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The million mask march
Which protests have changed the world this year?bjpcorp via Flickr

The protests that altered public consciousness this year

Slacktivism is as big as ever but that’s translated to the streets too – here we look at the movements that changed the world in 2015

These are the protests that responded to problems old and new, including the war in Syria, austerity measures, institutional racism and climate change. Although only a few 2015 protests resulted in tangible political changes, all of them galvanised public debate.

Hashtags continued to be an important part of activism, with #NotAllMuslims and #JeSuisCharlie trending longest on Twitter. But despite our age of slacktivism, alongside tweeting, hundreds of thousands of people around the world actually left their homes to organise and participate in sit-ins and marches on the streets. Beyond the traditional forms of protesting, performance art pervaded the public space and found new, uneasy ways to disturb the comfort of those maintaining the status quo.

This year took on issues surrounding cultural sensitivity and Eurocentricity in the aftermath of this autumn’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Jordan, Beirut, Ankara, Baghdad and several parts of Nigeria. In all their messiness, here are the protests that made us stop and rethink our priorities in 2015.

#DontBombSyria and #RefugeesWelcome

On November 28, around 5,000 people marched in London to demand the government vote against bombing Syria. After Parliament debated for around 11 hours, it decided, 397 votes to 223, that Britain would join the allied forces in bombing Raqqa, aiming to destroy the terror group Isis. This means we will only increase violence in the area. Not only will innocent civilians most likely be harmed, there is very little evidence that this move will help national security. In fact, given the Paris attacks, the first British airstrikes that left the Cyprus base could easily radicalise more people and help them embrace Isis. It feels like we’re making the same mistakes we’ve made a thousand times. And our MP's are still talking about the Nazis forgetting the more recent failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

On the brighter side, the #refugeeswelcome protest gathered tens of thousand of peaceful protesters on the streets of London, Copenhagen, Dresden and Vienna at the beginning of September, with the respective governments accepting tens of thousands of refugees and Germany leading the way, taking 500,000 over several years.

#JeSuisCharlie

The terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo shook the entire continent. But the million people that joined the peaceful and dignified unity march in Paris in response to the attack was the most moving response to the jihadist attack. When we asked leading European creatives about their reactions, the fashion editor of L'Express, Marta Represa, commented, "What has stricken me the most about yesterday's events, even more than the horror of what just happened, is the incredible way in which Parisians (and particularly the French press) have responded. Far from being scared or from reacting in violent ways, they have all come together in defence of the democratic values that define France. The rassemblement (vigil) last night was very sober: no screaming, no tears, just a very dignified and brave stand against extremism and violence. Yesterday evening, you could really feel a sense of union among the Parisians. The words "liberté, égalité, fraternité" really had a meaning. I found this really moving and I have to say (even if I'm not French myself) I'm really proud of France today."

#NotAllMuslims

The increased jihadist violence against France this year has raised the levels of Islamophobia across Europe. Zouheir, the Muslim guard who caught one of the bombers at the entry of the Stade de France in the football match France - Germany is a reminder that #NotAllMuslims support extremism. Zouheir prevented the death of hundreds of people because the bomber could not get in and as a result detonated his vest outside the stadium.

Ruqaiya Haris wrote a piece for Dazed saying, "Instead of alienating Muslims communities, the West should enlist their help in dismantling ISIS ideology from a theological standpoint – the only real way to stop it spreading." She added, "While there are extremists in any ideology, I implore people to understand that it is not a case of our religion "allowing" mindless violence and thus all religious Muslims must be seen as a potential threat. ISIS hold no legitimacy in terms of classical Islamic scholarship, they are rejected by all credible scholars and they do not abide by core tenants of Islam. Last year, over 120 well-known Islamic scholars signed an open letter to ISIS that presented an articulate theological case using traditional Islamic texts to thoroughly denounce core ISIS beliefs." An important message to keep in mind.

Climate change protests around the world

More than 600,000 people protested in 175 countries on November 29 trying to put pressure on the COP21, a meeting of global leaders gathered in Paris to negotiate methods of addressing the world’s greatest problem, climate change. Melbourne and London led the way, with 60,000 and 50,000 people joining marches. Vivienne Westwood, who participated in the protest in London, told Dazed, "Everybody from Asia and Africa will be trying to move north, but it will be full of corpses. We have taken responsibility, we are the people, we reject criminal politicians. We have no choice between a green economy and mass extinction. You can change the world. You have to." Although leaders of the summit have signed up for an ambitious target of limiting the global average temperature to a rise of "well bellow" two Celsius degrees above the pre-industrial levels, the battle to actually reach this goal is only beginning.

