Crowds of furious people march through city streets. The voices of disgruntled workers shout in unison a call that is heard across the planet. As they move between the broken and burning barricades, carefully stepping over the rubble that covers dark asphalt, a dense white gas drifts between the great trees of the concrete jungle. Black and red clashes with blue and olive drab, and the two blocs become one in a flash of pure violent rage. The scrum brews a thick soup of cacophony, with ingredients consisting of gunshots, water-cannons, sirens, breaking glass, fracturing bones, batons on shields, forceful yelling and frightful screaming.
2019 saw seemingly minor domestic gripes amplified into anti-capitalist outrage in many countries. Grip like a rise in fuel prices and a high cost of living brought workers in Iran and France to the streets to protest the growing inequality in their countries. An extradition bill passed in Hong Kong started a massive movement against a lack of democracy in the city and the increasingly imperialistic actions taken by the Chinese government. An increased ticket fare for Santiago’s public transportation sparked an anti-capitalist movement across Chile, which the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reports as Latin America’s most unequal country. The loss of fuel subsidies in Ecuador after long rising fuel prices lead an anti-austerity movement that even forced the government out of the capitol.
Things these movements all have in common besides their common rally cry of closing the gap between rich and poor is their ability to quickly organize demonstrations. The brutal government response in Hong Kong led to the protesters adopting the practice of “be[ing] water,” which was popularized by Kung Fu superstar Bruce Lee. The practice emphasizes the importance of not being stagnant, and always being spontaneous and on the move. According to the South China Morning Post, Hong Kongers employ this practice on social media apps and Apple’s Airdrop feature to quickly organize demonstrations, without having any central leadership. Hong Kong has been a poster child for this year of protest, and many movements have adopted the tactics employed there.
The use of social media by demonstrators to spread helpful information was seen everywhere. Hong Kongers posted videos on Reddit detailing the disarming of tear gas canisters. Movements in France, Chile, and elsewhere have used social media as a tool for propaganda distribution, rallying more and more citizens behind their cause. Social media has also been used to warn other protestors and bystanders about the locations of brawls with riot police, to keep those who are peaceful safe from wrongful imprisonment.
However, governments are also learning from each other on how to effectively diffuse civil unrest. The Telegraph reports that Iran swiftly shut down the internet to stop protest messages spreading when a fuel price rise triggered widespread discord in November. Governments have resorted to providing scapegoats to distract from their faults – the Chilean government says leftist infiltrators from Venezuela and Cuba are to blame, and China says the “black hand” of the west is at fault in Hong Kong.
The UN in December pointed out that we are in fact seeing growing inequality of power and opportunity, not necessarily wealth. As this gap between rich and poor grows so, too, does discontent. Eliacer Flores, a corner shop worker who lost his eye to riot police in Santiago said this to The Telegraph: “Protests are happening across the world after years of injustice, years of being robbed. We have lived our lives feeling fear, not speaking out, but this moment is happening and people are waking up.”