Seven protests that changed history

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ll have heard the Global Climate Strike took place on Friday. The team joined four million people across the world, who all understand we have a limited amount of time to deal with the climate crisis and wanted to ask three simple of governments and big corporations:

  1. No new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani mine.
  2. 100% renewable energy generation & exports by 2030.
  3. Fund a just transition & job creation for all fossil-fuel workers & communities.


Since Friday, I’ve been having some interesting discussions about the Global Climate Strike and protests in general, with many asking why I got involved, what the point of protesting was/is and what difference it’s going to make. I figured other people in the Collective are probably fielding similar questions, so I decided to share my thoughts and research, right here.

Firstly, let’s not forget where this all started

Just over a year ago in August 2018, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg started striking from school every Friday to demand climate action from world leaders. The simple, peaceful actions of this one, young individual resonated so deeply, it garnered worldwide media attention (no mean feat!), and inspired millions of children around the world to take action too, because this is, after all, about their future.

Children should be seen and not heard

On Friday 20 September 2019, children all over the world took time off school to protest, many with the full support of their parents and education providers. A few Australian politicians condemned this action, saying it was disrespectful to miss a day in school, going so far as saying “everything you are told (about climate change) is a lie”, “there is no link between climate change and drought, polar bears are increasing in number,” and “today’s generation is safer from extreme weather than at any time in human history”.

Interesting points of view there, Craig Kelly.

I mean, apart from the fact Australia alone was subjected to devastating bush fires, floods, snowstorms and drought in neighbouring states at the same time earlier this year, my point of view is that there are many, many arguments for children attending the strike, but for the sake of time, I’ll pick out my top five:

  1. Having attended the strike myself (which I’m assuming you did not, Craig Kelly?), I was astounded at the level of aptitude shown by the children who organised it (let’s not forget, this was a school strike for climate change). From event management skills, to social media marketing, to public speaking, managing workshops, organising catering and entertainment, public relations, video production, traffic management… the list goes on. The strike I attended with 4,000 others was one of the most organised events I have ever been to. And I have worked in PR & marketing for over a decade, I’ve been to a LOT of events.
  2. Why on earth would climate scientists (and teachers, for that matter) lie about climate change? They do not profit from what is being referred to as ‘propaganda’. They do not take any joy in communicating the scientific facts (backed by decades of research) to scare people. By their own admission, they are quite a conservative group, they are not here for entertainment value, they simply deliver the facts. And the facts are this: Yes, the climate has changed before, but there is a tonne of irrefutable evidence that the changes we are seeing now are down to human activity. 20 of the warmest years in history have occurred in the last 22 years. Fact.
  3. Climate change and global warming is part of the curriculum. It has been for decades. I learnt it in school and that was a while ago now. End of.
  4. On Friday’s strike, the children organising school strikes invited adults to join. And we did. And many businesses (including ours) actively encouraged their employees to get involved. Maybe because we learned about the threat of climate change in school too (see point 3) and want something finally done about it (and can only apologise to the children of today that we didn’t take stronger action sooner).
  5. Activism works. Every time 3.5% of any population has mobilised in activism, the change happened (Source: Sarah Wilson, who has spent the past few months interviewing leading climate scientists and psychologists around the world). Children aren’t of voting age; this is their way of making a difference and having a voice and we say – more power to them. They have our support wholeheartedly.

Change has begun, but it needs to happen faster

We have less than 17 months to deal with the climate crisis, or the damage will be irreversible. As climate scientist Sarah Kirkpatrick said on social media:

“No, the world won’t end in 20 years. But our children will inherit a world in much poorer condition than what we inherited.”

Change is already happening.

Earlier this year, Britain went one week without coal power for the first time since 1882. In 2008, coal produced 31 per cent of the country’s electricity. At the end of last year, it was just 5.7 per cent.

The UK’s largest onshore wind farm generated enough power to provide almost 90 per cent of the total annual electricity consumed by households and businesses in Scotland, saving over 5 million tonnes of carbon emissions (when compared to generation from fossil fuels) and offsetting enough carbon dioxide to mitigate two days’ worth of every domestic flight to and from Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Back home here in Australia, a new report from scientists working under the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub found Australia could run entirely on renewable electricity. In fact, it could produce double what it needs, creating a massive green export industry by 2050 – with the right policy support. Simply put by Dylan McConnell, a researcher with the University of Melbourne and one of the report’s authors:

“(Australia’s) still got an energy competitive advantage, but instead of coal and gas, it’s wind and solar and lots of space”.

