Debate: Is Protesting Useful for Bringing About Change?

We pick out some popular debates in the vegan world and tackle them head-on. This time, we look at using protesting to promote change


Protest is a form of collective action: a social movement where like-minded people come together to voice their opinion and effect change for the better. But does this always work?

When you feel strongly about an issue, the best way to show this is in direct protest.

Those in power can ignore letters, phone calls and emails, but they can’t ignore people gathering together and making their voices heard. Local groups represent an authentic voice, and the real concerns of the community.

In recent years, street protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Ukraine have actually contributed towards overthrowing government. People power can achieve incredible things – there is power in numbers, and power in solidarity. And what is the alternative? Apathy?

While social media certainly has a place in modern campaigning, it encourages a bland business model of protest, meticulously analysing the click rate and reach of a campaign, drains the passion, effort and the camaraderie.

Ian Burchill is the chairman of KAALE – Kent Against Animal Live Export. The group organises protests at Ramsgate and Dover when lorries of live animals travel through the ports. Ian says his group’s direct action will not cease until the cruel stops completely.

He said: “During a protest, everyone feels part of a powerful group. You can build up tremendous relationships with people you may not otherwise have met.

“Protest galvanises action, but helps in other ways too: it gives people a voice, and it brings us together.

“With our protests we have seen a real difference in the trade – and we are continuing to see a difference.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do. If you believe in the cause, you will be welcomed to protest against it. That’s all we care about – stopping this cruelty.”


For change to happen on a meaningful scale, you need legislation. And there is case after case showing law makers ignoring protest.

Look at the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in 2011 – there were demonstrations against wealth distribution in well over 2,000 cities worldwide. And yet this effected no real change, and quickly fell out of the headlines.

Protesters often have the bad reputation of being violent and militant, which can damage a cause, as well as coming across as old-fashioned and out of step. Not to mention the number of people who get arrested during demonstrations.

We are now globally linked more powerfully than ever through the internet, and that is our strongest tool for change.

Matt James from east London is a freelance digital marketer with experience in the animal welfare sector. He said: “You can use the internet very successfully to build communities, who will spread causes. In the last few years, online petitions have become more powerful.

With the means to distribute them through social media, campaigners can reach more people than ever – and all at the touch of a button.

“Look at recent successes social media campaigns have had, as opposed to traditional protest: the social media furore over the death of Zimbabwean lion Cecil led to several airlines changing their policy on transporting hunting trophies. That is real change, as a result of online campaigning and untarnished by violent direct action.

“The truth about human nature is that we are more likely to do something that is easier. If you can register your disgust about something by pressing a few buttons, you are more likely to do it.”


We have presented you with two sides of the argument, but what do you think?

Have your say below…



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