You’ll likely tell your grandkids about the protests you attended in 2020.
Future historians, too, will toil over the twists that emerged on what felt like a daily basis throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Even before COVID-19 fully gripped the world, 2020 was shaping up to be a year of activism.
Then, of course, the virus disrupted that — for a time. With much of the world implementing some form of social distancing, more routine protests, such as climate strikes and the LGBTQ Day of Silence, were moved online.
Small protests also emerged during the earlier months of the pandemic in states like Michigan and Virginia as conservative activists demonstrated their opposition to the science-backed stay-at-home orders meant to slow the coronavirus’ spread. As COVID-19 cases remained spectacularly high in the U.S., due in a large part to government inaction and mismanagement, other anti-lockdown protests cropped up as well.
Yet an overall lack of in-person protests changed drastically following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, resulting in thousands taking to the streets. First in Minnesota, then in every state in the U.S. and many places around the world, communities rallied to protest police violence against Black Americans, and systemic racism more broadly.
As the year continued, an increased focus on society’s most systemic ills, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, motivated actions that followed, like Black Friday Amazon protests and U.S. election celebrations for Biden’s win.
Here’s a look at just some of the demonstrations that have defined 2020, in reverse chronological order. It’s far from comprehensive — and some of these protests are ongoing — but the demonstrations featured here illustrate how protest evolved in 2020.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.
Black Friday Amazon protests
In anticipation of Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping event that was largely moved online this year, a coalition of Amazon warehouse workers and climate activists organized a day of action called #MakeAmazonPay.
Protest actions were organized in Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, the U.S., France, and other countries. Actual actions varied: In Germany, thousands of warehouse workers went on strike, while some locales staged protests outside of Amazon’s headquarters.
It was a year unlike any other, and it was also an election year. As Nov. 3 loomed, the country held its breath for the results of the 2020 presidential election … and then had to keep holding its breath for days.
In anticipation of potential civil unrest, storefronts across the country were boarded up, a sight that had already become familiar in many cities during the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country in the summer of 2020.
With an abundance of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, presidential election results dragged on, as many Americans stayed anxiously glued to their TVs and social media feeds, waiting to hear the winner.
When the race was finally called for Biden on Nov. 7, supporters took to the streets across the country to celebrate. Celebrations were both impromptu and joyous, with some people popping champagne and dancing in the streets.
Election results protests
Spontaneous celebrations for the Biden and Harris win weren’t the only gatherings spurred by the election results. Throughout the election and afterward, Trump routinely claimed that the election was seeped with fraud, despite election officials finding no evidence to back his claims.
Emboldened by the soon-to-be former president’s inflammatory remarks and baseless fraud accusations, hundreds of right-wing activists, including members of the hate group Proud Boys, took to Washington, D.C., a week after the election was called for Biden. The protests eventually escalated to violence as counterprotesters got involved, with 20 people arrested, according to the mayor’s office in D.C.
End SARS protests
In Nigeria, a police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed in 1984 to fight crimes like robberies and carjacking. Since its formation, the unit developed a deep track record of violent abuses, including at least 82 instances of torture, ill treatment, and extra-judicial execution reported by human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
Despite the unit’s well-established pattern of violence and abuse, SARS officers received virtually no accountability. End SARS protests started back in 2016, but it was October of 2020 when the movement gained full momentum, after a video of a man’s unprovoked killing by SARS officers was shared widely on social media.
Demonstrations in opposition to SARS in October were held in Lagos and throughout the country. In response to the protests, President Muhammadu Buhari agreed to disband SARS. Yet protests continued on, and reports of people being shot at protests led to curfews enacted throughout Nigeria.
Outside of Nigeria, the hashtag #EndSARS, which protest organizers used in Nigeria, spread as well. Prominent celebrities and politicians, including Beyoncé and John Boyega, voiced support for protesters on social media.
September climate strikes
Back in 2019, youth-led climate strikes staged around the world in September of that year marked the ushering in of a new era of climate activism.
