The Use of Nonviolent Action in Response to Tragedies

by Noah Simon | May 26, 2014

Nigerian Women March Against Boko Haram Violence

Nigerian Women March Against Boko Haram Violence (Wikimedia Commons)

Following several national disasters and tragedies in recent months, citizens have used nonviolent action to convey an array of grievances towards governments. Many have staged demonstrations, sit-ins, marches, and strikes to denounce government inaction, corruption, and lack of transparency. Often times, the public responses that follow these tragedies serve as platforms for citizens to promote and advance existing struggles against governments.

Turks Gather in the Wake of the Soma Mine Accident

Public demonstrations were organized immediately after a mine explosion in western Turkey that killed 301 people on May 13.

Students planned a march to the Energy Ministry in Ankara to denounce the Soma mine disaster on May 14. However, police fired tear gas and water cannons at a group of 800 students, preventing them from leaving their campus. A sit-in was also held in the garden of the Soma Coal mining company.

In a Taksim metro stop, a group of youth lay on the ground to symbolize the dead.

On May 14, an angry crowd heckled and booed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to Soma. During this visit Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to Erdogan, kicked a protester who was being held down by two soldiers. The incident was photographed and made headlines around the world.

On May 15, several unions and organizations staged a one-day strike. Many union members believe that the privatization of the mining sector in Turkey led to dangerous working conditions, claiming that mining companies are prioritizing profits over workers’ safety.

A statement from Amnesty International said that accident could have been averted, and that Turkey was “playing with people’s lives” as it failed to adequately investigate past work-related accidents.

On May 21, workers and families staged a sit-in outside of the courthouse in Soma asking for an investigation into security measures at mining sites. For several days, production at some mines owned by Soma Coal Mining Company stopped. Some workers have now returned as they cannot endure further days without collecting paychecks.

Nigerians Reprimand Their Government After Kidnappings

Before the April kidnappings of over 300 of girls at a school in Chibok that drew immense media coverage, citizens in Nigeria were already demonstrating to raise awareness about violence carried out by Boko Haram. On March 6, women held a “mother of all protests” demonstration in Lagos, Abuja, and several other cities following a Boko Haram attack in Yobe.

A group called Women Arise, led by Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, an “activist and social crusader”, organized the demonstration.

Following the April 14 kidnappings, citizens and family members demonstrated daily, calling for greater government effort to return the girls safely.

Many protesters directed their anger at the government inaction after the kidnappings.

On May 4, Patience Jonathan, the First Lady of Nigeria allegedly ordered the arrest of two women who had organized demonstrations in Chibok. The women were released the following day, but the arrests have led to further government criticism and continued demonstrations.

On May 14, demonstrators marched in Lagos to mark the one-month anniversary since the girls were kidnapped.

While the search continues for the missing girls, demonstrations continue. On May 22, the Nigerian Union of Teachers closed schools across the country to allow teachers to participate in nationwide rallies.

South Korean Families Seek Justice After Sewol Ferry Sinking

On May 9, relatives of the passengers aboard a ferry that sank last month organized a sit-in outside of the president’s office in Seoul. Many parents held portraits of the children they lost in the disaster. Police blocked the demonstrators, preventing them from entering the presidential building. Over 200 were arrested for trying to reach the presidential office.

The relatives campaigned for justice to be brought for those responsible, as well as an explanation for what they believed were inexcusable delays during the initial rescue attempts.

President Park Guen-hye addressed some of these issues during an address on May 18. The president vowed to disband the Coast Guard, and instead use a different agency in an effort to carry out rescue operations more swiftly.

President Park also vowed to fight against poor safety standards that result from corrupt government and business regulations. Investigators highlighted this corruption culture as a cause of the disaster, citing that the Korean Shipping Association ruled the ferry to be safe despite the fact it was overloaded with cargo.

Families March to the Malaysian Embassy in Anger During the Search for Flight MH370

In China, families of the Malaysia airlines flight passengers organized demonstrations during the height of the search for the missing aircraft.

On March 25, the relatives of flight MH370 passengers marched in Beijing to the Malaysian embassy. They accused the Malaysian government of withholding information about the flight, and demanded proof that it crashed in the Indian Ocean.

Police stopped a group of buses transporting protesters, but the protesters got out and pushed their way through police lines. Protesters threw water bottles at the embassy and tried to storm the building. Dozens were holding banners demanding truth from the Malaysian government.

The BBC called it “a very rare street protest in Beijing”. The demonstration was particularly noteworthy because street demonstrations are illegal in China. However, the demonstration was carried out with impunity.

On May 20, Inmarsat, a global satellite communications company, published records of the missing flight. The company decided to release the information publicly after persistent pressure from the families of the MH370 passengers.