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It was the summer of 1989, and all eyes were on China’s unprecedented Tiananmen Square protests. Coupled with the impending downfall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, the event made it seem that the tide was finally taking a definitive turn against oppressive regimes across the globe.

But then China’s communist government cracked down, and the world watched in horror as as many as 2,600 people died at the hands of the Chinese police and military across the 400 plus cities that participated in the movement. The official Chinese death toll is 246.


One image emerged as an emblem of the struggle against repression: the “Tank Man.” A single man faces a line of tanks in front of the square, pitting brute force against a determined activist.

In a piece for the Los Angeles Times, Hu Jia, a protester who participated in the protest 25 years ago, told the paper that a freer society "will not be achieved if we just go online and leave our comments.… Final change has to go through street movements or square politics."

Below are some of the most iconic video clips and images from protest movements in recent history. Remember, blogging and tweeting might be fun, but the real stuff of consequence happens on the streets.

Tiananmen Square

South African Apartheid Protests

The South African policy of apartheid was a policy of racial segregation held by the National Party (NP) governments, the nation’s ruling party from 1948 to 1994. International attention was drawn to the policy after images of blacks killed during the Sharpeville Massacre (pictured below) were disseminated in 1960. Non-white political representation was abolished in 1970, along with citizenship rights, as the country was divided into “black homelands” for non-whites according to ethnic group, with the rest of the country controlled by a small minority of whites.


The U.S. and the U.K. notably supported the ruling party because of its anti-Communist position in the midst of the Cold War. In the 1980s, protests against apartheid erupted around the world, but it was only in 1990 that the country released Nelson Mandela, one of the policy’s fiercest opponents. At that point, the government began to dismantle the system, and Mandela was elected the nation’s first black president in 1994, bringing an end to the era.

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Boston Massacre

Known as the “Incident on King Street” by the British, the Boston Massacre helped set off a chain of events that would eventually birth a nation. British Army soldiers stationed in Boston, then-capital of the Province of Massachusetts, killed five civilians amid tensions between the British colonizers and rising independence sentiments from America subjects. Mixed-race runaway slave Crispus Attucks was famously the first martyr of the event.

There is a direct line between the incident and the American Revolution, which saw the first European colony of the New World fall to a popular rebellion.

Birmingham Civil Rights Protest of 1963

This was a turning point in the shameful history of institutional racism in the U.S. Blacks had been protesting for years against the American South’s policy of “separate but equal,” to little effect. In the case of Birmingham, the integration of a school was the main objective.


People around the world saw images of police responding to protesters with attack dogs and high-pressure water hoses. After the protests, the movement enjoyed more support both at home and abroad, as it entered into the homestretch leading to the Civil Right Act of 1964.

Arab Spring Uprisings of 2011

Protests quickly spread across the Arab world after young Tunisian vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17, 2010. He had been publicly slapped by a policewoman for selling vegetables without a license, and in protest of unemployment for Tunisia’s youth.


In the end, almost all of the countries in the region experienced some sort of unrest related to issues raised by Bouazizif. Ultimately, the Arab Spring led to regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt (pictured below) and Libya. The movement drastically changed the dynamics and the politics of the region.

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Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 was the only slave revolt in the history of the world that led to the founding of a state. You might be familiar with Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere in 2014, but in the late 1700s this was far from the case. The French colony was one of the richest New World colonies, producing huge amounts of coffee and sugar that were valuable commodities in Europe and North America.


Haitian independence changed the global dynamic of power, as Napoleonic France lost one of its major breadwinners, and issues of human rights and slavery came to the forefront of global intellectualism. "The freedom of the negroes, if recognised in St Domingue [as Haiti was then known] and legalised by France, would at all times be a rallying point for freedom-seekers of the New World," Napoleon said at the time.

Occupy Wall Street

In the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement that first swept the U.S. and then the whole world starting in 2011, this video footage of police casually pepper spraying students at UC Davis is easily one of the most iconic - and enraging - images.


Little immediately came from the disorganized movement, but it did increase awareness about income inequality in the U.S. — something that is still affecting political discourse to this day.

Buddhists in South Vietnam

In what has been dubbed as the “ultimate protest,” Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in Saigon to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph drew international attention, and later forced President John F. Kennedy to withdraw support from the regime.

The government fell to a military coup about five months after the incident.

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Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.