How can citizens keep societies open, free, and fair? What can one person really do? Sometimes it feels hopeless. When looking at the political situation across Europe (and, honestly, across the globe) it’s easy to feel powerless and despondent. It can seem like society is sleepwalking into the abyss, with politics today being driven by hatred and anger.

What about taking to the streets and marching? We had a comment from Paul, who is sceptical of the power of citizens to protest. In fact, he believes that “marching and protesting is a complete waste of time”. He argues that:

Image of a citizen[Marching and protesting] physically achieves nothing and is usually only done by unemployed attention seekers with too much spare time on their hands. If people have a justified complaint there are better ways of trying to address things without walking down the street ranting and annoying everyone.

Harsh words from Paul, but is he right to be so cynical? To get a response, we spoke to Lorenzo Marsili, co-founder and Director of European Alternatives, an organisation working to empower citizens, civil society, and social movements across Europe. What would he say?

marsiliWhat Paul is saying is factually untrue. Historically, as well as in the recent past, some very important political changes have been the direct outcome of citizen protests and citizen activism. Today, we are witnessing the probable collapse of the TTIP negotiations between the EU and the US, and this is a direct result of the large-scale mass democratic mobilisation of the citizens of Europe against it. The same thing happened a few years ago when it came to the ACTA treaty…

Secondly, protests serve to reshuffle the political offer that one is faced with at the moment of voting at the ballot box. Without a strong bottom-up movement, we are going to continue to be faced with these false binary options: Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump; the regime of Erdoğan versus the military coup; the Europe of the status quo, economic injustice, and lack of democracy versus the nationalist, xenophobic option.

The rise of populist power, through protests, activism and participation, is also the precondition – as we have seen in Spain – for new political options which then run for office, and then offer new alternatives for citizens at the ballot box. There is no contradiction between participatory or activist democracy and representative democracy. On the contrary, direct participation and activism of citizens, including through protest movements on the street, is a prerequisite for a representative democracy that functions and addresses the concerns of citizens.


We also had a comment from Mariateresa from Italy, who says she’s very worried by the radicalisation of politics in Europe. She is concerned that this trend will lead to a close-minded, extremist establishment taking hold. But is there anything that she, as a citizen, can do? How can citizens keep societies free, open, and fair?

How would Lorenzo Marsili respond to Mariateresa?

marsili[Citizens] need to make sure there is a third space, a third alternative to the false dichotomy of a failed establishment on the one hand, and the nationalist response on the other. We need to come up with a new political, civil society, and citizen-led vision of what a united, fair, and just Europe looks like. That vision will be very different from the Europe that we have today. And that vision is one of the most important antidotes to the rise of far-right.

Is marching and protesting a complete waste of time? How can citizens keep societies open, free, and fair? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Jesse Clockwork

107 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Gio Dimitriadis

    Yes, since politics, economy and society evolves, ways of protesting should evolve too, like eg. boycotting. Marching and walking has nothing to offer.

    • avatar

      These protesters are being paid by someone, they seem to be extremely professional and have tons of time on their hands. Who is taking care of their children and/or husbands, apparently these thousands of women are all single without any responsibilities.

    • avatar

      Magie is your ‘husband’ still dragging you round by your hair while munching on a brontosaurus bone? 🙄

  2. avatar
    Matej Zaggy Zagorc

    Usually it has the same effect as “fights” on social media. Many can get involved and behind an idea, making them feel they are making a change, but ultimately it cools off and blows over without much change, if any.

    • avatar

      interesting interpretation

  3. avatar
    Antonio Caldeira

    I’m afraid that protests are becoming less effective. The only way to achieve results is to hit capitalism where it hurts the most – halt production.

  4. avatar
    Joao Ao Vento

    No its not the more of us out there the better don’t buy into this silence crapp,I’ve seen it work,Wankers stay home,people come out and protest,Gio you need to get laid.

  5. avatar

    Rallies and protests are a hearts and minds approach. If done right they can sometimes make a small difference. If done incorrectly they turn the masses against you. Just take a look at #Blacklivesmatteruk
    Getting people to lay down on the motorway. If their cause had merit (which I doubt, just seemed like jumping on the bandwagon to me) they have now got a lost cause. Motorists disrupted and a group claiming “blacklivesmatter” encouraging them to endanger their lives. Legal demonstration is one thing this type of headline grabbing is another.

