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Chairman Mao, January 5, 1930

World Wide Uprisings - Political Unrest / Civil Disturbance

Arab Spring
Middle East/
North Africa/
Central Asia
France17 Nov
Sudan19 Dec
Hong Kong09 Jun
Indonesia 23 Sep
Iraq01 Oct
Lebanon17 Oct
Chile18 Oct
Iran15 Nov
01 Dec
USA27 May
Bulgaria02 Jul
Belarus02 Aug
Kazakhstan02 Jan
19 Jan
Freedom Convoy28 Jan
Social unrest is endemic in many societies, and recent news has drawn attention to happenings in Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Civilian populations mobilize, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes in an organized manner, to raise awareness of key issues or to demand changes in governing or other organizational structures. It is of key interest to social scientists and policy makers to forecast civil unrest using indicators observed on media such as Twitter, news, and blogs. The basic assumption is that the emergence of a suitably detected activity cascade is a precursor or a surrogate to a real protest event that will happen “on the ground.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic locked down entire societies in early 2020, unpopular governments enjoyed a brief reprieve from mass uprisings, while authoritarian regimes consolidated their grip on power. But by June 2020, citizens all over the world were rising up formlockdown and starting to push back again.

On 20 March 2020, for the first time in over a year, the streets of the Algerian capital were quiet and almost empty on Friday, the day of weekly anti-government rallies. The coronavirus threat put paid to what would have been the 57th straight Friday of "Hirak" anti-regime protests since February 22, 2019, leaving mainly policemen, most wearing masks, out on the streets. Authorities in Algeria, which has suffered 10 deaths from the new coronavirus and reported 90 confirmed cases of the disease sweeping the globe, banned marches, while the opposition itself suspended rallies. Much the same happened with other uprisings around the globe. By April 2020 longstanding uprisings that have brought down leaders from Lebanon to Iraq largely left the streets as COVID-19 stifled public life.

From North Africa to the Middle East, several Arab countries have witnessed mass protest movements bring down longstanding political leaders over the past year. In Sudan, the protests gave way to various political reforms, but little changed in Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria, where protesters had remained on the streets calling for change. Protesters in those countries had largely been driven away from public spaces due to fears of contracting the novel coronavirus — and as a result of government measures to curb the outbreak.

India was one of the many countries where mass protests were playing out in the months prior to the pandemic. From Haiti to Hong Kong, Chile to Algeria, and Iraq to Lebanon - to name a few - millions of citizens unhappy with their political, social and economic realities were voicing their discontent on the streets. Yet as the pandemic puts a pause on traditional forms of protest, those involved are finding alternative ways to ensure their voices are still heard amidst the corona coverage.

There were growing concerns around whether coronavirus emergency measures, including the banning of large gatherings and the increased use of certain surveillance tolls, will remain after the pandemic is under control, and what impact this could have on political activism. There was a lot of discussion about data protection, privacy and governments having access to data that they normally would not have the authorisation to use. In some countries, authorities are checking the geolocation data to homes to track if people are moving too far from it, and that's somehow become acceptable.

Uprisings occupy that great middle ground in the spectrum of political action between elections and wars. Uprisings are neither as predictable or structured as are elections, nor do they entail the sustained lethal force of warfare. Uprisings may be considered a continuation of warfare by other means.

All lists are lies. Short lists exclude too much, and long lists include too much.

Nonviolent mass movements are among the primary challengers to governments today. This represents a pronounced shift in the global landscape of dissent. Through 2010, such People Power movements tended to be surprisingly effective in removing incumbent leaders from power, even when they experienced some repression from the government. But since 2010, the success rates of nonviolent campaigns declined dramatically.

An uprising is the action of standing up to authority or government. Victor Hugo wrote [Les Misérables, Volume 3, page 215] "we reject this word uprisings as too large, and consequently as too convenient. We make a distinction between one popular movement and another popular movement. We do not inquire whether an uprising costs as much as a battle.... Is war less of a scourge than an uprising is of a calamity? And then, are all uprisings calamities?... The army, always a sad thing in civil wars, opposed prudence to audacity. Uprisings, while proving popular intrepidity, also educated the courage of the bourgeois.... There is such a thing as an uprising, and there is such a thing as msurrection; these are two separate phases of wrath; one is in the wrong, the other is in the right. In democratic states, the only ones which are founded on justice, it sometimes happens that the fraction usurps; then the whole rises and the necessary claim of its rights may proceed as far as resort to arms. In all questions which result from collective sovereignty, the war of the whole against the fraction is insurrection; the attack of the fraction against the whole is revolt.... if insurrection in given cases may be, as Lafayette says, the most holy of duties, an uprising may be the most fatal of crimes. There is also a difference in the intensity of heat; insurrection is often a volcano, revolt is often only a fire of straw.... for the space of four thousand years, filled with violated right, and the suffering of peoples, each epoch of history brings with it that protest of which it is capable.... In the majority of cases, riot proceeds from a material fact; insurrection is always a moral phenomenon.

