With a consistently shifting and changing financial, political, and social landscape, civil discontent is going to be a continued reality in our world. In many democratic and non-democratic nations, the outcome is civil unrest and protest. As The Guardian shares, “The protests raging today and in the past months on the streets of cities around the world have varying triggers. But the fuel is familiar: stagnating middle classes, stifled democracy and the bone-deep conviction that things can be different--even if the alternative is not always clear.”
Here in the United States, we’ve seen our fair share of demonstrations, riots, and other forms of civil unrest, from the Boston Tea Party and antiwar protests to today’s race riots and Occupy Wall Street protests.
History seems to repeat itself. After the Civil War in 1870, a wave of urban violence, fueled by ethnic and class resentment, swept the country. Internal tensions spiked again around 1920, when race riots, workers' strikes, and a surge of anti-Communist feelings led many to think that revolution was imminent. The, around 1970, unrest peaked once more, with violent student demonstrations, political assassinations, riots, and terrorism. And here we are at the next point of that 50 year cycle, in 2020...
Enough about the United States for now.
Today, I’m highlighting three examples of countries currently experiencing extreme civil unrest: Hong Kong, Bolivia, and Chile. Though each situation differs from our current reality in the United States, there are plenty of lessons that can be applied to Americans if they ever find themselves faced with an eruption of violence in the streets at home or while traveling abroad.
First up, let’s take a look at what’s been happening in Hong Kong...
Starting in June 2019, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to express their opposition to a deeply unpopular extradition bill. Though Hong Kong is technically a part of China, it operates as a semi-autonomous region, and the territories differ greatly, from the political systems to culture. This bill would give China more power over Hong Kong, which has traditionally had more democratic freedoms than the rest of the country. The protests have affected everyday citizens of Hong Kong, whether they’ve been involved in the protests or not. For example…
- 45 people were injured in July when a group of men attacked protesters and bystanders in a train station, hitting them with bamboo sticks, wooden rods, and other weapons. Additionally, protesters themselves have become increasingly radical by throwing bricks and starting fires.
- After a night of destruction and violence in which protesters torched businesses and metro stations, Hong Kong’s entire railway network was temporarily suspended and tram and bus services were limited. Additionally, 20 malls and shopping centers closed down, affecting citizens’ access to major supermarkets, pharmacies, and more.
- Protests also shut down Hong Kong International Airport for two days, causing issues for visitors and citizens alike.
- The city experienced a significant financial impact, with a significant dip in consumer spending.
After the 2019 election in late October in Bolivia, thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest suspected election fraud. According to The Guardian, “The streets of La Paz, which has a million residents, were half-empty on Monday morning, with many shops and schools shuttered. The opposition-controlled mayor’s office was also closed. Road blockades mounted by residents using cars, wood planks, rope and even dumpsters were visible in both the middle-class south and working-class north of the city.” These road blockades forced many citizens to stand in line for hours to access rationed food and fuel supplies, and disrupted transport across the country. Additionally, many shop owners shuttered their stores to participate in the country-wide strike.
Initially a response to an increase in metro fares, recent protests in Chile, which started in mid October, turned into a broader fight against inequality and government repression. So far, over 20 people have died, some at the hands of state military forces and some from looting-related violence. Though some protesters are peaceful, others have gone so far as to set fire to subway stations, buses, supermarkets, government buildings, and newspaper offices. On October 26, 2019, the capital city of Santiago ground to a standstill as protesters shut down major city avenues and public transport closed early ahead of planned marches. Chile’s president was forced to call for a state of emergency, and instituted a military-enforced curfew in cities around the country.
Steps to protect yourself from civil unrest
According to Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, a professor who studies social change and conflict at Vrije University in Amsterdam “the data shows that the amount of protests is increasing and is as high as the roaring 60s, and has been since about 2009.” As our world becomes increasingly complex and inequalities become more visible, we’re likely to see more cases of civil unrest. It’s important to know how to prepare ahead of time and stay safe when it’s happening. Keep the following five tips in mind…
#1: Remain aware: First things first--civil unrest and violence can occur with little forewarning. Practice situational awareness at all times, especially when in public places. However, even when you’re at home, make sure you’re consistently attuned to the local and national news whether it be via the radio, TV, or internet.
#2: Avoid leaving your home: Sheltering in place is an advisable practice when violence and destruction is occurring in your surrounding area. Stay home and don’t leave unless you absolutely have to. If you do leave, make sure you remain aware, avoid active areas, and get back home as swiftly and possible.
#3: Stock up ahead of time: Accessing the grocery store, pharmacy, and other stores will be a danger to yourself and your family when looting and riots are occuring. Even if you manage to safely enter a store, there’s no guarantee they will have your items in stock. Therefore, stock up on:
- Emergency food
- Sanitation supplies
- First aid supplies and prescriptions
- Alternative power and light sources will also come in handy since power can be shut off due to demonstrations or riots
- A solar powered radio to stay up-to-date on the situation
- Cash since ATMs and banks are likely to be closed or inaccessible
Lastly, make sure you have enough supplies to last you for at least two weeks (though we generally recommend having a 3-month emergency supply stand by and ready).
#4: Be aware of blocked roads and transport systems: Don’t expect public transport and your usual transportation paths to operate in a business as usual fashion. If you absolutely need to go somewhere, check which roads may be closed or blocked off, and invest in alternative transport methods such as bicycles or scooters.
#5: Make sure your home security systems are up-to-date: Even though your house is typically the safest to be during periods of civil unrest, there’s still the risk of break-ins from looters. Take the time now to inventory your home’s security features, such as locks on the windows and doors and alarm systems. If you need to upgrade your home security system, do so sooner than later. And review other measures you have in place to ensure you are well-stocked and trained to use them.
Don’t wait before it’s too late--use the tips and suggestions included here today.
Stay alert and safe this weekend, friends!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply