The pandemic may have dominated headlines again in 2021, but the most significant mobilizations around the world address systemic grievances.
Despite a global pandemic limiting movement and gatherings for the second year running, citizens around the world have continued to take to the streets to voice their concerns.
The pandemic has had a prominent role in this year’s mobilisations, from anti-lockdown rallies in Europe, to protests demanding economic assistance after the crisis ravaged economies in Latin and Central America.
But this year’s most remarkable mass mobilisations address issues other than the global pandemic, as history continues its course and popular protests continue to play an important role in it.
While far from an exhaustive list, here are the five protests that have left an indelible mark in 2021.
US Capitol Hill protest
Just a few days into the new year, the world watched in shock and disbelief as hundreds of protesters stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., including a man dressed in a bearskin horned hat, his face painted with the colours of the American flag. A supporter of the QAnon conspiracy group, the man was leading one group of supporters of then outgoing president Donald Trump inside one of the most recognisable government buildings in the world to dispute election results in the self-declared global “capital” of democracy.
Five people were killed in the chaos that ensued, as Donald Trump addresses supporters who had descended on Capitol hill from all over the country, casting doubt on Joe Biden’s victory. Among the rioters were the far-right Proud Boys, recognisable by their orange hats.
More than 500 people were arrested on charges including assault of police officers, destruction of government property and conspiracy. An investigation is underway into whether Trump and his top aides conspired to stop Biden’s victory certification.
Alexei Navalny protests in Russia
Protests broke out across more than 100 cities in Russia on January 23 over the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny upon his return to Russia from Germany. Navalny had been medically evacuated there after his poisoning with the Novichock nerve agent the previous year. His arrest triggered the largest protest since the “snow revolution” against Putin’s re-election in 2011-13.
Thousands of people were detained and hundreds jailed in connection with the unauthorised protests, including prominent artists and writers, as well as Navalny’s wife. Navalny began a hunger strike in detention over lack of medical attention, triggering another wave of protests in April.
Myanmar coup protests
On February 1, the military seized control of the country after a landslide election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The army claimed the election was fraudulent, but international monitors and the country’s electoral commission found no evidence to support that claim.
The military takeover triggered the largest protests in the country since the Saffron Revolution in 2007, which saw thousands of monks rise up against the military regime.
Lawyers, students and government workers, among others, took to the streets in weeks of civil disobedience and peaceful protests that were met with military force. On February 22, millions of people took to the streets after killing two protesters, including a 16-year-old boy. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed since the coup and more than 10,000 people have been arrested.
Protests continue in smaller groups and flash mobs, and are regularly met with force. Aung San Suu Kyi faces trial on charges including alleged possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies, corruption, and violating the official secrets act. The verdict was postponed in late December.
Indian farmers’ protest
Farmers in India began protesting after the government passed the Farm Bills in September 2020. The three new laws would introduce a free market model for the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce.
The mobilization gained momentum in November, when tens of thousands of farmers protested against the reform programme, which would stop the government from buying produce at guaranteed prices and instead, they said, give more power to corporations to buy at cheap and unsustainable prices. Thousands camped out outside New Delhi and blocked highways in Punjab and Haryana states, after police prevented a march from entering the city’s borders. Dozens of people died from heat, Covid-19 and cold over a year of sustained protests.
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi announced on November 19 this year he would repeal the laws, in a major victory for farmers and a rare example of how mass protests can successfully challenge government policy. The farmers did not immediately leave the protest site, asking the government to consider their other demands. The government agreed in principle to some of them, including providing compensation to the families of the protesters who died.
Sudan’s pro-democracy protests
In October, Sudan’s military dissolved the government and put prime minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest, starting the latest chapter in the country’s crisis since long-term authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in 2019.
Since then, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the military takeover and demand a civilian-led transition to democracy. The protests have often been met with brute force, with dozens killed since they began.
After the military overthrew Al-Bashir in 2019, mass protests prompted civilian and military leaders to enter a transitional power-sharing agreement. However, the country also faces an economic crisis with food shortages, a lack of medicine and other basic necessities.
Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated as prime minister in late November, triggering fresh protests against the deal.