Picture a protest. You’re probably imagining vast groups of people with placards in hand, marching from point A to point B. People have been taking to the streets to have their voices heard for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Nothing new there.
But if it feels like there are more protests than usual, it’s because there are. In fact, they’ve tripled in less than 15 years. We are in a historic age of protest.
But sometimes protest takes a less conventional form than those massive crowds of citizens you were picturing. Sometimes, it takes just a small group of people to make a massive impact. And sometimes, it’s just one.
Greta Thunberg, whose rise from solo teenage activist to global climate leader is the stuff of legend, once said: “You’re never too small to make a difference”. We think these tiny but potent demonstrations from recent history prove she was right.
1. Russian Presenter Storming TV News
Russian TV presenter, Marina Ovsyannikova, interrupted a live broadcast on Russian state-run television earlier this month to stage an anti-war protest following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
While the news anchor was reading a story about a meeting between Russia and Belarus, TV producer Ovsyannikova who works at the station jumped behind her holding up a sign that read: “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don't believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.”
Diversion during Channel One main state TV evening show tonight - a woman with No to War poster yells stop the war. Channel One already "probing the incident regarding the outsider's presence during live broadcast." pic.twitter.com/wHyV9lyHZe— Mary Ilyushina (@maryilyushina) March 14, 2022
The sign was only on camera for a few seconds but the impact has been felt across the world, winning praise from world leaders including Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, sparking calls for her to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
A video was then published on social media in which Ovsyannikova said she was ashamed to work for a channel which was spreading Russian propaganda.
As the war in Ukraine has intensified, so has the defiance in Russia where police are cracking down by arresting thousands of people protesting the invasion.
2. Women Dress up as Bloody Brides to Protest a Rape Law in Lebanon
Protesting a decades-old law that allowed rapists to get away without punishment if they married their victims, 12 Lebanese women, dressed as brides in white wedding dresses stained with fake blood and bandages over their eyes, knees, and hands, stood in front of the government building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon in 2016.
The protest worked, as the Lebanese parliament repealed the law a year later.
3. Pussy Riot Storm a Football World Cup Match in Russia
Punk performance group, Pussy Riot, are well-known for their protests of human rights abuses in Russia. From performing on top of scaffolding on the Moscow subway in 2011, tearing open feather pillows and hurling the contents onto the track, to storming a World Cup Match in Russia in 2018, they certainly know how to draw the eyes of the world to their cause.
4. Greta Sits Outside Swedish Parliament
It’s a story so powerful it's become a thing of folklore. In the summer of 2018, when Greta Thunberg was just 15 and in ninth grade, she staged a two-week strike outside the Swedish parliament, demanding that her government cut emissions.
”We kids most often don’t do what you tell us to do. We do as you do. And since you grown-ups don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either. My name is Greta and I’m in ninth grade. And I am school striking for the climate until election day.” 1/3 https://t.co/LrRgTD2rmEpic.twitter.com/UQPFjzTjV2— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 20, 2021
Since then, she’s launched the international "Fridays For Future" movement, become a global climate leader, was named Time person of the year and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for climate activism several times. In 2020, 4 million people joined her in a strike across 161 countries — the largest climate demonstration in history.
5. 4 Men and a Tent Start the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
It’s 1972. Four young First Nations activists make their way to the grass opposite Australia’s Parliament Hill in the middle of the night, open up a beach umbrella, plant it in the ground, and sit down.
The next morning, their protest placards read: “Land Ownership Not Lease,” “Why Pay to Use Our Own Land?”, “Which Do You Choose?? Land Rights or Bloodshed!” and, most importantly, a hand-made sign with the words “Aboriginal Embassy.”
