Contemporary Protest

Contemporary Protest

Organised in partnership with De Montfort University's Media Discourse Group (now the Media Discourse Centre), this exhibition examines the resurgence of social movements in Europe and beyond, with special resurgence to events in the uk and protest on the Spanish mainland.

The unifying theme is simple - whenever austerity is used as a form of economic discipline, people take to the streets to call for a more humane and ultimately more radical alternative.

# Contemporary Protest  Organised in partnership with De Montfort University's Media Discourse Group, this exhibition examines the resurgence of social movements in Europe and beyond, with special resurgence to events in the uk and protest on the Spanish mainland.   The unifying theme is simple - whenever austerity is used as a form of economic discipline, people take to the streets to call for a more humane and ultimately more radical alternative.

Media Discourse Group

The Media Discourse Group, established in 2007, conducts research into public events, social movements, political controversies and media texts. In 2008, and again in 2014, it formed part of De Montfort’s outstanding research assessment score, attained for work in Media, Communication and Cultural Studies.

Contemporary Protest, Edited by Group members Stuart Price and Ruth Sanz Sabido

Recent research initiatives include work on memory and the Spanish Civil War, studies of the media and disability, local newspaper coverage of World War I, journalism and democracy in Iraq, ethnographic studies of club and music cultures, feminist history, contemporary protest, film and pedagogy in Nigeria, and social media use in the Brazilian favelas.

The Act of Protest

Public acts of protest are organised, collective attempts to alter state policy or to influence public perception on a variety of issues.

Anti-austerity march London, June 2015, ©Geoff Holland

The Group’s primary interest is in anti-austerity movements and working class action, studying the deeper structures and modes of behaviour to gain insight into the principles, attitudes and motives of activists - exploring the intersection of national identity and political discontent to try to understand the experience of people who have decided to resist.

Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing

Poster - political slogan used by occupy protesters, referring to the concentration of wealth among the top one percent of income earners compared to the other 99 percent.

Neoliberal governments (or those which support policies such as free-markets and privatisation) presented the global financial crash of 2007/8 as a general social crisis, one that required all sections of society to make sacrifices: in the event, the poorest and most vulnerable groups came under attack.

Throughout the world, protestors took to the streets to challenge this logic. Local groups often had differing focuses, but among the movement's underlying concerns was the power of large corporations - how they control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority of the populace, undermines democracy, and creates instability in the global economy.

Spanish Indignados (‘outraged’ citizens) began to occupy public squares of major cities in May 2011

Occupy London camp, Oct 2011-Courtesy of Julie Bykiarr.jpg
Occupy Wall Street Protesters, Courtesy of Spencer Platt

Inspired by these examples, as well as the revolutionary demonstrations in Egypt, American activists began to protest against corporate capitalism, arguing on behalf of those who suffered from economic deprivation. Across the United States, the Occupy Movement took over public space, in an attempt to create a new form of grassroots democracy.

A protester waves flags over a flaming barricade before riot police disbanded the protesters with tear gas during November 2nd, 2011 general strike at Occupy Oakland. Courtesy of Mike Alfieri/DVC Inquirer

Most protests were peaceful and police repression was minimal, but this changed when police attempted to forcibly remove Occupy Oakland (California) in October 2011. By the end the year, authorities had cleared most of the camps.

(Occupy Wall Street (New York City) in September 2011 was the first protest to receive worldwide media attention )

Opposing Fascism and Racism at Home

Right-wing populists have often adopted tough stances around issues such as race and religion. Today immigration and asylum and the denouncement of multiculturalism, have been incorporated into their agendas.

The taint of Nazism clings to these groups, causing anti-fascist The taint of Nazism clings to these groups, causing anti-fascist referring to events in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wall at the Dachau Concentration Camp in  Munich, Germany, reads “Never Again” in five different languages. Courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Briana Jones.
United Against Fascism leaftlet-p1
United Against Fascism leaftlet-p2

The 'Battle of Lewisham'

The mid-1970s saw a disconcerting growth of the National Front - a far right political party opposed to immigration and often cultivating links with neo-nazi cells at home and abroad. They started to gain solid electoral support normally enjoyed by mainstream political parties, perhaps due to the economic recession felt throughout the country in the previous years.

Anti-Nazi League demonstration in London, 1970s. Courtesy of The Guardian
Anti national-front protest, 1970s. Courtesy of Peter Lloyd

Areas of south London became a particular focus of intense and sometimes violent political activity.

At the same time, the Left, feminists, the black community and the trade union movement came together as opposition.

When calls to ban a national front march from new cross to Lewisham were declined by police, a mass presence of anti-racists rallied and prevented its members from passing through.

