21st Century Youth-Led Uprisings by Gayle Kimball
21st Century Youth-Led Uprisings
Note: *indicates the protests including an ongoing tent city in a city square. Underline indicates a country with prominent women initiators. Youth started these rebellions but were joined by masses of people of different ages and backgrounds. In some cases, youth includes people in their early 30s. See photos of uprisings.[i]
Serbia: 2000. President Slobodan Milošević was ousted by a group called Otpor (Resistance). The rebels provided a model for later uprisings, including Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and Egypt.
Philippines: 2001. People Power II protests led by university students ousted President Joseph Estrada who was accused of corruption.
Malaysia: July 2001-2015: The “freedom generation” led the Bersih (means clean) campaign for democracy using social media and mobile phones, building on Bersih 2.0 in 2007, and followed by Bersih 3.0 in 2012 and Bersih 4.0 in 2015. Demonstrators wearing yellow T-shirts called for an end to “money politics,” united various ethnic groups chanting, “We are the Children of Malaysia” (Kita Anak Malaysia). As usual, police used excessive force against the crowds, which attracted more supporters. In 2013, the opposition won the popular vote by advocating government transparency. Similar to other global youth protests, Malaysian activists believed in non-violence, humor, generations working together and use of social media.[ii]
Georgia: 2003. Kmara (Enough) protests against rigged elections led to the resignation of President Edward Shevardnadze in the Rose Revolution. Youth accomplished this by building on earlier organizing against the corrupt education system in 2000 and by learning from Otpor.
*Ukraine: 2004, Pora (It’s Time). Thousands of young protesters organized against rigged elections in the Orange Revolution. Young people from other former Soviet countries came to observe how to make a “Color Revolution.”
Zimbabwe: 2004. Sokwanele (enough!). Youth protesters distributed CDs and condoms with Bob Marley lyrics on them, painted graffiti, and continued campaigning against President Mugabe until the present.[iii] Their focus is on fair elections, “Campaigning non-violently for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe.”
*Lebanon: 2005. Cedar Revolution protesters blamed Syrians for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14 and protested the 15,000 Syrian troops stationed in their country. Well-connected and media savvy young people organized large demonstrations resulting in the withdrawal of Syrian troops, the resignation of the government, and the first free parliamentary elections since 1972 (see photos).[iv]
Chile, 2006-2016. Starting in 2006, the Penguin Revolution mobilized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to protest privatization of the education system, with another wave in 2011 that continued to the present.
Venezuela: 2007. The catalyst for student organizing occurred when the government shut down their favorite TV station, a voice of opposition to the government. Their demonstrations in turn shut down the city but the station wasn’t reopened. Next, students mobilized for a “no” vote against Hugo Chavez’ 44-pages of 69 constitutional amendments that would have permitted him to be president for life and enlarge his powers. They defeated his proposals.
Burma/Myanmar: 2007. In the Saffron Revolution, students and thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns organized non-violent resistance against military rule. A 24-year-old Burmese monk named Ashin Kovida started the Saffron Revolution. He saw a clandestine film Bringing Down a Dictator about Otpor’s success in Serbia. Ruling General Thein Sein gave up his military rank to become civilian president in 2011. Famous democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from almost 15 years of house arrest in 2010 and was elected to parliament in 2012. Some argue that her campaign was funded by the US State Department, similar to other Color Revolutions.[v]
Moldova: 2009. Natalia Morar, a 25-year-old journalist, organized a protest against rigged elections that attracted 20,000 people to storm the parliament building in the first Twitter Revolution.
Iran: 2009. The Green Movement protested rigged presidential elections but didn’t succeed in removing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (documented in the 2012 film The Green Wave). A common slogan was, “Where is My Vote?” The regime said the uprising was instigated by the US, UK and Israel. Many of the activists and journalists are still in jail. The government monitored social media use, indicating that it is a resource for oppressors as well as rebels.
Portugal: 2010-2011. “Referred to as “A Generation in Trouble,” and a “Desperate Generation,” young people organized protests against austerity cuts, inspiring later European protests. Portugal’s public debt was equal to 90% of its GDP, leading to budget cuts in 2010. Austerity measures didn’t solve the problem so a bailout was agreed upon with more budget cuts. Youth wrote their “Manifesto of a Generation in Trouble. “In March 2011 about 300,000 protesters demonstrated on the streets in the 12 March Movement.
