cover image If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution

If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution

Vincent Bevins. PublicAffairs, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-541-78897-8

The 2010s saw left-wing protest movements around the world shake the establishment, but accomplish the opposite of what they wanted, according to this elegiac history. Journalist Bevins (The Jakarta Method) explores progressive uprisings in 10 countries, most of them following a fashionable “horizontal” model that eschewed hierarchy, leaders, programmatic demands, and political negotiations with governments. He gives the most attention to the 2013 protests in Brazil, which began as a demonstration against public transit fare hikes and swelled to encompass a broad swath of discontent; in ensuing years, Brazilian rightists adopted the same demonstration tactics, media strategies, and antiestablishment rhetoric to get the left-wing president, Dilma Rousseff, impeached and bring right-wing president Jair Balsonaro to power. Bevins surveys other political upheavals, including Egypt’s 2011 Tahrir Square protests; fizzled prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong; and the 2019 protests in Chile, a rare success story, when politicians leveraged street demonstrations to bring a left-wing government to power. Bevins’s colorful reportage captures the élan of militants—“If We Burn, You Burn With Us” warned a Hong Kong banner—and their giddy joy as demonstrations gathered steam, and he’s also incisive in his critique of the protest movements’ feckless disorganization, incoherent message, and cluelessness about what to do when the protest ends. The result is an illuminating postmortem on a decade of false dawns. (Oct.)