Has anyone else noticed that protests and political outcries often seem to occur during a natural crisis? This could be common global pattern. “History has shown us in every corner of the world, time and again that collective actions are the result of feelings like fear, frustration, and helplessness,” Nicole Fisher, president of Health & Human Rights Strategies, wrote for Forbes in Psychological Research Explains Why People Protest.
Fisher later said in an interview with NPR’s podcast series Codeswitch, “When placed in lockdown we go into a predictable set of responses. Adrenaline and stress hormones like cortisol kick in. When people are scared, when people have feelings that they are very uncomfortable with, it often leads to disorder.” Fight or flight, in other words.
Most of us had been settled into our quarantined homes when the world witnessed the horrifying deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. In response, a new generation of activists have emerged to re-examine unjust political and social systems in the United States. While the underlying issues concerning Black Lives Matter are not new concerns, the answer to why more people are paying attention could be attributed to a combination of our sense of control and “normalcy” slipping further from our grasps. Perhaps the hundred thousand deaths in America from COVID-19 are echoing the deaths of American citizens from systematic racism and inequalities.
We at CultureWizard are fond of finding patterns and comparisons across global perspectives, so we decided to examine this social theory by compiling a few examples of natural crises that have led to acts of civil unrest around the world:
Ebola Epidemic in Liberia
West Africa was ground zero for some of the worst Ebola cases in 2014, and the dire situation in Liberia was exacerbated by a shortage of treatment beds and medical equipment—not to mention a struggling economy (sound familiar?). Frustrated by mismanagement of the crisis, protests erupted in West Point, Liberia, which in turn put a spotlight on acts of police violence and class discrimination.
Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan
In 2009, the catastrophe of Typhoon Morakot left an estimated 300 of mostly aboriginal residents without homes and 700 dead. Protests for recognition of aboriginal rights emerged, with activists demanding government assistance to help displaced aboriginals build homes near their original dwellings.
Bush Fires in Australia
Last year, Australian bushland spanning tens of thousands of acres were scorched by bush fires, resulting in 27 deaths, and inspiring climate change protests all over the world. Australia had weakened its commitment to the U.N. Paris climate accord last year, and the protests pressured Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to do more to combat climate change.
In all of these cases around the world, we can see that natural disasters can enable people to confront collective dissatisfaction with the status quo. If psychologists are correct, human beings are more likely to become aware of our shared grievances and sense of injustice in times of uncontrollable situations. If we examine through a global lens, it seems that the coronavirus pandemic has become an inevitable catalyst for civil unrest—and hopefully towards positive changes.
Read more about Coronavirus through a global and cultural lens in The Power of Cultural Values During the Coronavirus Pandemic, by RW3 CultureWizard’s CEO, Michael Schell.