International Policy Digest

Anders Hellberg
Sponsored Content /02 May 2019

Student Protests and Their Role in Maintaining a Just Political Order

History has seen many strikes and student rebellions occupy a special place. It’s always fascinating to observe young people defend their rights, advocate for preserving peace or promote powers that improve people’s lives and wellbeing. Student strikes are highly symbolic and spectacular. They represent both disappointment with the current state of things and the hope for improvement.

The most recent student strikes that swept worldwide were the School strike for climate, also known as Youth for Climate, Youth Strike 4 Climate, and Fridays for Future. The strike was initiated by Swedish teen activist, Greta Thunberg, who decided not to attend classes in August 2018 until the Swedish parliament addressed the climate change problem that has led to droughts and wildfires in the country.

It so happened that the teen inspired similar strikes in other countries. Among them were Australia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Canada, the UK, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the US. Hordes of young people flooded the streets to alert the international community to the effects of desertification, salinization, water shortage, and other consequences of climate change. Notwithstanding the authorities’ call to focus on studying more and less on activism, students didn’t heed those admonishments. They must have known that PapersOwl, one of the biggest essay writing companies, was always there for them. Thus, presently, students have an opportunity to devote more time to activism, knowing that their homework will be taken care of.

Still, Youth for Climate was but the latest student strike that came under the spotlight of public attention. The history of student strikes dates back to the early days of medieval universities. The first official student strike was organized by Oxford students in 1209. Later, in 1229, students at the University of Paris walked out in protest to defend their rights. Still, student riots were not limited to the western hemisphere only. If you want to learn more about student protests that occurred in different corners of our planet, keep on reading.

Kent State Riots

It’s not a secret that by the early 1970s, Americans were split on their attitude towards the Vietnam War. Extremely dissatisfied with the US’s intervention into Vietnam and distraught over the numerous deaths of American soldiers, American citizens, students, in particular, decided to take action to stop unreasonable violence and bloodshed. To worsen the matters, the United States had invaded Cambodia, which led to more casualties and demoralized pacifists all over the country. On the first day of May, students from Kent State University joined the protests against the war. There were massive confrontations with police, which resulted in several injuries, and killings.

Shortly afterward, a state of emergency was declared, and the Ohio National Guard was dispatched. The guardsmen attempts to disperse the demonstrators resulted in the deaths of a total of 6 students and the wounding of 19. These tragedies gave rise to an unprecedented surge in antiwar activism across the US and ultimately resulted in the abolition of the selective service system and substantially accelerated the end of the Vietnam War.

Tiananmen Square Protests

Being the most progressive part of any society, students are usually the first to confront oppressive regimes and air their dissatisfaction with politicians. Chinese students are no exception. In the spring of 1989, thousands of students flooded Tiananmen Square in Beijing to voice their reluctance to comply with the laws, norms, and regulations imposed by the totalitarian communist government. The protestors thought their timing was just impeccable. After the death of the then communist leader Hu Yaobang, Beijing was believed to be more ready than ever before to establish a constructive dialogue with dissidents. More and more students from all over China joined the protests. Students didn’t attend classes in order to draw public attention to the existing problem. Protestors were determined to go the great lengths to prove their seriousness. Much to the chagrin and disappointment of the international community, the Chinese government didn’t plan to heed to demonstrators’ peaceful pleas and resorted to extreme measures. On June 4 of the same year, troops and police opened fire on demonstrators. No official data on the numbers of casualties has ever been released, according to rough estimates of western reporters covering the tragedy, there were several thousand killed and almost ten thousand sentenced to imprisonment for participating in the disorder. Such a brutal attack on democracy didn’t go unnoticed. In the wake of carnage, severe sanctions were imposed on the communist state for violating human rights and freedoms.

Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong

Twenty-five years after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, in 2014, thousands of students walked into the streets in Hong Kong in support of full democratic elections. Most participants of the civil disobedience campaign were wearing yellow ribbons which become synonymous with Hong Kong’s sit-down pro-democracy movement. Students demonstrated outside government headquarters and soon started occupying several major city intersections and arterial routes in Hong Kong. To smother what the Chinese and Hong Kong governments labeled as “illegal violation of the rule of law,” police used tear gas and pepper spray. The protestors, though, courageously withstood the attacks and repeatedly opened their umbrellas that served as impromptu shields. Thus, umbrellas were turned into a symbol of Hong Kong students’ struggle for democratic values and human rights and the observance of human rights. Numerous demonstrations and riots lasted for almost three months. Anti-government sentiments started to pull away from the brink, and riots gradually subsided by mid-December. Officially, demonstrators’ demands for universal suffrage were never satisfied. Still, the events that took place during Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution precipitated and gave rise to heated rhetoric from Hong Kong officials regarding reforms to the electoral system and assaults on individuals’ rights.

These are only several examples picked randomly from the history of student protests. It’s always difficult to stand up to officials and be consistent in defending one’s rights and liberties. Fortunately, students tend to react proactively to everything that stifles and oppresses human freedoms and rights and make an immense contribution to maintaining a just political order across the globe. So, maybe it’s high time governments started complying with the demands of the most progressive and promising section of society, the youth.

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