  6. avatar
    Monique Taxhet

    It’s alright to march and protest as long as it is not done excessively and it is peaceful. Otherwise it loses all weight it may have.

  7. avatar
    Daniel Parvanov

    Yes voting is the more important one… if you do not vote you just agree with everything…

  8. avatar
    Alexandros Fragkos

    History has proven that only armed and well organized revolutions are effective. Till then, marches and protests is the only way to gather ppl together towards a common cause

  9. avatar
    Pedro Duarte

    Quite the opposite: very few other actions can result in more change than protesting and marching for what we believe in. History shows it.

    • avatar

      That’s a good reason to protest you know….

    • avatar

      Fighting for a cause that deeply affects you is worth skipping work for. If there is a possibility for a better life it’s worth skipping work.

      Especially here in America where they hold basic liberties hostage. Keep us paid so little money that we can’t afford food on our tables?

      Keep working anyway? Accept life as is? No!

      People power is powerful on and off the street. That’s were community comes in to help out.

      Screw my job if the world’s a shitty place.

  10. avatar
    Gloria Brady

    Marching and striking achieve nothing .it just makes those in charge resolute that no way will.anarchy win .

    • avatar

      Anarchy is different to organised. Marching and striking are a communal effort and therefore are not anarchistic. Anarchy would be the big strong worker walking in and taking more pay out of the companies safe because nobody is able to stand up to them. A strike is the majority of the group challenging for the rights of everyone in the group to get a fairer system.

  11. avatar
    Bart Van Damme

    Yes, they are pretty much useless. People think that they are the citizen’s weapon to put their power into practice, while they are really a government’s weapon to make people delude themselves about the amount of power they think they have. The illusion of “democracy”…

  12. avatar
    Luchian Mdm

    Some massive protest can change bad laws from getting implemented so they are important

  13. avatar

    What needs to exist is a nifty little button that every home has in every country. The moment feels there is shenanigans afoot then they can push this button I like to call the bullshit button. Once pressed it sends a signal to a federal website that registers each citizen who presses it and once reaches a critical level forces an emergency session of the government to immidiatly address the issue. You can even force someone immidiatly out of office with this button. The idea is simplistic and just something to build on.

  14. avatar
    Edoardo Valgarður

    Yes it is. If you want to change something, get some signatures together, ask support from political or other representative groups and get a referendum on what you want to change through a meaningful and concrete political action.
    I’d like to know one time in the past 20 years that a protest has actually achieved anything concrete.

  15. avatar
    Colin Jennings

    The days of democratic protests in the street are over. New world new processes…just change, most candidates have figured it out and use the internet entre others !!

  16. avatar
    Paulo Mota

    In Portugal, yes. It’s a waste of time.
    You must stop services, block roads and traffic.
    Anything than that, is just carnaval for the people who march.

  17. avatar
    Luc Vansteenkiste

    Yes, but progressives should organise protests in all European capitals ad the same time, not only in Brussels. If the whole of Europe came to a stand still, it would have a lot more impact.

  18. avatar
    Martin Gust

    Oh dear. Who needs that old fashioned democracy ? Why bother with poliical parties and elections ? The future is marching, shouting and stomping of revolutionary feets :) Childish West at its best.

  19. avatar

    I believe, the debates you are bringing here, are very important, positive, leads to the root of our questions, and I keep asking myself, how many citizens really know what is debating here? I guess, citizens in general should learn more about their citizenship rights, values and responsibilities. Thank you!

  20. avatar
    Paul X

    “What Paul is saying is factually untrue. Historically, as well as in the recent past, some very important political changes have been the direct outcome of citizen protests and citizen”

    Well Lorenzo, for every street protest that has achieved a “historical” victory there are probably 1000’s of others that achieve nothing but annoyance and inconvenience to the rest of the population… so I stand by my statement

  21. avatar
    Marisa Quirolo

    It’s always better than being silent and accept everything …….Wonder why this question is being forwarded in the first place …..

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Actually, in this cyber day and age there are plenty of ways of expressing dissatisfaction with something without clogging up the streets and throwing bottles and bricks at policemen….

