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Justice Warriors Or A Culture Of Complaint? Protesting Is On The Rise

People gluing themselves to city streets in peak hour, school children skipping class, athletes refusing to take the podium, in ways it feels like 2019 is the year of the protest.

Mack Horton made waves this week after refusing to stand on the podium with Chinese swimmer Sun Yang at the World Swimming Championships in South Korea.

Briton Duncan Scott followed Horton’s lead, failing to acknowledge Sun at a separate ceremony days later.

It was all because their rival had served a three-month doping ban and was also facing allegations that he destroyed a blood sample with a hammer before it could be tested.

Silver medalist Mack Horton of Australia and gold medalist Sun Yang of China pose during the medal ceremony for Men's 400m Freestyle Final. IMAGE: Getty Images

Horton and Duncan say they were fighting for institutions to stand up and ensure the sport is clean.

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While the demonstration didn’t involve huge crowds, mega phones and controversial placards, it could be seen as a microcosm of larger protests we’ve seen in Australia this year.

In March, tens of thousands of students walked out of their classrooms to stage protests in 50 different locations, demanding action on climate change chanting: “This is what democracy looks like”.

It was part of a global campaign involving close to 100 nations -- the entire thing created single-handedly by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl.

Like Horton, these protestors were calling for immediate action.

Another group repeatedly making headlines in 2019 is Extinction Rebellion, which has been causing chaos around the country.

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A protest march makes its through the CBD in Brisbane, Monday, April 22, 2019.  IMAGE: AAP

Meanwhile animal rights activists have stormed farms and chained themselves to machinery and thousands of Australians continue to protest around the country, calling for the release of refugees and asylum seekers.

Every week it appears there is something new to protest, so is activism on the rise?

Eva Cox who is a long-time feminist activist and University of Technology Sydney academic said that she believes more people are speaking out.

“For a lot of people there is a sense of a need to get up and protest because they don’t trust the institutions or the governments,” she told 10daily.

She explained that speaking out and being heard can be two separate challenges.

“There’s a growth in the number of people who want to speak out but whether it is effective or not I don’t know,” Cox said.

“There should be a lot more of it because there is an awful lot of gaps in the system”.

If you feel strongly about something it is important to speak out, she said, “otherwise the bas***d’s win.”

This apparent rise in action has extended far beyond Australia.

In Hong Kong, two million protestors stormed the city in June demanding leader Carrie Lam kill a controversial extradition bill.

Seven weeks on and the demonstrations are continuing.

Just this week, hundreds of thousands people swept through the capital of Puerto Rico shutting down a major highway and paralyzing much of the city -- they were calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Puerto Rico, San Juan: Numerous people demonstrate after the resignation of Governor Rossello. IMAGE: Getty Images

For close to two weeks Hawaiians have been peacefully protesting a massive $1.4 billion telescope project on the peak of Mauna Kea, a mountain sacred to locals.

Hollywood actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson even joined the crowd.

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Miriam Robinson, one of the founding members of Extinction Rebellion told 10daily that the face of activism is changing.

“Some people still think of protestors as dread-locked hippies without a job, chaining themselves to a tree for a week,” she said. “That’s not the case anymore.”

We have mums, dads, lawyers, doctors, grannies who have never taken part in these things before. They have jobs, they have a life, but they also want to stand up for their beliefs.

“When normal people see normal people sit down in the middle of the road, happy to be arrested, it makes them think that they can join these groups too,” she continued.

Robinson explained that there were downfalls to activism such as “some very unfortunate trolling,” what they call “climate grief “ which is “having to constantly think about the end of the world as we know it”

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She also said getting arrested comes with the territory.

While Cox doesn’t believed that stunts such as blocking traffic is likely to get the support these people are after, she said that taking a stand is important.

“It might mean that you’ve been moved on by police or what not but at least you’ve said something and at least you’ve given it a good go”.

She warned though, that not all action is good action.

“Take a stand but think through what you want to get out of it before you take action, and don’t do it alone”.

She warns that activism can sometimes be a double edged sword, “sometimes people get scared of the chaos and forget the good message”.

Contact the author khill@networkten.com.au