"All this is of the past, the future is another thing. Universal suffrage has this admirable property, that it dissolves riot In its inception, and, by giving the vote to insurrection, it deprives it of its arms. The disappearance of wars, of street wars as well as of wars on the frontiers, such is the inevitable progression. Whatever To-day may be, To-morrow will be peace. However, insurrection, riot, and points of difference between the former and the latter, — the bourgeois, properly speaking, knows nothing of such shades. In his mind, all is sedition, rebellion pure aud simple, the revolt of the dog against his master, an attempt to bite whom must be punished by the chain and the kennel, barking, snapping, until such day as the head of the dog, suddenly enlarged, is outlined vaguely in the gloom face to face with the lion."

An uprising is about disrupting and creating. It is a type of popular revolt that attempts to overthrow a government or its policies; similar to an an insurgency or insurrection but of a generally non-violent character. An uprising is both temporarily and spatially limited. As connotations shift, deciding whether to call something a “riot” or an “uprising” is more than just a matter of semantics. When is social unrest a riot? When is it a rebellion? Is it a political definition, a sociological definition or is the nomenclature defined by the powerful. The word ‘riot’ connotes violence emanating from an immature, unruly mob. It condemns protesters without condemning the conditions that led to their protest. A rebellion is longer term and planned, while a riot is short and spontaneous. Determining whether an event was a revolution or merely an uprising is not just a matter of semantics.

An uprising is a mass protest or expression of discontent but does not necessarily mean a rejection of authority. A rebellion occurs when the people reach a breaking point and reject the authority of their ruler(s). The difference of a rebellion and a revolution comes down to whether or not the rebellion was successful. A revolution is a successful act of regime change.

An uprising is more than just a temporary series of protests or riots. From protests around climate change and immigrant rights, to Occupy, the Arab Spring, and #BlackLivesMatter, a new generation is unleashing strategic nonviolent action to shape public debate and force political change. When mass movements erupt onto our television screens, the media consistently portrays them as being spontaneous and unpredictable. Yet, there is hidden art behind such outbursts of protest, based on core principles that have been used to spark and guide moments of transformative unrest.

In a true democracy the people have a voice in multiple ways, such as voting and protesting. Thus, if they do not agree with governmental procedures and acts they are allowed to protest in a peaceful manner. An uprising is more likely in a country if corruption is high. Many states still have flawed democracy in which there is an underdeveloped political culture, or a hybrid democracy in which there is corruption, unfair elections and a weak rule of law.

The African Union stressed that: “In situations of greed, selfishness, mismanagement of diversity, mismanagement of opportunity, marginalization, abuse of human rights, refusal to accept electoral defeat, manipulation of constitution, as well as unconstitutional review of constitution to serve narrow interest and corruption, among other factors, are potent triggers for unconstitutional changes of government and popular uprisings.”

In the past century, there have been countless examples of civil disturbance situations around the world. The size and scope of these civil disturbances varied from small gatherings of people who were verbally protesting to full-blown riots that resulted in property destruction and violence against others. Over the past decade, law enforcement and professional experts have come to understand crowd dynamics. A better understanding of human behavior and crowd dynamics and technological advancement has led to improved responses to crowd control.

In recent years a distinct category of protests has emerged, frequently sharing many [but not all] distinguishing features:

  1. The uprisings are spontaneous, rather than a predictable [if not anticipated] response to a specific long-standing grievance, or to having an election stolen.
  2. The uprisings are frequently leaderless, rather than a product of organizational planning, and when capstone organiztions are present, frequently they are riding a tiger.
  3. The uprisings typically begin with a relatively small grievance, but may quickly escalate to maximalist demands such as regime change.
  4. The uprisings are on a large scale, with some non-trivial fraction of the entire national population in the streets.
  5. The uprisings mobilize multiple constituencies, and may transcend pre-existing political cleavages.
  6. The uprisings incorporate a substantial "demonstration effect", with protests in one country taking inspiration from those of others.
  7. The uprisings are greatly facilitated by various forms of social media.

Social media — blogs, social-network sites, information aggregators, wikis, livecasting, video sharing — has decisively altered that most extreme of socio-politico acts: revolution. A flash mob is a group of people summoned (as by e-mail or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing. Flash mobs, participants in an event in which a group of people are organized via some form of telecommunications, assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, and then disperse. A relsted phenomenon synthesizes the activity of flash mobs and street gangs. A flash gang is a group that uses a social media connection to invite participants to a time and location where they commit a crime and then they split up.

