Interesting things can happen when people get together and speak truth to power. Sometimes, it takes millions in the streets to place a set of grievances on the agenda. But sometimes, the actions of just one person can have revolutionary consequences.
Here’s our list of this year’s most memorable protests and revolts. From Brazil’s Salad Revolution to Edward Snowden taking on the NSA, these acts of protest have shed light on some of the most important issues facing our world today.
Ukraine Rejects Russian Influence
For several weeks now, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the Ukraine, with protesters forming trench-like barricades around Kiev’s Independence Square.
Protests began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of an integration accord with the European Union, and instead sought to deepen commercial ties with Russia.
Many Ukrainians were hoping that democracy and human rights in their country would improve through closer integration with the EU. Now, with their hopes dashed, protesters are taking a firm stand against government corruption and Russian support for authoritarian leaders in the former Soviet Union. They also want Yanukovych to resign.
Snowden Takes on the NSA
By revealing to the world some of the ways the U.S. spies on other countries, Edward Snowden had a bigger impact than thousands of protesters could have had against the U.S. government.
Leaders around the world pushed back, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who canceled a visit to the United States and vowed that Brazil would create its own Internet system due to Snowden’s revelations.
The former NSA contractor’s plans to seek asylum in Latin American countries like Cuba, Ecuador or Bolivia have created diplomatic spats between the U.S. and these nations, as well as Russia, where Snowden is currently staying.
Watch for Snowden’s rebellion against the NSA to have more repercussions next year, especially since Congress might debate whether the agency’s espionage tactics are legal at all.
Turkey Protests Authoritarianism and Islamization
After police brutally evicted protesters from a park that was going to be turned into a shopping mall, millions headed to the streets in Turkey to express their discontent with that country’s increasingly authoritarian government.
Across the country, people staged protests in which they talked about withering freedom of speech, the islamization of secular institutions by the ruling party and economic inequalities.
Some political scientists believe that these protests could dampen the ruling party’s appetite for making constitutional changes that would give more power to Turkey’s president. In August 2014, Turkey’s president will be directly elected by voters for the first time.
Brazil Demands Better Services and Balks at World Cup Spending
These protests were nicknamed the Salad Revolt, or the Vinegar Movement, after a journalist was arrested in Sao Paulo for carrying vinegar in her purse (In case you didn’t know, vinegar helps to counter the effects of gases used by police to disperse protesters).
The protests began over a rise in bus and metro fares in Sao Paulo, and quickly exploded throughout the country among people concerned about the cost and quality of public services, and Brazil’s excessive spending in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.
The protests are over, but they’ve encouraged greater oversight of World Cup spending, and even forced officials to cancel a costly soccer expo in Rio this fall. Watch for protests to reignite when the eyes of the world are on Brazil next summer.
Argentine Protesters Demand Checks and Balances
Protests in Argentina this year were not about the quality of services. Instead, thousands of people went out on the streets to defend their country’s democracy and oppose President Cristina Kirchner’s plans to grab more power for herself.
One protest in April, for example, railed against government corruption, but also against plans to reform the judicial system, which would’ve allowed the president to place more of her allies in the Supreme Court. An obscure topic perhaps, but it managed to galvanize thousands of people, and possibly had some influence on a court ruling that later made the president’s plans illegal.
Vigilante Groups in Mexico Revolt Against Drug Cartels and Do-Nothing Government
Throughout 2013, dozens of rural Mexican communities formed vigilante groups to defend their towns from drug cartels.
Two factors sparked this armed resistance movement. First, cartels in Mexico have increasingly shifted from selling drugs to taxing local businesses and kidnapping people for ransom. In some parts of Mexico, their reign of terror had reached such a serious level that cartel members were raping local women at will.
Second, the Mexican government, whose emphasis when it comes to security has been on drug interdiction, has been doing little to prosecute kidnappings and extortion. This has pushed some people to get their own weapons in an effort to defend themselves and do the government’s job.
President of Uruguay Stands Up to the Drug War Establishment
As Nelson Mandela once said, “There are times when a leader must move ahead of his flock.”
You could say that’s what’s been going on in Uruguay, where President Mujica has pushed for a marijuana legalization initiative that flies in the face of what the DEA and UN want governments around the world to do.
Mujica has turned Uruguay into the first country ever to legalize that herb for recreational purposes, even though opinion polls show that most people in his own country disagree with the initiative. Uruguay’s president argues that legalization will help to decrease profits for drug gangs and turn marijuana users away from the black market.
Egyptian Protesters Trigger Coup Against Islamist Government
Months of protests, in which hundreds of thousands participated, led to the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt this summer.
Protesters were angry over the country’s economic situation and concerned at Morsi’s attempts to undermine its parliament. But the army’s decision to remove the Islamist president was a serious breach of the democratic process that also sparked violent clashes with pro-Morsi protesters. Aside from radicalizing Islamist parties in that country, the coup has left Egypt in political limbo.
LGBT Protesters Put Russia on the Spot
Demonstrations against a Russian law that bans “gay propaganda” and discriminates against members of the LGBT community have put that country in the spotlight, and highlighted an appalling human rights situation.
Protestors for LGBT rights have faced beatings by thugs and ill treatment by police, but their struggle continues. Watch for more talk on LGBT rights in Russia as the Winter Olympics approach in February.
Bulgaria Protests Corruption
Throughout the year, students in Bulgaria have led numerous protests against corrupt officials, occupying universities and public buildings.
Students have managed to get some officials with shady connections removed, and triggered a change of government in May. But the current government, which has also been the target of numerous protests, is hanging on, busing supporters to the capital city of Sofia for counter protests.
Corrupt politics is just one of the things that fuels demonstrations in Bulgaria. The youth unemployment rate in that country stands at a staggering 28 percent.
Did we miss any other important revolts of 2013? Let us know in the comments box.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.