The past 12 months have seen a wide range of public displays of contempt including; frequent responses to climate change and environmental awareness, curriculum change in sex education, the People’s Vote protest calling for a referendum on the final Brexit deal and more recently – Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK. But how impactful has mass protest really been in creating change?
Those rallying, hope that the scale of their protest will raise public awareness whilst forcing politicians to listen to their demands. However, it may be fair to say that this is an unlikely outcome.
History shows that the UK’s biggest ever demonstration, with at least 750,000 people taking part to protest against the Iraq War, still wasn’t enough to prohibit Britain’s involvement in the impending war with Iraq.
Currently, Donald Trump shows no signs of curtailing his opinions as he weighed in on UK domestic politics by endorsing Boris Johnson for Prime Minister and waged personal attacks on the competency of Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
An analysis by economists from Harvard University and Stockholm University found that protests do not necessarily send a signal to policy-makers – rather, they get people politically activated. This can be evidenced by the increase in the size of the UK electorate in recent years.
The number of electors was at a high point in the year to December 2017, following three successive years with national polls, in contrast with the decrease in electors seen in the latest year, to December 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics.
“The fall in electoral registrations in 2018 is partly driven by population change as a relatively high number of deaths as well as a small cohort of 18-year-olds mean more people left the electoral register than joined. Another driver of the fall in the number of parliamentary electors was a 45% reduction in the number of registered voters living overseas following large increases in the preceding years.” Neil Park, Centre for Ageing and Demography, Office for National Statistics
Despite climate change disproportionately affecting non-white and/or working-class communities, we do not see that message boosted by the most visible organisers of climate change movements – like Extinction Rebellion.
Instead, we witness acts of defiance to the police and other state institutions en masse, by the white middle class in a manner that is not replicated for concerns centring people of colour – such as the school to prison pipeline.
Discrepancies in privilege and background reveal themselves in the demographic makeup of demonstrations. With many careers and monetary gain carved out of the back of social altruism, it is worthwhile for us to ponder on the genuineness of prevalent social activism.