Recent protests in the Middle East and North Africa were coordinated using similar strategies, spotlighting the power of using social media technology to oppose government action. The spontaneity and secrecy of the flash mob combined with the targeted crime and/or violence of the street gang produces a mix that is hard to combat even with inside intelligence. The instant access and extended reach of mobile phones and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook bring a twist that makes the spontaneous volatility even more difficult to prevent. Social media has made it easier for anyone with a hate-filled message to get a voice and be heard while retaining somewhat of an anonymity; hiding behind the technology.

In the United States, the increasing popularity of the Internet dovetailed with the notion of leaderless resistance, which began to gain currency in the extreme right subculture. In 1983, Louis Beam, a long-standing extreme right activist, released the seminal essay, “Leaderless Resistance,” in which he argued that the traditional hierarchical organizational structure was untenable under current conditions. The US governmentwas too powerful and would not permit any potentially serious oppo-sition organizations to challenge its authority. Beam reasoned that in a technologically advanced society, such as contemporary America, the government could easily penetrate a dissident group. As a strategic alternative, he invoked the“phantom cell” organization model. Applying this model, Beam argued that it becomes the responsibility of the individual to acquire the necessary skills and information to carry out what is to be done, to take action when and where they see fit.

The circumstances surrounding civil disturbance may be spontaneous or may result from escalating tensions within a community or the larger society. This was the case with the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in September 2011 in New York City and spread to over 100 cities in the United States, including Boise, ID. The Occupy Wall Street is just one example of a demonstration that grew into a national response. During the 2009 uprising in Iran, after the government shut down most communication efforts, the only way that news could be transmitted to the rest of the world was through Twitter. The 2011 Arab Spring revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East were engineered through citizen-centric computer and cellular-phone technologies that streamed web-enabled social exchanges. Labeled alternately the Arab Spring or the Twitter Revolution, the spring of 2011 witnessed uprisings and revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain, with revolution-inspired, violent demonstrations following in multiple Middle Eastern, North African and European nations.

Civil disturbance, also referred to as “civil disorder” or civil unrest, is defined as any public disturbance involving acts of violence by assemblages of three or more persons, which causes an immediate danger of or results in damage or injury to the property or person of any other individual, as defined in 18 U.S. Code 232. In this context, civil unrest is distinct from peaceful public celebrations, lawful protests and acts of civil disobedience (such as peaceful but un-permitted protests, sit-ins and comparable protest actions).

Civil disturbance can include riots, demonstrations, threatening individuals or assemblies that have become disruptive and may cause harm to others. Civil disturbance is typically a symptom of, and a form of protest against, perceived major socio-political problems. Typically, the severity of the action coincides with the level of public outrage. In addition to a form of protest against perceived major sociopolitical problems, civil disturbances can also arise out of union protest, institutional population uprising, or from large celebrations that become disorderly.

Civil unrest results in urban conflicts that arise from highly emotional, social, and economic issues. Tensions can build quickly in a community over a variety of issues, and spans a variety of actions including labor unrest, strikes, civil disobedience, demonstrations, riots, and rebellion. Civil disturbances may arise from acts of civil disobedience caused by political grievances and urban economic conflicts or a decrease in the supply of essential goods and services. Tension in these areas creates a potential for violence. When tensions are high, it takes a small or seemingly minor incident, rumor, or act of injustice to ignite groups within a crowd to riot and act violently. This is particularly true if community relations with authorities are part of the problem. Civil disturbance is often a form of protest, which could potentially arise from highly emotional, social, and economic issues.

Crowds are a gathering of a multitude of individuals and small groups that have temporarily assembled in the same place. These small groups are usually composed of friends, family members, or acquaintances that represent a group belief or cause. People in small groups are known only to companions in their group and to others in the gathering that have come from the same neighborhood or community. Commanders must consider how the individuals and small groups assembled and how they are interacting during the gathering process. Crowd development is a process with a beginning, middle, and end.

A crowd that becomes a mob can be very violent and destructive. Violent actions of a crowd include striking out physically at bystanders or others in the crowd, destroying both private and government property, setting fires, and in extreme cases employing bombs. The only limitations for violent crowds are their own imaginations, the training of their leaders, and the materials readily available.

Gatherings are often assisted by the activities of individuals or groups with a specific agenda, such as yelling catchy slogans and cheers that everyone can easily pick up and join in. Some groups are so well organized that they can prestage leaders to infiltrate a gathering. This creates unity, even inciting newcomers to join their cause. It can occur in one of two ways—impromptu or organized.

An impromptu assembly usually develops informally and is mostly done by word of mouth (one person to another or one group to another). Participants spread information by telling one another when, where, and what is happening and inviting them to participate. An example of an impromptu gathering would be a gathering at a secured food distribution point after receiving information (by word of mouth) that a large truck carrying much-needed supplies and food is about to arrive. In this case, hunger would be the driving force causing the migration of people to the food distribution point. A more recent way of establishing an informal gathering is by spreading information via electronic means (text messages or social media). Examples of this are best illustrated in Egypt and other countries during the Arab Spring that began in 2010 and in the United States during Occupy Wall Street that began in 2011.

