Social movements are coordinated, persistent, and group actions that advance the interests of group members. They attack the legitimacy of accepted beliefs or practices, undermine the authority of governing bodies or other social groupings, and promote political change. Since social movements are the primary means through which common people engage in politics, they are frequently referred to as a “grassroots” form of political mobilisation.
Social scientists like Powell, Haas and Stack, Inglehart, and Gurr all show that economic change, whether in the form of growth, level of development, or structural imbalances in the economy, explains for some variation in protest activity. Additionally, they all demonstrate how social heterogeneity, such as ethnic dispersion or the mobilisation of communal groups, plays a significant role in explaining political protest.
In ‘Modernization and Postmodernization’, Inglehart has argued that as countries develop, there will be an overall shift in the value orientations of individuals and that these will be less concerned with the provision of immediate goods and resources (jobs, money, cars, mass consumption) and more concerned with lifestyle issues (clean environment, social justice, peace, and human rights). The former set of values he calls ‘materialist’ and the latter set of values he calls ‘post-materialist’.
As a dependent variable, postmaterialism is seen to be a symptom of economic modernization. For example, all modern and developed countries ought to exhibit a high percentage of individuals that adhere more closely to the core set of post-materialist values. As an independent variable, it is used to explain differences in the individual proclivity to carry out different forms of political action. For example, so-called post-materialists ought to be more likely to support the political activities of those social movements that issue demands for peace, equality, justice, and the protection of the environment than for those movements that make demands concerning job security and law and order.
Movements for Democracy
In many developing countries, social movements are concerned with the basic need to fight authoritarianism itself. In fact, authoritarianism can be considered ‘cause of the causes’ for social movements.
A prominent example of a protest movement to challenge an authoritarian regime is the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong. After the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) made a decision regarding suggested changes to the Hong Kong electoral system, protests, often known as the “Umbrella Movement,” started. The decision was viewed as being extremely restrictive and akin to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pre-screening of candidates for the position of Hong Kong’s chief executive. Similar rallies were organised in Hong Kong in 2019 against proposals to permit extradition to the Chinese mainland, as campaigners feared this would undermine judicial independence and put dissidents in danger.
In Thailand, similar pro-democracy protests started in 2020 against the monarchy and its lèse-majesté law that prohibits any type of criticism of the monarchy. The protesters use tags like “Harry Potter vs. He Who Must Not Be Named.” Or the three-finger salute from the ‘Hunger Games’ movie. The protests characteristics was its youth and digitalization of the movement.
Another interesting and uniquely digital form of protest movement can be seen as the ‘Milk-tea alliance’, which arose from a meme and is emblematic of the frustration many young people feel toward Beijing’s grating assertiveness in the region. Drawing from the protest movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and neighbouring Thailand, youth activists in Myanmar have leveraged their intimate knowledge of digital tools to protest authoritarianism.
Over the past decade, there has been a growth in digital activism throughout Southeast Asia, with a new generation of demonstrators using social media and popular symbols to gain attention internationally and support for their concerns. The digital footprint of the Milk Tea Alliance in the area ensures that these protests will not be quickly forgotten, despite the fact that the governments they are fighting against have also utilised these same tools to stifle free speech and protest activities.
The Materialist Movements
Recently, the Sri Lankan economy was in a dire situation; President Gotabaya Rajapaksha had to flee the country and people were posting selfies from his bathroom. In 2022, Unprecedented shortages of food and fuel along with record inflation and blackouts have inflicted widespread misery in Sri Lanka’s most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948. In India, the long farmers’ protest against the the three new market-friendly laws was a major movement that can be seen as an instance of movements directing and shaping laws.
In many African countries movements for better law and governance could be seen. And very much like any 21st-century protests, the movements were recognized by their hashtags. For instance, ‘#congoisbleeding’ a movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo demanded action against the exploitation of Congolese people and resources, especially cobalt and coltan by foreign companies whereas they promoted the rebel group from the neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda who make the country unsafe for its own people.