Those September strikes vaulted climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was 16 at the time, to an even larger stage, inspiring countless other young people to get involved in protesting for climate action.
Though much of the youth-led climate movement moved online in response to the coronavirus pandemic (more on that in a bit), on the one-year anniversary of the September strikes, at least 3,500 strikes were scheduled around the world.
Unlike the massive crowds that gathered in September 2019, 2020’s strikes met social distancing requirements to curb the spread of the virus. Thunberg’s strike in Sweden, for instance, was adapted to meet the country’s limitation of gatherings of over 50 people.
Minneapolis protests for George Floyd
Though underpinned by years of organizing, the momentous wave of Black Lives Matter protests seen in 2020 started in Minneapolis.
On May 25, a Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, killing Floyd while he cried out for help and said he couldn’t breathe. The four officers involved in Floyd’s death were not charged until days later, after video of the killing was released and the protests began. Chauvin was eventually charged with second-degree murder, despite the Floyd family’s demand for a first-degree murder charge.
The horrific killing led to waves of protest against racial injustice, with many in Minneapolis taking to the streets to demand justice for Floyd and to call for defunding the Minneapolis Police Department to expand investment in community-led safety strategies.
On June 26, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to dismantle the police department, a first step in a complicated, bureaucratic process. Additionally, the Minneapolis Board of Education voted unanimously to end its contract with the police department in the city.
Cities across the country were staging similar protests soon after Floyd’s death. These rallies also brought attention to the recent police killings of other Black Americans, like Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and Tony McDade. In just a few weeks, it seemed, a civil rights movement had been reignited for a new generation.
Black trans lives matter protests
The rate at which Black trans women are killed in the U.S. has been dubbed an “epidemic” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. HRC’s 2019 report found that all but one of the 22 trans or gender non-conforming people killed in the U.S. that year were Black. As protests spread across the country, organizers worked to center the stories of Black women, specifically Black trans women.
In response to killings of Black trans women like Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton, a visually striking protest arose in Brooklyn, New York, as a sea of protesters dressed in white converged on the Brooklyn Museum on June 14.
Global protests for racial justice
Protests in support of the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement spread swiftly around the world, with people taking to the streets in Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, London, and Seoul, among other cities. Many incorporated their country’s specific needs for progress, particularly in the context of colonial legacies.
In Brussels, Belgium, for instance, protesters defaced and set fire to a statue of King Leopold II, who oversaw the violent colonization of the Congo. Similarly, protesters in Bristol, England, toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, and threw it in the harbor.
, an annual holiday marking the day in 1865 when news that slavery had been abolished finally reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, has been marked with celebrations for over a century. This year, though, awareness of the holiday was especially high, as people across the country on Juneteenth in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There were Juneteenth protests in major cities like New York, D.C., Los Angeles, and Atlanta. In Washington, D.C., protesters gathered at iconic American landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, Freedom Plaza, and the White House. Later that day, protesters in D.C. toppled a statue of Albert Pike, a Confederate general, ultimately setting it on fire.
On May 8, runners organized a unique demonstration to honor the life of Ahmaud Arbery. Protesters around the country ran 2.23 miles, marking the date of Arbery’s killing. On Feb. 23, Arbery, who was Black, was stalked and fatally shot by white men in a truck while on a run in Georgia.
Those who participated used the hashtag to raise awareness of Arbery’s case, while also calling attention to a petition , which currently calls for charges to be brought against Glynn County Police Officer Robert Rash, as about his communications related to one of Arbery’s killers came to light.
In Georgia, where Arbery lived, on May 8, which would have been his 26th birthday. Hundreds gathered outside the Glynn County Courthouse to protest in Arbery’s case. His killers were not indicted , nearly four months after Arbery’s death, after recorded video was released and sparked outrage.
In late April and early May, after cities across the U.S. adopted social distancing measures, small protests emerged in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia, and Michigan. Groups of conservative activists gathered at their respective state capitols to protest stay-at-home orders, and called for businesses to re-open.