*United Kingdom: 2010-2011. University students organized about 50 campus occupations to protest tuition increases and other austerity measures.
In August 2011 riots started after a young black man was shot by police and protests against racism spread throughout England. Occupy London began on October 15 at St. Paul’s Cathedral to protest economic inequality, lasting until the police removed the tents in February 2012 (see video[vi]).
Tunisia: In the Jasmine Revolution, President Ben Ali resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia after a fruit vender set himself on fire to protest police corruption. The first democratic elections were won by the Islamist Ennahda Party. Party heads resigned in 2013 so new elections could be held, fearful of incurring the same fate as the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (photos online).[vii] Tunisia is the success story of the Arab Spring revolts that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Yemen, Syria, etc., discussed fully in my Global Youth Uprisings.
*Egypt: The revolution in Tahrir Square began on January 25. President Hosni Mubarak resigned only 18 days later. In July 2013, after a year in office, the first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi was ousted in a military coup backed by large demonstrations due to his attempts to abrogate power and Islamize the government with the Muslim Brotherhood. The military retained power through the election of General Sisi as president in 2014. He outlawed freedom of speech and assembly and jailed youth demonstrators, called worse than Mubarak.
*Yemen: In January demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh were led by a woman named Tawakkol Karman. Saleh resigned in November but manipulated behind the scenes. Elections were held in February 2014 but religious factions divided the country, led by Shia Houthtis rebels. They began as the “Believing Youth” in 1992 by organizing school clubs and summer camps. Saleh and the Iranians supported the Houthtis, while the Saudis entered the war against them in favor of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in 2015, joined by US support. Much civilian damage and loss of life resulted from Saudi bombing and civil war. Children who survived lost out on their schooling.
*Oman: January 17-April. Protesters demanded lower costs of living, salary increases, end to corruption, and more free speech. Sultan Qaboos responded by raising the minimum wage, changing cabinet positions, and with new government jobs and stipends for students at the Higher College of Technology. Separate tents for women and men were put in front of the legislature in demonstrators camped for three days in Sohar’s main square. Slogans were included in foreign languages for the media. A Facebook page was titled “March 2 Uprising for Dignity and Freedom.”
Libya:. Uprisings began on February 15 after security forces opened fire on a protest in Benghazi. Demonstrators chanted, “No God but Allah, Muammar is the enemy of Allah” and “Down, down to corruption and to the corrupt.” Muammar Qaddafi was killed in August while hiding in a drainpipe. In July 2012 elections a secular party won over the party aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, but chaos continued with competing militias of mostly young men causing Libya to be a failed state and haven for ISIS terrorists.
Bahrain: Protests began on February 17 against the royal family’s monopoly on the economy and government. Sunni King Hamad brought in Saudi Sunni troops against the majority Shia population. Angry Shia youth protested but dissent was stifled and the government tore down the Pearl Roundabout main demonstration site.
Morocco: On February 20, demonstrators took to the streets to limit some of the powers of the monarchy. What was called the February 20th movement was initiated by Amina Boughalbi, a 20-year-old journalism student, similar to Asmaa Mahfouz’ call for protest in Tahrir Square in Egypt the previous month. They used horizontal rather than hierarchical organizing and shared roles for men and women. The youth-led February 20 Movement wanted a constitutional monarchy. The king offered reforms including giving up his claims of divine rights to rule and nominating a prime minister from the largest party in parliament but not a constitutional monarchy. Moderate Islamists won the November elections. The protests opened up free speech to criticize the government.
Mauritania: Youth led the February 25 Movement to protest poverty and corruption, posting on Facebook. [viii]It followed the January 25 “Day of Anger” organized by students at the Advanced Institute for Islamic Studies and Research to protest the closure of their school.
Syria: In March youth (ages 10 to 15) wrote the slogan of the Arab Spring, “The people want the regime to fall” on a wall in Daraa in southern Syria. Fifteen of them were jailed and tortured. Protests began to demand the release of political prisoners that month. The ongoing civil war between Muslim sects and President Bashar Assad displaced about half of Syrians from their homes as Russians and Americans got involved on opposite sides in a bombing campaign.
*Spain: Beginning in May, the 15-M movement of indignados started in Madrid and swept around the country to protest the 50% youth unemployment rate and austerity measures. Protesters occupied the Puerta del Sol until June, and then spread out in neighborhood assemblies. Austerity measures continued under a conservative government, opposed by new Indignado-inspired political parties like Podemos.
