By Maddy Playford
The USA, Hong Kong and Australia are currently newsworthy for the passionate protests that are occurring in each country, where people are disenchanted about government inactivity about key social issues. In America, there has been an eruption of debate regarding stricter gun laws, following two mass gun shootings from August 3-4 in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton Ohio, that left a wave of tragedy, with 30 people dead and 52 injured. On the other side of the world, Hong Kong protests have escalated, with young Chinese opposing a government bill that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited (deported) to mainland China. Closer to home, Australia has recently sparked heated abortion dialogue, as the proposal to decriminalise the termination of pregnancy is put on the table. In all of these global events, protests have and still are playing a significant role in influencing government decisions and how society should be governed. So how powerful is protest?
Protest is a statement or action expressing disapproval to something. It can be peaceful or nonpeaceful, with a purpose of instigating change the people want. Recently, the large-scale peaceful protests in America, Hong Kong and Australia have seized global attention, prompting us to ask how well governments are listening to the voices of their citizens.
In the United States, protests and debate about legislating gun laws isn’t new. Gun laws have been a growing concern. In 2018, the Parkland school shootings, that left 17 students and staff members killed, inspired the March for Our Lives movement, a student-led demonstration supporting laws to prevent gun violence. It was one of the largest expressions of protest in this era, with hundreds of thousands of students joining rallies across the US, as well as gatherings in more than 800 locations around the world. And yet despite this sizable reaction, no significant changes to gun laws were made. As the government fails to listen, the USA is quickly developing a reputation as a “flawed democracy”, and authoritarianism has taken over.
In the East, Hong Kong has been suffering from public disunity regarding a proposed deportation bill. Citizens feared that the bill would allow them to be sent, against their will, across the border into mainland China, making them subject to the mainland judicial system. However, the protests have become more than this, as they fight for pro-democracy at a time where there is increased pressure of censorship and declining freedoms. What began as a peaceful movement in early June has turned violent as protestors clash with police, with the use of rubber bullets, pepper spray and hand-thrown tear gas. So, have Hong Kong protesters reduced their chance of change due to their extreme measures, or will they pressure the government to become more proactive in listening to their people? Hopefully the memory of Tiananmen Square necessitates a more collaborative solution.
Finally, back home, a bill to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales has passed through the State Parliament’s Lower House and will reach the Upper House within the next week for further debate. Abortion is legal in all Australian states up to a certain time in pregnancy, excluding New South Wales and Queensland, where abortion can only be administered if there is concern a woman’s physical or mental health will be risked by the pregnancy. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside NSW Parliament during debate on removing abortion from the Crimes Act 1914. If the abortion bill is successful, it could confirm the power in protest and social consciousness, because at the end of the day, that’s when debate can begin, and change is possible.