Like an impromptu assembly, an organized assembly also involves individuals and groups passing on information to one another. Passing information on police activity and occurrences and when and where events will take place helps organizers to prestage participants. Rarely is only one group responsible for pulling together a gathering. Organized assemblies rely heavily on established groups that attract people to gather. Examples of well-organized groups are anarchists, antiglobalization groups, and antifree enterprise groups. Groups representing extreme religious faiths and ethnic organizations have been common as well. Another example of organized groups that contribute to the assembly process of certain gatherings is the labor unions. Labor unions played a large role in the 2011 Wisconsin protests that included passing on information and transporting participants.

During a civil disturbance, individuals and small groups within a crowd use any number of tactics to resist authority, disrupt, and add turmoil to achieve their goals. The more organized and purposeful a crowd becomes, the more likely that a tactic will be used. These tactics can be planned or unplanned and violent or nonviolent.

Demonstrations, public disorder, and riots happen for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are economic hardships, social injustices, ethnic differences (leading to oppression), objections to world organizations or certain governments, political grievances, terrorist acts, other man-made disasters, and natural disasters. Civil unrest is when a civil society or a segment of its population is in a disturbed or uneasy state or in turmoil. During a state of civil unrest, an event can be triggered by a single cause or a combination of causes. For example, operations that occurred in the Balkans that involved civil unrest were the result of ethnic hatred, a lack of civil authority, food shortages, a revolution, and religious-based fighting factions.

Civil unrest may range from simple, nonviolent protests that address specific issues, to events that turn into full-scale riots. Gathering in protest may be a recognized right of any person or group, regardless of where U.S. forces may be operating. In the United States, this fundamental right is protected under the Constitution of the United States, while other countries have various laws that protect the rights of their citizens rights. During unified action, U.S. forces should never violate basic civil or human rights. Most protesters are law-abiding citizens who intend to keep their protests nonviolent, but some protest planners insist that the event involve violence. Often in the media, protesters can gain sympathy for their cause by prompting authorities to take physical action against them. Violence can be the result of demonstrators beginning to conduct unlawful or criminal acts and authorities (who are responsible for the safety and welfare of all) enforcing the laws of the municipality, state, or nation. The level of violence is determined by the willingness of demonstrators to display and voice their opinions in support of their cause and the actions and reactions of the control force on scene.

Some individuals or groups within an organized demonstration may intend to cause disruption, incite violence, destroy property, and provoke authorities. The situation and actions of the crowd may dictate control and enforcement options. Agitators and criminal infiltrators within the crowd can lead to the eruption of violence. Inciting a crowd to violence or a greater intensity of violence by using severe enforcement tactics must be avoided.

Angry mobs will often attempt to disrupt the control force by throwing rocks and other projectiles. As the situation deteriorates, the mob may escalate the violence by using a battery of slingshots that will pellet the control force with projectiles. They may also use smoke grenades (homemade or store-bought) tomask their movements. Molotov cocktails are also used against personnel, employed vehicles, and portions of the control force. A group or individual may attempt to gain a position above an armored vehicle to enable them to drop a Molotov cocktail into an open hatch.

Community unrest results in urban conflicts that arise from highly emotional social and economic issues. Economically deprived residents may feel that they are treated unjustly or ignored by people in power and authority. Tensions can build quickly in a community over a variety of issues, such as hunger, poor employment opportunities, inadequate community services, poor housing, and labor issues. Tensions in these areas create the potential for violence. When tensions are high, it takes a small (seemingly minor) incident, rumor, or perceived act of injustice to ignite groups within a crowd to riot and act violently. This is particularly true if community relations with authorities are strained.

Crowd situations are highly unpredictable, but history has proven that confrontation will most likely cause crowd resistance. When pushed, people tend to resist opposition to the realization of their purposes. The graduated-response process is a measured approach in response to a crowd gathering. By recognizing a use of force policy, Soldiers must be taught and understand that they use the minimum force necessary. Soldiers are never sent in harm’s way without lethal protection. Individuals designated as nonlethal shooters must have the means to transition to lethal rounds, if lethal firing is required.

On all occasions when the troops are employed in restoring or maintaining public order among their fellow-citizens, the use of arms, and particularly fire-arms, is obviously attended with loss of life or limb to private individuals; and for these consequences a military man may be called to stand at the bar of a Criminal Court. But no attack by an armed force is justified by the statute, and no killing of any man who can be apprehended, for it is a rigid rule of common law that a man who can be taken must be taken and tried, and it is only his violent resistance which can excuse homicide in the attempt to apprehend him.

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Page last modified: 14-02-2022 18:29:23 ZULU