    • avatar

      @Paul x. True, but I do understand the significant difference between internet rantings which may not even get noticed by those who can affect change, and a march passed their front door, favourite hangout, or office. I’d say that demonstrations/rallies/marches still play a part in expression of public opinion. It might not always work (and demonstrations simply designed to cause disruption invariably upset rather than create awareness amongst the masses) but it’s not become a completely obsolete idea just yet.

  22. avatar
    catherine benning

    It works very well when it frightens them. Once they begin sending out ‘policemen’ with batons and tear gas, you know they are on the run.

    But the real answer lies more in our pockets. If you want to make a real difference on an issue you find abhorrent, stop spending money that affects the cronies and corporations at the top. Then sit back and watch them squeal and squirm in fear.

    Don’t spend money in the supermarket of your choice and get the entire country to do it. Stop using the public transport and see Virgin, et al, cry and gnash their teeth. Don’t buy football tickets or their cheap products which are made by children in poverty. Don’t ‘purchase’ anything you can do without, and see how that works. Far better than a beating and facing being kettled for threatening your rights. Don’t buy airline tickets, en mass. In other words, cripple big business and see how that persuades the unpersuadable.

    • avatar

      Catherine, I cannot deny your method would work. Sadly, the fallout for those companies workers would be something my conscience couldn’t allow me to do.

  23. avatar
    Vytautas Vėžys

    And you choose image of instrument, that should be banned world wide and inhumane torture device…

  24. avatar
    Angéline De Beierse

    By promoting zero tolerance for racist and xenophobic speeches.
    Any protest against any a group of people based on their race, nationality, place of origin or religion should be banned by EU law and the organizers should be prosecuted.

    • avatar

      I’d say for or against. BLM is an example of that. People are trying to deny rights to white nationalists. Promoting said demographics is no better than opposing because of what it implies to the others

  25. avatar
    Hugo Veloso

    One person can understand the dynamics between the social environment and the human condition. Knowing about how ideologies, cognitive tendencies and all this works is crucial to avoid being ruled by ideologies or our perceptions of a shared past.
    For this we need to deconstruct the narratives we follow, and we need to create new unbiased ones.
    Then we can just act strategically towards building a better social environment. If not we’ll always end up with an oppressing system

  26. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    le proteste in piazza sono inutili , lo abbiamo visto , perchè non abbiamo nessuna rappresentanza politica che la faccia valere , che ci rappresenti . La Ue se ne vede bene di sbarazzarsi dei governi eletti oppure prima ancora in fase di elezione se non è come vuole lei . Cosa dobbiamo fare ??? Ditecelo voi ! A noi quel che ci OBBLIGA la dittatura UE di fare non ci piace e non ci sta verso di cambiarlo

    in the street protests are useless, it has seen it, because we have no political representation that relies, to represent us. The EU if it sees fit to get rid of elected governments, or even before being elected if it’s not like she wants. What we have to do ??? Let us know you! To us what we REQUIRE the EU dictatorship do not like and there is no way to change it..

  27. avatar
    Jokera Jokerov

    A devoted smart guy can change his country and even the continent. Just look at Nigel Farage!

  28. avatar

    Protest and activism in order to push for key issues is absolutely integral in todays society, wherein there are often occasions where without it we are simply ignored.

  29. avatar
    Adrian Limbidis

    Yes. It is a waste of time.
    We need pitchforks.
    And mobs. ANGRY ones.

    This is the only language the rich and powerful understand…

  30. avatar
    Marko Martinović

    Depends how. Just screaming solves nothing. Rioting creates counter effect. Debating does more good and can bring change

    • avatar
      Yavor Hadzhiev

      Unfortunately Marko, even proper debate can fall into deaf ears. With a political culture of elitism, perhaps debating is not as useful as it is supposed to be. :(

    • avatar
      Marko Martinović

      But debating creates only non violent impact. Protest draws attention but without good enough arguments, it is useless

  31. avatar
    Bódis Kata

    Marching for specific causes to change legislation or planned legislation makes sense and it’s important.

    Marching because my candidate didn’t get to win is kind of dumb.

  32. avatar
    Rozalija Baricevic

    I’m sorry for the women who refuse to face the reality. In this case they are just numbers, the victims of the mass hysteria.

