Yes, throughout the history of human being, protests have been here and there though fresh protest news cover on GoogleNews every day. [i] [ii] If we only count massive protests from 19th century, there were strong collective voices of French Revolution in 1848, Russian Revolution in 1917, 1968 protests in the world and Eastern Europe in 1989, and these were the generator of social changes each time.
Not going too far away till the 19th century, more than 200 million protests have impacted on the life of people since 1979 despite ignoring hidden and unknown events.[iii] However, the number of protest has not been increasing so far based on the data of GDELT which is a research group to collect global political unrest data and provide daily report with geo-spatial data. It would mean that as growing the opportunities to see the news about protests, we might believe that protests have been common than in the past.[iv]
What is the key factor to force people into the street?
Recently, Bridge, Marsh and Sweeting (2013) argue the change of governing structure, from government to governance, is the essence of recent protests.[v] According to their opinion, it stimulates governments work together with private sectors and communities, so the boundary of different organisations is blurring far more than before. The changing forms of the organisations extend to the shifting role of citizens, emphasizing new forms of networks and accountability, and finally the nature of democracy. Amid this transition, people are more interested in direct citizenship, and we have been readily watching one form of direct democracy, protest.
Meanwhile, Castells (2012) insists that we need to consider the transformation of communication to understand current protests.[vi] The development of internet technology facilitates that people can send messages many to many and share resources with horizontal-endless networks by themselves. On the internet, which is an autonomous space and no government control by Castells’ opinion, people try to change power relationships around them for ‘a better humanity’ when the relationships disrupt their life. When desires and goals of people are emerging in urban spaces beyond the internet, we could watch them such as Arab Spring and Occupy movements.
[i] “The March of Protest,” The Economist, June 29, 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21580143-wave-anger-sweeping-cities-world-politicians-beware-march-protest.
[ii] Manuel Castells, The City and the Grassroots: Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements, illustrated edition (Hodder Arnold, 1983).
[iii] Joshua Keating, “What Can We Learn from the Last 200 Million Things That Happened in the World?,” Foreign Policy Blogs, April 12, 2013, http://atfp.co/1cXGpaX
[iv] J Dana Stuster, “Mapped: Every Protest On The Planet Since 1979,” accessed January 8, 2014, http://bit.ly/KBBl1H.
[v] Gary Bridge, Alex Marsh, and David Sweeting, “Reconfiguring the Local Public Realm,” Policy&Politics 41, no. 3 (n.d.): 305–309. http://www.policypress.co.uk/journals_pap.asp
[vi] Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age (Polity Press, 2012).