Fossil fuels are finite. Fact. No matter what, they will run out. Whether or not you “believe” in climate change (which, by the way, is scientific fact and not opinion), the change needs to happen NOW.

Common complaints from keyboard warriors

The most common issues I’ve seen people take with Friday’s protests include ‘I bet you all drove to get there’ or ‘what good does standing in a field/group/blocking the traffic do? Protest don’t change anything’.

Now, I can’t comment on how four million people all got to their local Climate Strike. (Although, considering protests took place in most cities around the globe, I’m sure a lot walked or used public transport and I doubt there was much flying involved.) What I can comment on, historically, is the power of people protesting. So, here goes…

Seven protests that changed history


One of the earliest documented political protests in America saw colonists dump 342 chests of tea, imported by the British East India Company, into the harbour, to protest the British “taxation without representation”. This was the first major act of defiance to British rule over the colonists.

So, what changed? This act of protest sparked the American Revolution, which ultimately ended in America’s freedom from British rule.


This violent protest saw Parisian craftsmen and store owners attack the Bastille, a fortress built in the late 1300s to protect Paris during the Hundred Years’ War. At the time, it was used mostly as a state prison by King Louis XVI and although it actually only held seven prisoners, it had become a symbol of the monarchy’s dictatorial rule. The people wanted more of a say in government. They were worried the King was preparing the French army for an attack and wanted to arm themselves. When the prison governor refused to comply, the people charged and, after a violent battle, took hold of the building. After surrendering, the military leader Governor de Launay, was beheaded by the people, who put his head on a spike, and paraded it around the city of Paris.

So, what changed? The attack set off a series of events that saw King Louis XVI overthrown and the French Revolution commence. The success of the revolutionaries gave people throughout France the courage to rise up and fight against the nobles, who had ruled them for so long. France continues to celebrate Bastille Day on 14 July each year. (Note: we do not condone violence in any way shape or form. This is simply a historic example of people power. Peaceful protests are just as powerful, read on…)


Marking the first major national efforts towards women’s suffrage (the right to vote), Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association organised a massive parade in Washington D.C on 3 March 1913, just one day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. 8,000 marchers, including nine bands, four mounted brigades, 20 floats and an allegorical performance featuring German actress Hedwig Reicher, paraded along Pennsylvania Avenue and attracted thousands of spectators, mostly men who were in town for the inauguration. 100 marchers had to be hospitalised, due to assaults from these spectators, which attracted the attention of the press and led to congressional hearings.

So, what changed? Although it took another seven years to get through Congress, what started at this protest lead to the Nineteenth Amendment in 1930, which secured the vote for women. Hurrah!


Thousands followed Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, an Indian lawyer, politician, social activist and writer, as he walked from his religious retreat near Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea coast 240 miles away, to make salt from seawater. The march was in protest of British rule in India and the 1882 Salt Act, which prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, forcing them to buy it from British rulers instead. Gandhi saw defying the Salt Act as a simple way to break British law, non-violently.

So, what changed? The Salt March saw civil disobedience break out all across India, involving millions of people. Nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi himself, were arrested. In January 1931, Gandhi was released from prison and negotiated with British rulers to call off the civil disobedience in exchange for an equal negotiating role at a London conference on India’s future. India was finally granted its independence in 1947.


Perhaps one of the most famous protests in history, due to civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech. More than 200,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital on 28 August 1963, to protest over racism and inequalities faced by African Americans, a century after emancipation. Officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the historic gathering was covered by more than 3,000 members of the press.

So, what changed? Ongoing demonstrations continued to pressure political leaders to act. Following President Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson broke through the legislative stalemate in Congress. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were turning points in the struggle for civil rights. Together the two bills outlawed segregated public facilities and prohibited discriminatory practices in employment and voting. The success of the March on Washington proved the power of mass nonviolent demonstrations and inspired Americans fighting for equal rights and access to opportunities regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, or disabilities.


Triggered by the bombing of North Vietnam in 1964 and the introduction of combat troops in 1965, this movement gathered pace over the next decade, with hundreds of thousands of young people engaging in largely non-violent protests.