*Portugal: In May, inspired by the Spanish Indignados, the “precarious generation” protested unemployment and high cost of living for 15 days, organized as 15O. They chanted “Spain! Greece! Ireland! Portugal! Our struggle is international!”
*Greece: On May 25, “The Squares,” the Direct Democracy Now! movement, was sparked by the Spanish protests. Suffering from the most severe austerity cuts, the aganaktismenoi (indignants) occupied Syntagma Square until August. General strikes brought out the largest crowds in June.
*Malaysia: 2011-2015. On July 30, inspired by the Spanish protests, Occupy Dataran was held every Saturday night in Kuala Lumpur from 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Like other Occupy groups, they held large assemblies communicating with hand signals and aimed to create real democracy, as stated on their Facebook page. The movement spread to other cities and continued in the following years with students in the vanguard. On New Year’s Eve, 2012, hundreds of protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks held a “V For Freedom” protest against restriction on protest marches in the capital. In April 2012, more than 300 students set up tents in the square to call for free university education and ending the student loan program. In May 2014, activists occupied the square to protest a new Goods and Services Tax that increased the cost of living. In 2015, students in yellow shirts and some wearing the Guy Fawkes masks demonstrated for the prime minister to resign due to corruption charges.
*Israel: A September tent occupation of Tel Aviv’s ritzy Rothschild Boulevard demanded social justice. It was triggered by the high cost of housing and high taxes for the middle class. Daphni Leef, 25, was tired of high rents, so she used to Facebook to ask other young people to join her on the streets. Similar to other initiators, she was surprised by the hundreds of thousands who joined her in Tel Aviv and then in other cities across the country. The national student association joined in, along with other youth movements. They avoided the elephant in the room, the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis for land. Conservatives remained in power and property costs continued to rise.
Oman:. In the summer youth groups demanded the resignation of the prime minister, a nephew of the Emir. He was replaced in November.
*US: In September, the Occupy Wall Street protests began in the financial district of Manhattan. The call to occupy was initiated by the Canadian magazine Adbusters and Egyptian leaders came to encourage them in an international effort. Occupy sites spread to cities across the US and the world, with the most publicity given to New York City and Oakland because of police violence. The Guardian listed and mapped 746 Occupy sites around the world in 2011.[ix] The sites cluster in North America and Europe.
Italy: On October 7, the national student union called a national strike, putting up tents in a square in Bologna. They were referred to as Indignados. On October 12 student and other groups protested in front of the national bank in Rome. On October 15 they marched on the day of global Occupy demonstrations initiated by Spanish rebels. Italian students weren’t able to camp in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni because several hundred Black Bloc demonstrators (an anarchist group known for wearing black hoodies and throwing rocks in various countries) initiated a violent riot there and students lacked effective organization.
Canada: In February’s Maple Spring, in the casseroles (banging pots and pans) protest movement, Quebec students voted to walkout to protest tuition hikes. The strike lasted for 100 days (photos and video online).[x] Martine Desjardins chaired the largest student group in Quebec, the Student University Federation of Quebec from 2012 to 2013. She also served as a political commentator and columnist, and ran for provincial office in 2014 but lost.
Later in the year Idle No More was started by three indigenous women and a non-native woman to protest proposed changes in environmental protection laws. They drew from their culture doing round dances to gather support for their movement. In January 2013, six young indigenous men walked for two months and 1,600 kilometers to parliament. They called it the Journey of Nishiyuu (human beings) for equal rights for all the reserves. Others joined them along the way. The movement was replicated by other occupied indigenous people around the world, including those in Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, and the US.
Mexico: In May, Mexican students in Yo Soy 132 demonstrated against media bias in the upcoming presidential elections. They called for fair elections and spoke against corruption in the narco state and neoliberal policies. Large protests occurred in 2014 after 43 normal school students disappeared. Some accused the PRI government of involvement in their disappearance.
Hong Kong: In May, secondary students formed an activist group called Scholarism to protest the mainland’s efforts to impose patriotic education in schools. They led a sit in and a hunger strike in front of government offices, a precedent for their demonstrations in 2014.
*Turkey: May 2013. The occupation of Gezi Park by environmentalists and critics of the prime minister started as a protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plan to cover the rare urban green space with commercial buildings, and expanded to protest his increasingly autocratic attempts to instill Islamic values. Gezi remained green but President Erdoğan continued with building projects that demolished other green spaces and increased authoritarian rule and attacks on Kurdish villages.
