How to Protest, From A to Zip Tie Cuffs

Single picket: solo picket

These days in Russia lots of folks are feeling protest mood (discontent, literally “mood to protest”). A reader inquiry about various forms of protest made me realize that it was time for an updated look at some of the words to describe exercising your constitutional right to complain.

Because протест means disapproval or protest but not the activity of protesting, there are several words used to describe what you see on the street.

One of the most universal is action. Action has a lot of meanings. It’s a stock, as in this ad: Buy shares of Russian companies online! (Buy stocks in Russian companies online). But it’s also any kind of event, act, action, or promotion. You might read about charity events (charitable events), and if you live in Russia, you have been certainly called on the phone by a chipper young thing excitedly telling you: We have a special offer – buy three windows, and the fourth бесплатно! (We’re running a special promotion: buy three windows and get the fourth one free!)

In the world of protests, an action refers to any kind of event, and is usually called a protest, literally a protest action. In Moscow participants were detained after an unsanctioned protest against the constitutional amendments. Participants lined up to sign against the amendments (Participants in the event stood in line to register their disapproval of the amendments.)

Demonstration is another all-purpose word for any kind of mass event, often against something but sometimes for something. Like in Russian, it can also mean a show of something: The new film of a hot director is being shown in 15 movie theaters today. In the old days, demonstration was the very upbeat May Day street celebration: We always went with friends to May Day demonstrations (My friends and I always marched in the May Day demonstrations.) And today demonstration can be a sign of solidarity, while managing to also be a protest: In the Khabarovsk region mass demonstrations were held in support of the governor, who had been arrested.

If you don’t like the word demonstration, you can use the word manifestation, which in certain contexts can mean a manifestation, but in the context of protest is a big public demonstration: On the day of the anniversary of the revolution, they went with a red flag to the manifestation ( On the anniversary of the Revolution they took a red flag and joined the demonstration.)

Like action, demonstration can refer to just about anything: marching, holding up signs, gathering signatures, giving speeches, or just generally gathering together, milling about and shouting. Shouting, when done as a group effort of a short pithy phrase or two is called scan (to chant). The audience chanted “Freedom for political prisoners” and Позор Кремлю!” (The protesters chanted “Free political prisoners!” and “Kremlin, For Shame!”)

And then there is митинг (a rally), to hold a meeting (to rally) and protesters (participants, protesters). Rally is recognizably from the English word meeting, but it doesn’t refer to any one-on-one or small business or personal get-together. Rally is a rally, a public meeting, an assembly. In the Soviet period, it could mean the ceremonial part of some event, as defined by writer Sergei Dovlatov in “The Suitcase” (1986): Сначала ― небольшой банкет для избранных. Then – a short meeting. Presentation of certificates of honor and awards. (First – a small banquet for the chosen few. Then – a short ceremony. The presentation of honorary diplomas and awards.)

Rally could also be a crowd of people, but one shouting Hooray! (Hurrah!) Rather than Down! (Down with them!): On May Day the whole school had to gather in the morning for a celebration.

But it can also be a protest event that probably won’t be very much fun: If you took part in the rally, then at least you should be beaten, and if possible, imprisoned (If you went to the rally, they’d at least beat you up and then put you in jail if they could, too.)

The verb for this activity – going to a rally, not beating up protesters – is to rally, dourly described in the early post-Soviet years here: The country has changed: drunks have become drug addicts, crooks have gone into commerce, idiots have led parties and rallied continuously (The country had changed: drunks became drug addicts, crooks went into business, idiots headed up parties and rallied non-stop.)

And a common way to describe the participants is protesters: Around the corner we spotted the demonstrators. You might need to practice that word a bit.

At the rally you might join protest march (a protest march), also called procession (march, walk, procession). In non-protest contexts, you might read about funeral processions (funeral processions) or, to the contrary, holiday parades. These days processions are a popular form of protest when permission is not granted for a rally. You set up procession through the city (a procession about town) which you try to pass off as “just going for a stroll with 3500 of my close personal friends.”

But if you can get permission, you might organize пикет (a picket). Russian пикет is almost exactly the same as English picket: both mean a military or other guard unit, a group preventing strike-breakers, and — most commonly — people protesting something, usually with signs. It has the handy forms picket (a picketer); picketing; and to picket (to picket). Teachers picket the regional center building regularly and threaten to go on strike. For many people, the constant question is: What are the picketers displeased with? (What are those picketers so unhappy about?)

The strangest form of protest is одиночный пикет (one-person picket, solo picketing, single-person protest), which is when one person stands with a sign of protest. The reason for this form of protest is simple: it doesn’t require permission, is easy to organize — write something on a piece of paper and walk out the door — and can be gratifyingly annoying.

Alas, in a few cases when there have been a number of single-person protests, the police have called it a latent form of a collective public event (a disguised collective public activity) and lately just detain everyone anyway: The Tagansky court fined municipal deputy Yulia Galyamina on 200,000 rubles for a single picket in support of journalist Ilya Azar (The Taganka Court fined city deputy Yulia Galyamina 200,000 rubles for her solo picketing to support journalist Ilya Azar.)

Detention (being detained) can be nasty or nice. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge (untested), you will probably just be shoved into the paddy wagon, rarely handcuffed (in handcuffs) and never in plastic clamps (zip ties).

There. Now you know the complex language of protests. But you can also make it really easy: Я against! (I’m against it!)


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