  33. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    The only reason protesting doesn’t work is because those governing ignore it and don’t take any action to address the issue people are protesting about. Definately there needs to be a new interactive system where peoples issues are guaranteed to be discussed, a pro-people solution is definately found then action taken to implement it ASAP where people experience the benefits in their actual life. It is time to upgrade to a fairer, informative, interactive, caring and more transparent action-oriented digital age.

  34. avatar
    Miguel Cabrita

    By definition “Democracy” is the realm of popular power and is expressed on the streets, by words and by actions, and is not in any given extent curtailed, by representative democracy or particracy, which definitions are mistaken frequently by the one of “Democracy”.

    Nevertheless those who held authoritarian beliefs will say that it is a complete waste of time, or anything expressing distasteful conformity and obedience.

  35. avatar
    Miguel Cabrita

    By definition “Democracy” is the realm of popular power and is expressed on the streets, by words and by actions, and is not in any given extent curtailed, by representative democracy or particracy, which definitions are mistaken frequently by the one of “Democracy”.

    Nevertheless those who held authoritarian beliefs will say that it is a complete waste of time, or anything expressing distasteful conformity and obedience.

  36. avatar
    George Koutsoftas

    We always say… Who ever becomes a president of United States it doesn’t really matter coz behind the scenes is others in command.!!!

  37. avatar
    Bobi Dochev

    Marching against legally elected president – it is not waste of time it is crime against the democracy.
    Marching against political decisions of the ruling parties and social issues is probably not the best decision but unfortunately there is no other instrument for influence.

  38. avatar
    Blaz Bostjancic

    Marching is a sign that people stay put, that democracy is reslly in hands of the people. March shows to the power that they need to think twice before they make decisions. March is a sign that people do not Sleep.

  39. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Pick a subject, any subject & there will be a bunch of self opinionated halfwits ready to protest against it.

  40. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Pick a subject, any subject & there will be a bunch of self opinionated halfwits ready to protest against it.

  41. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    It is not a waste of time. The least it does is raise the awareness in the community. The next thing it does is let the politicians, the international community know there are dissenting voices.
    Dissent is good. It is the basis of scientific baloney elimination.

  42. avatar
    Chris Panayis

    The numbers have changed, not the political system. If “the people” really disagree with something and you get to see 3.000.000 people out of your presidential house protesting, you will realise you either have to prepare the helicopter or take an action. Your real question is, “are europeans becoming too self-centered to reACT on what is happening around them?”. As long as they have wifi, yes.

  43. avatar
    Enric Mestres Girbal

    Yes because the politicians don’t take any notice. Why protesters and marchers are always connectet to the left?

    • avatar

      The silent majority is made up of people that want to be left alone. Protesters, 90% of the time, are of a certain breed, leftist, and think their moral superiority can circumvent the voting process

  44. avatar
    Wendy Harris

    People marching for a range of different issues at the same time is ineffectual because it all becomes a blur. On Saturday, women who are genuinely concerned about existing inequality got lumped together with silly screaming women protesting about something that hasn’t happened yet. With the result that all women’s causes were discredited and will suffer through being linked to anarchy, rioting, and rebellion against democracy.

  45. avatar
    Boyan Taksirov

    No, marching and protesting is expressing a will of the people(or part of them).
    It has a social impact, much bigger than “protesting” online.
    It existed in all of the human history not only as a method of expressing pressure to the authorities, but as a way of popularizing some cause, unification of people and strengthening solidarity.
    Protests mean, than society is “alive”, people are awaken and ready to take actions defending their cause.

    Protests are inseparable part of Democracy.

  46. avatar

    “What Paul is saying is factually untrue. Historically, as well as in the recent past, some very important political changes have been the direct outcome of citizen protests and citizen activism. ”

    Yet he can’t name a single one.

  47. avatar
    jane tse

    Everyone knows how to protest and request for things. How many of them know how to make suggestions that can solve problems. While we are protesting, it contributes more if we can use our brain and help the government to solve problem as well. If we believe democracy is rule of people, people ought to take responsibility by helping to solve problems not just telling others to satisfy ourselves, creating more problems, and blaming the government… Be a responsible and proactive citizen does not mean taking to the street alone.

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