THERE is a certain power in demonstrations that pricks at the emotions of a people. Protests have the ability to turn heads, to unite the masses and at the very best, to evoke change in a system that is otherwise thought unfair. This potential has led to protests being classed as one of the ultimate rights of democracy, and has allowed it to be the solution of exhausted and dissatisfied peoples for centuries.
Today, the power of protests is even more nuanced with the help of the internet and social media. Narratives are quickly and clearly broadcast across a wide cross-section of people, and as opinions and advocacy are swiftly garnered, so too are responses from the bodies to which they are directed, due to the obligation of accountability these platforms instill.
The world has seen its fair share of mass demonstrations and the transformative decisions they can bring about. In the United States, the 1963 March on Washington attracted 250,000 people. Dr Martin Luther King’s revolutionary speech attracted the attention of President Kennedy, who organised a meeting with the leaders at the White House that same day. The March is also credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Modern-day examples of protest revolutions can be seen in the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, which came on the heels of protests by millions of citizens for her resignation. Meanwhile, the mass movement by millions of Americans against President Donald Trump, which occurred pre-election and post-election and took several forms across several states, shows that despite immediate reaction, the determination of a people holds the power to demand attention.
Guyana is no stranger to its share of protests, and while our population size would not allow us to see hundreds of thousands in solidarity through demonstrations, our people have used this outlet as a means of gaining attention and exercising their democratic right. Most recently, the power of the protest was tested and proven mighty in the response achieved by persons against the Parking Meter System. Through social media, the #Iwillnotbebullied hashtag gained momentum, and the establishment of the Say No to Parking Meters Facebook page received close to 6,000 likes within days.
More than that, the passion of the people against what they believe is an unjust system manifested itself as hundreds of people gathered not once, but twice in front of City Hall to challenge the municipality for what they described as high rates imposed on them through the installation of parking meters around Georgetown. Resistance was staunch, and evidence of this was vivid in the empty city streets as persons found alternate parking solutions in a deliberate attempt to boycott the system. Their determination, and continued demonstration of resistance caught the attention of the government, which, though adamant that it would not intervene, suggested to Mayor of Georgetown, Patricia Chase-Green and Town Clerk Royston King, that a review of the Parking Meter System be done and that more consultations be made with key stakeholders in order to appease the public’s concerns.
Sometimes, determination is all it takes to fight injustice. Guyanese have been accused of being a passive society, and for not standing up for themselves in the face of wrongs done to them, but here we see that numbers and determination can indeed help to shake up power.
Moreover, could it be that this new age of technology and the accountability brought on by social media have made persons more willing to stand up for their rights? The country has seen its share of protests gone wrong and the 2012 protests in Linden, which resulted in the deaths of three men, can attest to that. But evidence has shown that social media and the mass support that it can garner, as well as the platform that it provides for activism, is a key player in instilling confidence in people which aids in its translation to real-time activism.
What should be noted, however, is that despite the autonomy of the Mayor and City Council, and Government’s clear stance to not usurp the M&CC’s authority, the move by Government brought on by its concern following the public’s unwillingness to back down, shows its readiness to listen to the people, but more importantly shows just what a people’s passion can really achieve. And while long-needed consultations will finally be held with the public, and though the future of the Parking Meter System in Guyana is unknown, it is achievements such as these that show signs of a healthy democracy.