In Anglo, the youth came to the streets against bad governance and police brutality. The movement was named ‘#VidasAngolaNasImportam’. The main demand of the protest at the start was that local government elections, which were postponed as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, finally hold. The protest then grew into an organized call for good governance.
Gender and sexuality
With the developing economy, women are asserting their space and dignity in developing countries. Iran recently saw a huge social movement against the moral policing of the theocratic state which killed a girl. In Pakistan, women carry out the ‘Aurat March’ on every 8th of March to mark International Women’s Day.
In South Africa, a campaign called ‘#AmINext’ started in 2019 when a nineteen years old girl was murdered and raped. The campaign is inspired by a campaign of the same name in Canada to raise attention to the high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The # MeToo movement which started in the western developed countries has reached the Global South where women are using the digital space to narrate their horrors and to show solidarity to the other women.
Further, #MeToo isn’t solely associated with sexual harassment and assault in Asia. A broader feminist rallying cry has emerged as women in the area channel their fury into action. Women in Thailand expressed their frustration at being slut-shamed with the hashtag #DontTellMeHowToDress, while in the Philippines, women flooded social media and the streets in protest against President Rodrigo Duterte’s sexist remarks under the hashtag #BabaeAko (I Am Woman). In Japan, #WithYou has been used to show solidarity with survivors of workplace harassment.
Similarly, conversation and acceptance for LGBTQ rights have risen in developing countries and the celebration of pride march is a common phenomenon.
Environment and Indigenous Rights Movements
Environmental movements are a whole amalgamation of a fight against coloniality, corporations and authoritarianism. The most popular movement related to environmental protection in the West is the ‘Anti-Fracking’ movement. This movement has been adopted by the global south, especially Latin America and was noted in its fierce move in Argentina. The extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as ‘fracking’. With the discovery of shale oil in the Filo Morado Well in Mendoza in 2014 and the subsequent discovery of shale gas in the Neuquén basin in Northern Patagonia in 2010, Argentina now has some of the greatest undiscovered oil and gas reserves in the world. Regionally, the rise of the anti-fracking movements in Argentina is a good example of the broader expansion of environmental mobilisation across Latin America over the past two decades in reaction to the expansion of extractive operations.
One of the most climate-vulnerable nations, the Philippines, had protests, and in 2021, as part of a global youth climate action, a monster effigy of Rodrigo Duterte was carried around the nation’s capital, Manila. One of many rallies held across the nation in favour of the international Fridays for Future movement’s global climate strike drew about a hundred young people wearing masks during the pandemic.
In various countries, indigenous people’s movement is directly linked to environmental movements. In Brazil, the National Indigenous movement organises ‘Acampamento Terra Livre’ or Free Land Encampment’ rallies annually. The rally keeps getting larger each year with more people realizing the importance of indigenous rights.
We can observe civil society initiatives for environmental conservation in India as well. The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) decision to permit North-Eastern Coal Fields (NEC) to conduct opencast mining in 98.59 hectares of the Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2020 sparked the start of the ‘Save Dehing-Patkai movement’. Similar to this, the ‘Save Aarey’ protests started in 2019 when the Bombay High Court rejected various petitions challenging the destruction of the Aarey Colony for the Metro 3 car-shed of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRLC).
Social Movements are an important constituent of a healthy democracy. A democratic state does not restrain the people’s voice and lets them come to the street to convey their grudges.
The movements in recent times are unique because of the digital space that gives a platform to many people who were marginalized till now. Although, digital space is not totally equal it at least gives a safe space for people to come forward like in the case of the MeToo movement. In the digital space, it is also easy to build solidarity like the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’.
But we can also see that Inglehart’s differentiation has blurred out a lot. Some issues are global now like; climate change and the awareness regarding gender justice and are no longer confined to the Western ‘developed world’.
The movements that are emerging in the Asia-Pacific area are a result of both historical and contemporary movements as well as geopolitical currents. Citizens desire to leave oppression and violence behind and create a “new normal” where people’s rights are valued assets, that are preserved and promoted by all.