From the Peasants Revolt in 1381, to the French Revolution in the late 1700s, and the recent protests in – among many places – Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong and the US, the disruption of society to demand change has a long and powerful history. Protests have historically come in waves, with momentum being carried across borders and transcending communities, but, while the right to protest peacefully is protected, the consequences do not always reflect this. When civil rights, equality and democratic accountability are at stake, are protests guaranteed facilitators of change?

Drawing on contemporary and historical examples from across the globe, this panel will consider the tradition of protests and assess how we move beyond protest to enact meaningful change. What is the historical symbolism behind the occupation of public spaces to demand political and structural change? In what ways are political and civic systems and structures susceptible to pressure?

What is the capacity of existing political, societal and civic structures to accommodate the kind of systemic change protests demand and what impediments are there to doing so? And how conducive is the law to the intentions and demands of protests and protesters?

Chatham House Centenary 2020 Stamp

This event is part of a series, held in the context of the Chatham House Centenary in 2020, bringing together historians, practitioners and current policymakers to discuss contemporary problems of international relations.

This event is for Chatham House members. Not a member? Find out more.


Dr Nadine El-Enany, Director, Centre for Research on Race and Law, Birkbeck, University of London

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, Post-doctoral Fellow, University of the Witwatersrand

Dr Stuart Schrader, Lecturer and Assistant Research Scientist in Sociology, John Hopkins University

Chair: Ben Horton, Communications Manager, Chatham House