism and protecting our planet. This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College. “This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.”

Social media and nonviolent protests

Nonviolent protest tends to be sited in countries with local political decentralization, as approximately 33% more protest events per year take place with decentralization (Mardariga & Klein, 2016). In democratic societies, protest is a legitimate and necessary way for communities to speak out when they are ignored by decision-makers. Communities mobilize to achieve respect for their rights and to influence the processes affecting their lives.

Protest action can take many forms (e.g. blockades, rallies, boycotts) constituting a repertoire of contention, which is subject to continuous innovation. With new information and communication technologies (ICTs), digital repertoires of contention are also being enacted (social media, online petitions, digital sit-ins, twittering)… protest is part of the broader unfolding of social dramas, and is a mechanism to seek redressive action in contentious situations, especially between impacted communities and project proponents. (Hannah, Vanclay, Langdon, & Arts, 2016).

The ubiquity of social media enables communication and social interaction through methods previously unimaginable. Individuals and groups are able to collaborate and organize in completely novel ways, with clear positive relationships between social media and peaceful protest. Social media allows protesters from all social classes to come together and find voice through collective action against what might otherwise seem to be overwhelming institutional odds.

Interestingly, governmental reaction to social media as a nonviolent protest mechanism can be contradictory: governments tend to seek routes to restrict mass social media outlets while also using social media themselves as a persuasive device.

Social media lowers transaction costs, facilitates coordination and mobilization, and contributes to a normative effect promoting peaceful expressions of collective actions… Assumptions that ethnic diversity and low rural populations are indicators for high levels of protests are challenged, as the opposite effect actually appears to be the case… Autocracies are often described as rigid states that are unable to respond to their populace’s grievances or that they often hold positions without democratic elections. These complaints may hold true; however, autocracies are cognizant of their inadequacies, and they use social media to strengthen their weaknesses. Consequently, instead of allowing their populous unfettered access to media, autocracies may restrict personal access to media while simultaneously utilizing social media venues to strengthen state apparatuses. (Childs, 2016)

Nonviolent protests now seen as another form of global terrorism

Nonviolent protest is action that is energetic, passionate, innovative, and committed. Because this type of activism is typically undertaken by those with less power, aimed at changing policies, it is found on the spectrum from the local to the global, both geographically and in relation to the person. Local activism is often about protecting the quality of life of a family or small community, such as when local citizens campaign for better schools or hospitals or against a factory or freeway. This is sometimes disparagingly called NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) activism (Martin, 2007).

But the intensive recent nonviolent protests around the globe have caused such concern among governmental authorities that nonviolent protesters have been sometimes recategorized as global terrorists. The increasing number of global justice protests, their explosive growth, their reliance on direct action repertoires, and the frequent clashes between demonstrators and police have raised the issue of mass demonstrations against the backdrop of maintenance of law and order. Such labeling stifles collective voice and action, in so that part of nonviolent protest must now include advocacy for protesters’ rights for free speech.

The global justice movement is perceived as one of the ‘new threats’ alongside terrorism… The history of political protest has been characterized by a dual opposition: on the one hand, between condemning violent troublemakers in the name of the rule of law and denouncing repression in the name of the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to civil obedience; and on the other hand, between the legitimacy of elected representatives and the legitimacy of the street. In this connection, it should be readily apparent that the categories contributing to the collective production of a discourse concerning the ‘transformations in the form of political participation.’ It seems of fundamental importance to overcome the limits of transparency and democratic accountability in justice and home affairs, in particular concerning police cooperation, facilitating public debate, and establishing clear rules for full parliamentary and judiciary oversight at all levels. Closely connected is the need to assure respect for transnational protest rights. Recent developments indicate that these processes will probably be long and difficult.” (della Porta, Peterson, & Reiter, 2006).


In a year that began with mass global protests against Donald Trump’s racist, misogynist, and climate threatening policies, it’s good to know that there are spaces like Nonviolent International which capture the actions and images of individuals who attempt to rise up against social injustice, on both the local and global levels. Nonviolent protest is a reciprocity between global issues and local action and is likely to expand and become more sophisticated as one feeds the other. Activists learn from and are inspired by each other and share the increasing amount of information about methods of mass public persuasion. Moreover, people are becoming better educated and less acquiescent to authority, increasingly able to assess for themselves when systems are not working, and more likely and willing to take action themselves.

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes via / CC BY-SA


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About the Author

Carolyn writes from her home in RI, where she advocates with her lake association for chemical-free solutions to eradicate invasive species. She’s an organic gardener, nature lover, and vegetarian (no red meat since 1980) who draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+

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