The protesters eschewed guidance from medical experts recommending social distancing and face coverings, and demanded businesses be allowed to open despite the public health emergency and experts’ recommendations.
The small gatherings were notable, though, for the lack of police response. In Madison, Wisconsin, for instance, some of the (primarily white) protesters were armed as they stormed Wisconsin’s capitol building. Yet Wisconsin Capitol Police said no arrests or citations were issued.
This stood in stark contrast to the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by Floyd’s killing, in which police aggression and violence gravely endangered (and in some cases permanently harmed) many unarmed protesters. At Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles and Atlanta in late May and early June, for instance, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, using extreme force on protests which were primarily peaceful.
Virtual Day of Silence
Today, and every day, I stand in solidarity with @GLSEN because the bullying of LGBTQ youth – and the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse – has to stop. It is up to all of us to create a more inclusive world for this generation and the next. #DayofSilence pic.twitter.com/AWL2H9ssjz
— Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (@RepMGS) April 24, 2020
With schools closed due to the coronavirus, the Day of Silence, an annual student-led demonstration for LGBTQ representation, had to move online. Typically, LGBTQ students and allies vow not to speak for the entirety of a school day to demonstrate the erasure of LGBTQ students in school curricula. (Some states, such as Texas and Alabama, restrict or prohibit the discussion of LGBTQ issues in the classroom.)
Though difficult to replicate online, GLSEN, the LGBTQ advocacy organization that has organized the demonstration since the 1990s, encouraged supporters to post on social media using graphics and templates that outline statistics about LGBTQ erasure in schools, in order to continue to raise awareness even while socially distant.
Virtual climate strikes
Youth climate activists like Greta Thunberg called for school climate strikes, which have gained momentum and widespread exposure in the last few years, to be moved online amid the pandemic starting in early March.
Typically, students participating in the strikes skip school on Fridays in their respective cities. These strikes have continued regularly throughout the period of social distancing, however, with youth around the world posting pictures of their protest signs on social media on designated days. The virtual protests are an effort to keep their longstanding demands in the spotlight.
International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, often includes celebrations and protests about critical issues, like gender inequality and gender-based violence. This year, as usual, the protests took place all over the world: In Chile, Mexico, Pakistan, Paris, Turkey, and the Philippines, among other cities.
Some were met with pushback from authorities and regular citizens. The Turkish government, for instance, banned gathering for the holiday. Thousands of people in Istanbul proceeded despite the ban, and riot police fired on them with tear gas. In Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishek, police detained around 50 protesters, primarily women, after a group of masked men attacked them, tearing apart banners, during the protest, according to Reuters. According to Human Rights Watch, the police did not inform the protesters of the basis for their detention, nor did they provide them with access to lawyers.
New Year’s Day protests in Hong Kong
At the very start of the year, protesters in Hong Kong rallied as part of an ongoing fight for democracy. The movement in Hong Kong was initially spurred by a (now-withdrawn) bill proposed in mid-2019 that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to China for trial. The January 1 protest carried the movement into 2020.
According to reports from the protest, riot police fired tear gas into crowds after some protesters threw objects at officers who had arrested people for alleged vandalization, according to the Guardian. Authorities demanded organizers call off the march, though large crowds stayed, leading to hundreds of arrests.
Of course, January 1 feels like a lifetime ago. Since then, Beijing announced intentions to push through significant national security laws in Hong Kong, one of its most assertive attempts to exercise control over the special administrative region. Among other changes, the proposed law aimed to permit mainland Chinese security services to operate in Hong Kong, and to grant Beijing power to override local laws. It led to thwarted rallies and increased fears of surveillance and arrest, while people continued to take to the streets.
On June 30, the national security law took effect. It’s worded in a way that grants authorities significant leeway in interpretation, according to activists. Hong Kong police have since made their first arrests under the new rules. At a protest against the legislation on July 1, 300 people were arrested, nine due to violations of the national security law, according to the police.
UPDATE: Dec. 7, 2020, 3:11 p.m. ET This story was updated to include protests that took place following the story’s initial publication in July 2020.