Uk Riots of 2011

Social media was widely accused of fanning the flames amongst rioters and police even considered switching off entire social networks during the height of the disturbances.

Following the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan by a Metropolitan Police firearms officer (on August 4th 2011), local protests were followed by riots and looting: disorder in London was swiftly followed by outbreaks of violence in a number of English cities.

Officers were attempting to arrest Duggan on suspicion of planning an attack as well as possession of a handgun. However, changeable evidence surrounding his death resulted in heated demonstrations.

The cause of the riots was attributed by the Right to the collapse of moral values, and by the Left to economic decline and discrimination.

Leicester, 4th February 2012

Primarily a single issue protest group, the EDL rally against Islamic immigration, which has been described by opposition as pure Islamophobia.

The group holds marches around the country and has visited multi-cultural Leicester on two occasions.

EDL protest, 2010. Courtesy of the Leicester Mercury picture desk
United Against Fascism protest, 2012. Courtesy of the Leicester Mercury picture desk

During an earlier English Defence League visit, in 2010, the local community suffered a number of attacks, supposedly because the EDL had reacted violently to being hemmed in by police. In 2012, a new strategy was devised: instead of ‘kettling’ the EDL, its supporters would be allowed to pass unhindered through the city.

The decision to let the EDL march pass the Clocktower, one of Leicester’s most famous landmarks, was greeted with dismay. A counter-mobilisation at the Clocktower was dispersed by the police, after which anti-racists held their own rally.

Occupy! The Telefonica Strike, 29th May 2015

The Telefonica building is one of Barcelona’s most iconic landmarks: it was here, in May 1937 that Spain’s ‘civil war within the civil war’ broke out, an event described in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.

Telefonica strike, July 2011, © Miles Cave

Seventy-seven years later, the site of this historic event formed the epicentre of a new drama, as the Telefonica workers, who had been on strike for five weeks, occupied the building.

Subjected to new contracts that made their workload impossible, the technicians turned the premises into a haven of free debate and democracy, but were evicted after a week of occupation.

'They Call it Democracy'

Recent studies by the Media Discourse Group highlight protest activity in Spain - in particular anti-austerity demonstrations and how many activists’ political identities and demands are partly shaped by a selective understanding of Spanish history.

Spanish Civil War, Republican propaganda poster

In this context political meanings about current issues are often communicated by making symbolic references to a shared history which in some measure everyone in Spain can relate to, such as use of the Spanish Republican Flag and pro-Republican mottos.

This follows from the legacy of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the violent dictatorship of Fransico Franco (1939-1975).

Supported by Hitler and Mussolini, Franco’s Nationalist supporters began to round up and execute their Republican opponents.

Calls for Independence

Catalan independence graffiti, Nov 2013. Courtesy of Joanjo Aguar Matoses

The Catalan independence movement supports and promotes the independence of Catalonia, a costal territory sharing the monarchy with Spain since the 15th century.

Catalan Way boy in 400km human chain crossed Catalonia in support of independence, Sep 2013. Courtesy of Joan Sorolla

Granted a statute of autonomy in 1932, Catalonia was stripped of self-rule during the Franco dictatorship, which discouraged regional cultures. Following Franco's death and the Spanish ‘transition to democracy’, Catalan autonomy was restored in 1975 - however calls for independence have remained strong ever since.

Barcelona, 30th May 2015

Football and politics in Spain have always been inextricably linked. The night before the finale of the ‘Copa del Rey’ (the King’s Cup, Spain’s most important football tournament), pro-independence protestors took to the streets of Barcelona, the main city of Catalonia.

During the match, supporters on both teams (FC Barcelona and Bilbao Atletico) drowned out the Spanish national anthem with a cacophony of whistles in the presence of the King and his subordinates. This expression of desire for independence caused a major controversy throughout the Iberian Peninsula.

Catalan rally in Barcelona. Sep 2014. Courtesy of Jordi Boixareu
The anarcho-syndicalist flag associated with the militant trade union the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo. Founded in 1910, the C.N.T still exists in Spain today. Courtesy of Stuart Price and Ruth Sanz Sabido

Later in the afternoon, pro-independence protestors assembled in front of the Generalitat (Barcelona’s municipal government building), to remember the Republican victims of the Spanish Civil War and the repression that followed.


De Montfort University would like to extend their gratitude to the DMU Media Discourse Group in helping to make this exhibition a success, in particular Professor Stuart Price and Dr Ruth Sanz Sabido. 

For further information please contact

Exhibition prepared by Professor Stuart Price and Elizabeth Wheelband. 


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