*Brazil: Youth-led protests against fare increases for public transportation in June expanded to protests against government spending on world athletic events rather than for social programs and against corruption. The fare increases were rescinded in São Paulo.
*Ukraine: 2013-2014. Protesters occupied Independence Square for three months to protest the president’s delay in aligning with the European Union. President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014, leaving behind a bankrupt country. Protesters in the western part of the country were angry about his reneging on an alliance with the European Union, under Russian pressure, and government corruption. Civil war broke out in Eastern Ukraine led by pro-Russian rebels.
Bosnia: The Bosnian Spring occurred in February with demonstrators aiming to overthrow the corrupt government and to protest unemployment caused by privatization in one of Europe’s poorest and most divided countries. Violent riots took place to protest unemployment (over half of the youth were unemployed) and lasted for several months with some youth burning government buildings. Protesters went on to organize assemblies in about 24 cities led by intellectuals.[xi] Prime Minister, Nermin Niksic called youth protesters hooligans, similar to Turkey’s prime minister. Activists organized an independent trade union called Solidarity (Solidarnost) and the Movement for Social Justice to create direct democracy, but lacked large enough membership to make much change.
*Venezuela: In February, student protests at the University of the Andes in San Cristóbal spread around the country protesting police detention of students. Middle-class neighborhoods in Caracas protested the high inflation rate, shortage of basic goods like flour, and high crime rate. Opposition leaders were jailed. They wanted socialist President Nicolas Maduro to resign. The protests continued for months, with students camping in three plazas in the capital and in front of the United Nations office. The opposition aimed to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.
*Taiwan: Students occupied the legislative building in March and April to protest a trade agreement with China. The Sunflower Revolution protesters carried banners stating, “If we don’t rise up today, we won’t be able to rise up tomorrow,” “Save democracy,” “Free Taiwan,” and “We will let the world know you suck [President Ma Ying-jeou].” Their nationalism contributed to the election of a nationalist woman president in 2016.
*Hong Kong: In June and September to December, a movement for democracy organized an unofficial referendum to give voters the right to choose their leaders without Beijing’s vetting the nominees, resulting in the largest demonstration in a decade. Occupy Central with Love and Peace was led by professors and students from various universities. Student organizations including Scholarism and The Hong Kong Federation of Students organized an overnight sit-in after the march until police removed them. They used familiar slogans such as, “power to the people” from the 1960s and “the people want….” used in the Arab Spring. A student leader explained, “Students hold the key to future” and asked, “If students don’t stand on the front line of democracy, who else can?” In September, the Umbrella Revolution used umbrellas to protect from police tear gas attacks, hence their symbol of yellow umbrellas. Police cleared out the occupations on December 15.
Thousands of protesters protested Beijing’s November 2016 ruling to prevent two pro-independence legislators from taking their seats. They revived the use of yellow umbrellas. Some frustrated with lack of results from previous protests threw bricks.
*United States: 2014-2016. Black Lives Matter protests against police violence against young black people started in Florida when George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of black teen Trayvon Martin. Dream Defenders occupied the Florida state government during July to protest. Protests ignited next in Ferguson, Missouri, then New York City, and Baltimore when black men died at the hands of police in 2015. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was popularized by a woman activist in Oakland. Other women, many of whom identified as queer, organized marches and organizations in various cities, typical of the more inclusive leadership of youth organizing.
*North Dakota, United States: Standing Rock Sioux “water protector” Native American and allies occupied camps to protest an oil pipeline in North Dakota. Indigenous Youth Council, youth runners, youth who occupied Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters were joined by protesters such as actor Shailene Woodley.
[ii] John Postill, “A Critical History of Internet Activism and Social Protest in Malaysia, 1990-2011,” Asiascape: Digital Asia, Vol. 1-2, 2014, pp. 78-103.
[v] Tony Cartalucci,”Myanmar: Meet Aung San Suu Kyi’s Saffron Mobs,” New Eastern Outlook, May 3, 2015.
[xi] Chiara Milan, “New Social Movements Arise In Bosnia Herzegovina,” ROAR Magazine, December 18, 2014.
Lana Pasic, “Who is Behind Bosia’s Riots,” Al Jazeera, February 10, 2014.