From Hong Kong to Lebanon, people around the world have taken to the streets in what can only be described as one of the largest waves of demonstrations and violent clashes in years. Protestors are pushing back against growing inequality, oppressive governments, and political leaders who care only about their own selfish interests.
What separates the current protestors from the many generations that came before them are the tools that help them fight for what’s right. In the past, sticks and stones were the main weapons of democracy. Now, digital technologies and cyberactivism are helping protestors expose injustice and put pressure on the political establishment.
Bitcoin has been playing an especially important role in protests around the world, effectively becoming the currency of democracy. Let’s take a closer look at some of the countries around the world where pro-democracy protestors use Bitcoin to fight for their freedom in order to understand its increasingly important role on the global stage.
The current protests in Hong Kong started in March and April and evolved into mass movements in June. Initially, they were aimed against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019, commonly referred to simply as the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill, which would have allowed the extradition of suspects to China to be tried under China’s opaque judicial system.
Over time, protestors added more demands until they settled on five core demands:
- Full withdrawal of the extradition bill.
- A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality.
- Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters.”
- Amnesty for arrested protesters.
- Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive.
So far, Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, has met only the first demand on the extradition bill, possibly hoping that the protests would eventually die out. However, the opposite has been happening so far.
Recently, protestors stormed a Bank of China’s Hong Kong branch, after calling for massive ATM withdrawals in an economic warning to China. Many people who rushed to withdraw money to pay their bills ended up leaving with empty hands as ATMs all over Hong Kong ran out of cash.
Soon after, reports started to pour in about LocalBitcoins trading volume reaching all-time highs in Hong Kong, with more than 12 million Hong Kong dollars’ worth of bitcoin were exchanged on the peer-to-peer exchange between September 21st and September 28th alone.
In Venezuela, protestors have been trying to remove Nicolás Maduro from the presidency since January 2019 while dealing with the day-to-day consequences of the actions of his authoritarian regime that has hyperinflated the Bolivar and caused extreme food and medicine shortages.
In March, the BBC reported that many Venezuelans were seeking refuge in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The government of Venezuela even launched its own cryptocurrency backed with the country`s natural resources reserves, called Petro, to circumvent US sanctions that have further fueled its economic crisis.
“Many Venezuelans are using Bitcoin to convert their bolivars, which are being permanently devalued by hyperinflation, to keep something of value,” says Asdrubal Oliveros, who works as an economist of Caracas-based consultancy Econanalitica.
Bitcoin is also helping those who are fleeing the country and heading to neighboring countries like Colombia. “Venezuelans can receive bitcoin from anywhere in the world and cash out in Colombian pesos right away,” says Matias Goldenhörn, who works for Athena, a company responsible for installing cryptocurrency cash machines (ATMs) in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, which sees tens of thousands of fleeing Venezuelans arrive every day.
Just like Venezuelans, thousands of Zimbabweans have been protesting against poor economic conditions and widespread government corruption since January 2019. Even the response of the government has been largely the same: coordinated crackdown that resulted in hundreds of arrests and multiple deaths.
Currently, Zimbabwe’s inflation is at the highest in more than a decade, and banks are turning people away saying that they have no money. “I have been queuing here since 4 AM for a mere $20. At least I am guaranteed that I will access the cash since I have been handed a card with an inscribed number,” said 69-year-old Ephraim Muvuti when interviewed in front of a large Zimbabwean bank.
Bitcoin trading has been booming in the protest-stricken country since the government introduced a law banning the use of the U.S. dollar in June 2019 in a move that shocked Zimbabweans, who have little faith in the local currency.
Because Zimbabweans have limited access to broadband internet and desktop computers, they rely primarily on mobile payment solutions like EcoCash. Bitcoin’s mobile-friendly nature makes it a great fit for the country, and there’s no shortage of options on how to buy bitcoins online with EcoCash.
Chile protests were sparked by the rise of the Santiago Metro's subway fare, but the real reasons behind them include years of increasing costs of living and prevalent inequality in the country. A coordinated fare evasion campaign by secondary school students quickly escalated into something much larger, with organized bands of protesters ultimately disabling the Santiago Metro network and causing extensive infrastructure damage.
Recently, the protests took a dangerous turn as Chileans took to the streets once again and burned down many banks and destroyed over 1,000 ATMs. President Sebastian Piñera responded with brute force, which resulted in thousands of arrests and more than 20 deaths. Chilean citizens throughout the country are now reporting problems retrieving cash from remaining ATMs.
While some have resorted to barter, more technologically savvy Chileans have turned to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and various online exchanges. Even though Chile has never been a significant Bitcoin market, trading volume in the country is steadily increasing as people are starting to lose faith in government-issued currencies.
The current wave of protests that are reshaping countries across the world highlights the great limitations of government-issued, centralized currencies. Such currencies can be easily manipulated to protect the selfish interests of a small number of people in power. Bitcoin takes power away from corrupted politicians and puts it in the hands of common people, helping them fight all forms of oppression, be it censorship, hyperinflation, or abuse of power. It’s safe to say that as long as oppression exists, the demand for Bitcoin will be strong.