Aboriginal Tent Embassy - 50 year Anniversary. Set up in 1972 on Ngunnawal land Canberra, Old Parliment House. Noted as world's longest protest for Indigenous land rights.— Barbara McGrady (@BarbsMac2144) January 25, 2022
"We are aliens in our own land". Prof Gary Foley pic.twitter.com/m9jav9B7hz
They couldn’t have known it at the time, but their act of protest would reverberate around the world for decades, shining the spotlight on a number of issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and starting global conversations about the legacy of colonization and dispossession, land rights, sovereignty, and the Stolen Generation.
Now 50 years later, the Aboriginal Embassy still stands on that spot and remains a site of protest, making it one of the world’s longest running continuous protests.
6. Tuvalu Minister Addresses COP26 Waist-Deep in Water
You might not have heard of Tuvalu. The high-flying ministers attending the UN Climate Conference COP26 probably hadn’t paid much attention to it either. Until… the country’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, recorded a speech for COP26, in November last year, standing waist-deep in seawater to highlight how his low-lying island nation is on the front line of rising sea levels, and to protest the unfairness of climate change affecting those who have contributed the least to it.
7. South Africa’s Indigenous People Camping at the Foot of a Nelson Mandela Statue
At the foot of one of South Africa’s most famous statues of Nelson Mandela, the country’s Indigenous people, the Khoisans, have been protesting for the past three years to be constitutionally recognized as South Africa’s first nation, among other issues.
8. An Activist Confronts Shell’s CEO on the TED Stage
It was supposed to be a “civil” discussion at TED’s Countdown Summit in 2021 between the founder of an activist fund, a Scottish climate activist, and the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the largest Europe-based oil and gas company. But when Shell is responsible for unfathomable environmental damage, human rights abuses, and oil spills which continue to ravage land, “civil” was going to be a challenge.
During the conversation, youth activist Lauren MacDonald confronted Shell CEO Ben van Beurden saying “You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself”. MacDonald then detailed Shell’s long history of pollution and contribution to the climate crisis and noted its reported complicity in the murder of Nigerian activists in the 1990s.
Shell, MacDonald said, is “responsible for so much death and suffering” before asking van Beurden directly: “If you’re going to sit here and act like you care about climate action, why are you appealing the recent court ruling that Shell must decrease its emissions by 45% by 2030?” When he declined to answer, as an act of protest, she walked off stage.
9. Protesters Throw Dirty Diapers at a Political HQ in Mexico
Using slingshots, two dozen protesters in Mexico slung 1,000 dirty diapers at the offices of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ruling party, the Partido Revolutionario Institucional (PRI) in 2017. Called the pañalazo, the creative protest was meant to “give the PRI back all the shit they’ve given the government and the country with their corruption and impunity.”
10. Protesters Wash the National Flag in Peru to Clean up Corruption
Around 200 Peruvian people symbolically washed red and white Peruvian flags outside the presidential palace to protest the "dirty politics" of President Alberto Fujimori’s re-election campaign in 2000. (Fujimori was later jailed for abusing his power and using violent tactics to crush his opposition.) The flag-scrubbing protest went on for months, but it wasn't until a video surfaced showing a Fujimori ally bribing a legislator that the President was forced to flee Peru.
11. Indian Men Put on Skirts to Protest Gang Rape
When a 23-year-old student was gang raped on a bus in New Delhi in 2013, Indian authorities responded by suggesting they ban skirts to stop further rapes. To protest this victim-blaming solution, 25 Indian men took to the streets wearing skirts, to make the point that it doesn’t matter what you wear, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.
12. Columbia University Student Carries Mattress to Protest Campus Sexual Assault
In 2015, Columbia University student, Emma Sulkowicz, carried her dorm room mattress on her back to protest the school’s failure to expel her alleged rapist.
Sulkowicz and her mattress became a powerful symbol of the movement to reform campus sexual assault proceedings after she decided to drag it around campus for her thesis, titled “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)”. She even brought it to her graduation.
You can join us in peacefully protesting the ongoing war in Ukraine, either by joining protests near you or by joining the protest online. Find out more about how you can get involved and take action here.