In light of the recent events that have sparked in Minneapolis and now all over the United States. It is important to review how rioting has changed history and how justice has been found by protesting.
First we can go back in time to the end of the 18th century, most specifically the French Revolution. Two whole decades of drought, poor harvests and diseases for the French. The people were tired of having to pay high taxes and have a poor quality of life. They demanded the feudal aristocracy to change. The French Revolution lasted 10 years and started with the famous storming of the Bastille, the state prison was attacked by an angry mob of people. The end of the revolution was when King Louis XVI was executed (1793) and Napoleon Bonaparte took power in 1799. The French Revolution resulted in getting power for the lower class and restricting the power of the monarchy. The people of France demanded justice and they got it.
Then we have the brave group of women who gave us the right to vote, the famous suffragettes. We, students, may have learned about them briefly in our history class but I feel that they deserve much more recognition for their immense courage. First there were the suffragists, they believed in peaceful and constitutional methods. They wrote letters to councils, they believed that by sympathy the Parliament would listen to them. Sadly, they lived in a sexist world and people did not listen.
However, the suffragettes believed in the motto “Deeds not words”. The suffragettes used more aggressive tactics to make people listen. Some examples of this were hunger strikes, breaking windows, handcuffing themselves to railings, among others. Many of these tactics led to the imprisonment of countless suffragettes, one of them was Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the women’s suffrage movement. However the suffragettes did not resist, when they were in prison they would go on hunger strikes and had to be force-fed by the prison staff. The parliament introduced the “Cat and Mouse” act which meant that the women who hunger-striked were temporarily released from prison so that they would not die.
Emily Davison walked in front of the King’s racehorse in 1913 and died. To this day it is still unclear if she was intending to commit suicide or if she was just trying to put the suffragette colours in the King’s horse. Her death sparked a lot of fury and support for the suffragettes. World War I changed a woman’s role in society because before the war women were supposed to stay at home and raise their children but now women were having dangerous jobs such as making weapons and munitions for the war.
In 1918, the UK Parliament approved the right to vote but only for some women, they had to be over 30 years old and possess their own property. This was still a massive breakthrough because it was the first big step in the right direction. In 1928, the Representation of the People Act was established in the UK and it gave the vote to all women over the age of 21 regardless of their property ownership. Nevertheless, there was still a very long way to go for women’s rights in other countries. It is undeniable that the suffragettes helped get women in the right direction with the help of their courageous and fearless actions.
Another group of people that have been demanding justice is the LGBTQ+ community. The Stonewall riots also known as the Stonewall uprising is a great example of how rioting has helped a community to assure its rights and get more attention. In the 1960’s it was very common for police to raid gay hangouts and arrest people for things like “non-gender appropriate clothing”. It was a very hard time for queer people, they couldn’t express themselves without being torn apart with hatred, violence and prejudice. On June 28, 1969 the New York City police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich village. This time the LGBTQ+ community had had enough and they started to form mobs outside the Stonewall Inn and protest against police violence. The police called for reinforcement and barricaded themselves inside the club. Meanwhile more than 400 people were protesting outside, two of whom were Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two trans women activists. Then the bar was set on fire. Firefighters and police in riot gear started to arrive at the bar. Fortunately, the firefighters were able to evacuate the people inside and put out the fire. The riots did not stop that night, they took place for the next five days. The riots were described as the uprising for the LGBTQ+ community. Stonewall became a symbol of unity and resistance and is celebrated at the annual pride parades. The Stonewall riots were a turning point for the LGBTQ+ community because they fought back and resisted against discriminatory treatment from the police.
The above mentioned riots may have been encouraged because of the desperation of people seeking for equality and justice. Our political leaders and systems of justice have the challenge ahead of doing something to reach the soul desire justice for everyone.
This will be a turning point for political leaders to take action in order to change the current situation of racism and discrimination. Martin Luther King once said “riots are the voices of the unheard”.