Wednesday, January 1, 2020
January 1, 2020: 2019 in Review: Global Protests
[2019—it’s been real, it’s been good, but it ain’t been real good. Actually, I’m not even sure I’d say it’s been good, but it has definitely been eventful. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of major 2019 stories I haven’t been able to cover on the blog, leading up to a few predictions for what’s likely to be an even more eventful 2020.]
Happy New Year! On two ways to think about one of last year’s biggest global stories.
I know I said I wouldn’t dedicate another post in this week’s series to a Saturday Evening Post Considering History column of mine, and I promise that I have new things to say in today’s post. But in place of this first paragraph, I would ask you to check out one more column inspired by a topic I didn’t get to cover here on the blog: the July 2019 mass protests in Puerto Rico.
Welcome back! Those PR protests of course unfolded in response to specific circumstances and factors in that place and community, as protests tend to do (and as I hope I analyzed through the lens of Puerto Rican activism in that column). But it’s impossible to tell the story of 2019—especially the second half of the year—without noting the similarly large-scale protests that took place around the globe: from Hong Kong to Chile, Lebanon to Spain. Those news stories were all taken from a single week, late in October, but they certainly reflect this multi-month, global trend. And I think their global nature is a key part of analyzing these protests—not just that they took place around the world, but that they were in various ways inspired (or at the very least encouraged) by one another. Social media, another complex global force, has played a significant role in amplifying such global interconnections, not just by raising and spreading awareness but by offering models and blueprints for the protests (and more exactly the protesters) themselves.
Social media is of course a 21st century context, and an example of what might make this set of global protests distinct from prior historical events or moments. Yet at the same time, the historian in me would note that there are important such past parallels that, at the very least, would be worth engaging as another contextual layer for our current moment. Perhaps the closest such parallel is 1848, a year in which so many revolutions swept through Europe that it came to be known as the “Year of Revolution” (another nickname was the “Spring of Nations,” which as that hyperlinked articles notes make 1848 an interesting counterpart to the 21st century, multi-national revolts that came to be known as the Arab Spring). While I’m far from a European historian, I do know that 1848 offers one particularly clear takeaway: that such contemporary and conjoined revolutions don’t simply reflect their moment, they also and crucially influence all that follows it (even in nations where they do not take place). Without getting into 2020 predictions too fully (come back this weekend for more of that!), I’ll say that this feels like a truly revolutionary moment here in the US as well—and as it unfolds we have many lessons we can take away from these global protests.
Next 2019 review tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? 2019 stories you’d highlight?