Because the French government declared state of emergency forbidding mass meetings after the November terrorist attacks, Parisians had to get creative about their COP21 protests. 10,000 pairs of shoes occupied the space on Place de la République, between Boulevard Voltaire and up to the Bataclan, the music venue where one of the terrorist attacks claimed hundreds of victims. Along with the shoe protests, over 80 artists from 19 countries across the world, including Banksy collaborator Paul Insect, Jimmy Cauty and Neta Harari, contributed to 600 fake adverts. Each ad criticises a different corporate sponsor of the summit – ironically brands that contribute to the high rates of greenhouse gas – from AirFrance to Mobi.

Vivienne Westwood calls on you to change the world: “We are the people, we know what to do”

Posted by Dazed and Confused Magazine on Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Domestic violence and the Tampon Tax

500 women put on a funeral themed march to speak against the austerity cuts limiting the budget of local councils and by result of the organizations helping domestic violence victims on November 28. The cuts ironically coincided with the International Day to End Violence Against Women. Since 2010, more than 30 specialist anti-domestic violence services were forced to shut down, and many other services were taken over by non-specialist providers. Given that on average, two women get killed by their partners or ex-partners per week, the closure of professional providers seems the more threatening.

Earlier this year, a petition gathering more than 125,000 signatures called for an end to the luxury tax on tampons in the UK. The tax means that women pay five per cent above the cost of the product to buy tampons. This is a EU law. The UK Parliament blocked a call to remove the levy with 305 to 287 votes, which means that marshmallow teacakes and crocodile meat, taxed at zero per cent, are considered more essential than tampons in our economy. If you're still unconvinced, here's Hayley Smith, explaining that she founded Flow Aid, a campaign working to provide free sanitary products to homeless women, because what "really struck me was that homeless women were being forced to go to McDonalds and stuff used tissues down their knickers, which is horrific."

#BlackLivesMatter

The protests denouncing institutional racism in the US continued in 2015. After the Ferguson case in 2014, this year several other victims were shot by police. Amongst the victims, Jamal Clark, who was fatally shot by a white police officer on November 15, brought people to the streets of Minneapolis. Another five people were shot by white supremacists. In Chicago, protesters took to the streets following the release of a graphic video, showing footage of another black teenager, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by a white policeman on October 20, 2014. The protests continue.

Gay marriage rights protests in the US

On March 26, thousands of Americans of different views protested in front of the Supreme Court in Washington as the justices were determining whether gay couples can marry. Despite the Supreme Court's "yes" to equal marriage, the fight has gone on and on, before, during and after.

Amongst various forms of protest, these supposed young Catholic people made a poor attempt to copy gay coming out videos. They say that they have gay friends – so they accept homosexuality – but it’s this sacred institution of marriage that must, it must be preserved "untainted". One girl even cried over being called 'bigoted' for saying marriage should happen between a man and a woman. But, gay marriage has now been legal in America since June 26.

Brazilian students protesting against the closure of 96 schools

Students aged between 13 and 18 autonomously occupied over 200 state schools in São Paulo, Brazil, starting from November 9. The occupations followed the announcement of a restructuring of the state school system, which involved the closure of 96 schools. The restructuring meant that there would be, in some cases, over one hundred students in each classroom. 311,000 students and their parents were left without knowing where their sons and daughters would be transferred to, and 74,000 teachers were left uncertain about their jobs. This problem is symptomatic of a deeper educational crisis that has characterised Brazil’s history – many state-funded schools are underfunded and overcrowded, with underpaid teachers. The protests proved somewhat fruitful, with the education secretary resigning and government officials saying that they would postpone the school closings for one year.

#FeesMustFall - South Africa

The largest single student protest since the apartheid ending in 1994 gathered 10,000 students in South Africa this October. It was provoked by president Jacob Zuma’s bid to increase tuition fees by 11 per cent. Many opponents of the measure argued that the rise would further alienate black students, who are still under-represented in South African universities. Columnist Khaya Dlanga wrote, "We have people out here asking why students aren’t applying for loans. What they don’t think about is the fact that some of the parents don’t have well paying jobs that will allow banks to provide those loans. And still others have parents who do not work. So tell me, how a bank will take surety from a person who does not work? And all of this is a legacy of our history which still stalks the present. Apartheid was designed to trap the black person in a cycle of poverty and white people would be propelled into a perpetual gift of prosperity."

The protests succeeded, with president Zuma announcing a zero per cent increase in fees during 2016. However, many protesters remained on the streets, asking for free tuition.

UK anti-austerity marches

Several UK anti-austerity marches took place in June this year in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. London’s march brought together a crowd of 250,000 – a mix of students, teachers, healthcare and social workers, public sector workers and political activists. Caroline Lucas of the Green Party said, to applause in Parliament Square, “It wasn’t nurses and teachers and firefighters who were recklessly gambling on international markets. And so we should stop the policies that are making them pay for a crisis that wasn’t of their making.” Leah, a 23-year-old receptionist from Norfolk, added: “My brother is autistic and has other health problems, and cuts to the healthcare system make his situation really dire. Hospitals and schools can’t cope, so we’re more and more on our own. Austerity is scary for families like mine.”