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Then versus Now: NUCLEAR WEAPONS

From the Women’s March to the Climate strikes and the Hong Kong protests, demonstrations have dominated the news recently. Demonstrations are also on the rise in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam for example, the number of demonstrations this year has doubled in comparison to 2016 according to NOS. But demonstrations aren’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the largest protests in the Netherlands were the peace demonstrations in the 1980s. But what has changed since then? We looked at two completely different movements in completely different decades to look at their similarities and differences. 

THEN

Throughout the cold war, people had been demonstrating against nuclear weapons but the size of the protests during the 80s was unprecedented. In New York, hundreds of thousands of people protested, which marked the largest protest in American history, according to a 1982 article in the New York Times. On the 29th of October 1983 more than 400 thousand people gathered in the city of the Hague to protest against the nuclear arms race, and the placement of cruise missiles in western Europe. It was the biggest protest the Netherlands had ever seen (Andere Tijden: 2017). We’ve interviewed Ineke Westbroek (68), who attended the protest at the time. 

Why did you attend these protests?

At the time I thought a lot about these types of issues and I attended protests a lot, not just protests on nuclear weapons but also for women's rights and the rights of tenants. 

Do you believe these protests make a difference?

In the end nothing was done with those nuclear weapons, I don’t know if the protests had had an influence on that. 

How much did this issue influence your life outside of protests? 

I thought about it occasionally but I was also busy as a mother and journalist.

Currently social media is the main tool being used to organize and promote protest, how was this done at the time?

Mostly flyers, posters or verbally

NOW

Climate change has been a worrying development for many years but this last year the call for action has been greater than ever. On the 10th of march approximately 40 thousand people gathered in Amsterdam to strike against climate change (Parool: 2019). It was one of the biggest climate protest yet in the Netherlands, but it certainly wasn’t the first. What started as the School Strike for Climate, started by Greta Thunberg, has turned into a global movement calling for more action and better policy to combat climate change. Bas Breet (18), climate-change activist and spokesperson for extinction rebellion, tells us about his experience. 

Why do you attend these protests?

“Our goal is to make policy around climate change more ambitious. A big pro is all the media attention we get with these protests, as that helps us create more awareness of the problem.” 

Bas tells us that for him the climate protests aren’t so much about a specific policy but more about policy around climate change as a whole.

Do you believe these protests make a difference?

Bas does feel the awareness about climate change has risen, and that the protests have contributed to that. He says he feels heard by society, even though there is also criticism. When asked about the role of the media Bas tells us he thinks a big part of the media portray climate change activist as radicals who ask for things that aren’t possible, or they focus on the way people protest instead of the reason for the protest. 

How much does your activism influence your life? 

“I think about it every day. I go to a lot of meeting and activities and I organize things. Besides this I also have to study, so I get less sleep and my social life is negatively affected as well. Luckily I can socialize with other activists.”

Does social media play a big role in the climate change movement?

Bas tells us he uses social media a lot with his activism. Social media plays a big role in organising and promoting protests. When doing research for climate change he tends to stay away from social media, and reads official scientific reports. 

The role of social media is very big, because information can be spread very rapidly. But I don’t think the protest depend on social media, it just strengthens the movement. 

 


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