The importance of public squares for recent revolutionary activity

Public squares have played prominent roles in recent revolutionary efforts across the world, including in Kiev:

Not all revolutions have been centered in public squares, but many recent ones have, including several in former Soviet states. Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003 toppled President Eduard Shevardnadze from Tbilisi’s Freedom Square. Kyrgyz protesters seized Ala-Too Square from police in 2005, then promptly stormed the nearby presidential palace and ousted long-time President Askar Akayev. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 took place in the same Independence Square where protesters have now engaged in bloody clashes with government forces, wringing promises from President Viktor Yanukovych for early elections and a return to the 2004 constitution…

Cairo’s layout also made Tahrir Square the perfect place to launch a revolution. Centrally located in Egypt’s largest city, Tahrir sits near the Egyptian parliament, Mubarak’s political party headquarters, the presidential palace, numerous foreign embassies, and hotels filled with international journalists to broadcast footage of the protests for audiences around the world. After Mubarak stepped down, large public squares in other Arab capitals became revolutionary battlegrounds as well.

For Libya, Tripoli’s main public square has come to symbolize the success of the country’s 2011 revolution. Originally named Piazza Italia under Italian colonial rule (Western European-inspired central squares are a common theme in this part of the world) and then Independence Square by the Libyan monarchy, it had been renamed “Green Square” after Muammar Qaddafi’s political ideology. Libya’s transitional government promptly renamed it Martyrs’ Square after those who died fighting Qaddafi’s regime in Libya’s civil war.

But these public spaces don’t always survive the revolutionary moments that make them famous. Bahrain’s most prominent public square (or circle) met the same fate as the uprising that once filled it. After demonstrators marched to Manana’s Pearl Roundabout in March 2011, the Bahraini government retook the circle in a bloody crackdown, then tore up the grass with backhoes and demolished the central Pearl Monument to reassert control.

The article then goes on to discuss how several totalitarian countries have moved their capitals in recent years which cuts down on the ability of the masses in more populous cities to effectively gather and demonstrate.

This idea also seems to be behind the logic of those – including numerous sociologists – who call for more public space in the United States. Without such spaces near centers of power, average people don’t have the ability to gather in large numbers and utilize their numeric force that can provide a counter to elite political and economic influence. The Occupy movement tried to utilize such spaces for this very purpose: bring their protests to the heart of big cities and business districts in such a way that those they wanted to reach would be forced to respond. But, when more spaces are privatized or off-limits to protesting (like public spaces around political conventions), people have less ability to demonstrate.

0 thoughts on “The importance of public squares for recent revolutionary activity

  1. Pingback: American bars too loud, cafes too quiet for civil conversation and political dissent | Legally Sociable

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