So, what changed? Students, government officials, labour unions, church groups and middle-class families increasingly opposed the war as it climaxed in 1968, forcing a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces. Anti-war activities, particularly large-scale resistance to military conscription, forced an end to U.S. combat operations in Vietnam and a suspension of the draft by January 1973. Students observed young Americans were legally old enough to fight and die but were not permitted to vote or drink alcohol. Such criticism led to the 26th Amendment, which granted suffrage to 18-year-olds.


The German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany), was officially formed in 1949 in the Soviet-occupied zone of post-Nazi Germany. Leipzig was the second-largest city in the newly born East Germany and life there was extremely difficult, with limited resources and freedom. From 1982, people began gathering at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig every Monday to pray for peace. These prayer sessions turned into a space to express not only concerns, but also to discuss solutions, and soon transformed into political protests. Peaceful protestors marched around the city centre, despite warnings from the feared secret police and thousands of armed riot police, to demand reform from the German Communist Party. The number of protesters in October peaked on the 30th with 300,000.

So, what changed? In a last attempt to maintain power, the entire government resigned to appease the people, but it was too little, too late. Two days later, as a result of a miscommunication, East Germans were permitted to pass freely through the Berlin Wall. That night, ecstatic crowds swarmed the wall. Some crossed freely into West Berlin, while others brought hammers and picks and began to chip away at the wall itself. To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War.

Protests are happening right now

It’s yet to be seen whether it will change history, but the Extinction Rebellion protests in London in May this year lead the national government to declare a climate emergency, and the public uproar over the inaction by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro on the Amazonian fires triggered enough media attention for international governments to put pressure on him to act (although let’s not stop on this one, the Amazon is still on fire).

People vs. power

Frustratingly, I’ve noticed that when we talk about how individuals can make small changes to their daily habits to protect the future of the planet, the opposing comment is that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of individuals, it should be the responsibility of governments and big corporations, they are the ones with the power and money.

Then when we talk about how we need to put pressure on the people in power (governments and big corporations) to make change, the opposing comments are that it’s the individual’s responsibility – if we didn’t buy the stuff, corporations would stop making it.

As frustrating as this is (because really, why don’t we all just stop passing the buck and arguing over who’s responsible, and just get the work done?), both points of view are actually right – they just need to work together, because we need to do BOTH.

“¿Porque no los dos?”

Here’s a fun analogy to sum this all up. Stay with me here…

My dentist told me when you get a brace to straighten your teeth, you then need to have a retainer for the rest of your life. This is because the brace fixes the initial problem (the crooked teeth), but teeth don’t stop moving once they are straight, so you need the retainer to keep them straight until the day you don’t care about straight teeth anymore.

Let’s apply this analogy to the climate crisis.

Governments are the orthodontist. They have the power to install the brace by changing policy, and by putting money into and creating jobs in renewable energy instead of fossil fuel industries.

Big corporations make the brace and they have the power to choose how that brace is made, which materials to use, what processes they will use to make it, how they look after and pay their workers – are all these things sustainable, ethical and good for the planet and the people in it?

That leaves us. The general public. We are the person wearing the brace. We had to go to the dentist to ask for it. We had to attend the appointment to have it installed. If we want to continue enjoying those straight pearly whites, we have a responsibility to brush, floss, mouth wash and wear our retainers every night.

Of course, it’s going to be a lot less painful if all three just work together as a Collective. And this time, I’m not talking about braces.

The GuardianABCIn Your PocketE&TSpiegelEurope for VisitorsWikipediaIn Your PocketUS History OrgNon Violent Conflict OrgInternational Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)National Museum of American HistoryHistory.comIMBDStanford UniversityThe AtlanticDuckstersBuzz WorthyHistory.comBritish Library
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Charli Ferrand

Charli wrote her first novel at the tender age of 9, then dabbled in the idea of becoming a professional ballerina for a few years, before returning to her love of writing, acquiring a BA (Hons) in Journalism, Film & Broadcast from Cardiff University in the UK. A three-month holiday in Australia turned into a 11 year residency, during which Charli cemented her career in PR & Marketing Communications working with some of the biggest brands in the world. She also gained her citizenship, discovered her passion for sustainability and eventually ended up coming full circle, combining her professional skills with her love of the planet and oceans into her role as Editor-in-Chief of Earth Collective. A trained journalist, experienced communications professional and qualified Mental Health First Aider, Charli has her finger on the pulse of the latest political and environmental developments around the world. You can find her writing about current affairs, political activism and mental health.

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