9 acts of individual defiance that changed the world

Throughout history, individual acts of defiance have proved to be incredibly powerful. It takes courage to stand alone, but brave individuals often galvanise movements of people who come together and change the world.

Here are some of those moments to inspire you, and remind you that one person, one voice or one action can have a big impact.

1. Salt March led by Gandhi, India, 1930

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“We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

When India was a British colony, the British Raj imposed a hefty tax on the import of salt. This affected all Indians regardless of wealth or class, and so had the power to galvanise millions.

The Salt March attracted worldwide attention and sparked a desire to fight for independence within the country. During the speeches he gave over 24 days of the march, Gandhi encouraged followers to boycott salt by making their own. Gandhi was later arrested, but the protest against salt continued during his incarceration. He continued his fight for Indian independence, which came in 1947.

2. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, USA, 1955

Rosa_Parks_detail-1Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” – Rosa Parks

On December 1st, 1955 in Alabama, Rosa Parks decided to defy racial segregation rules by not giving up her seat for a white passenger when asked. Her actions sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, designed to put enough economic pressure on the city to listen. The campaign was so successful, it led to the desegregation of buses by the US Supreme Court. Rosa’s defiance changed the course of civil rights in American history.

3. Emily Davison’s protest for suffrage at the Epsom Derby, United Kingdom, 1913

“Emily Davison clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women. And so she threw herself at the King’s horse, in full view of the King and Queen and a great multitude of their Majesties’ subjects.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

Emily Davison was a women’s suffrage activist. She was imprisoned nine times, and endured force-feeding while on hunger strike. In 1913, her protest at the Epsom Derby resulted in her death, as she was trampled by King George V’s horse. She died of her injuries in hospital four days later. Her intention for the protest has always remained unclear, but she is remembered as a symbol of the struggle undertaken for the right for women to vote.

4. Tommie Smith and John Carlos Olympic protest, Mexico, 1968

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“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” – Tommie Smith

This photo has been deemed one of the most powerful images in Olympic history. After winning gold and bronze medals in the Men’s 200m Finals, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the national anthem as a political gesture for human rights. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore a human rights badge in support.

5. The Unknown Rebel at the Tiananmen Square Protests, China, 1989

“Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you.” – Tank Man’s words to the tank driver, according to reports

No one knows the identity of this man, who stood in front of army tanks the morning after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. In this act of defiance, “Tank Man” was filmed standing in front of the tanks, and as they tried to move around him, he stepped to block their way. The unknown rebel was able to grind a column of tanks to a halt – a reminder of how small actions can have epic impact.

6. The Self-Immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, Vietnam, 1963

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“As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.” – David Halberstam, Eyewitness

Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in 1963 to highlight the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm in South Vietnam. He used his last words to call on others to organise in solidarity. Images of his protest were circulated around the world and put pressure on the international community to reconsider support for Diệm. Images of Thích Quảng Đức’s protest have been deemed some of the most powerful in history.

7. Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, Burma, 1989 – 2010

Aung_San_Suu_Kyi_speaking_to_supporters_at_National_League_for_Democracy_NLD_headquarter-1-600x399Pictured: Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to supporters after her release from house arrest, 2010. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Last month I was released from almost six years of house arrest. The regaining of my freedom has in turn imposed a duty on me to work for the freedom of other women and men in my country who have suffered far more – and who continue to suffer far more- than I have.” – Aung San Suu Kyi after brief release in 1995

Aung San Suu Kyi spent a total of almost 15 years under house arrest, following her electoral win in the 1990 Burmese general elections, as the opposition. This meant being separated from her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, who died of cancer during her incarceration, and her two children. She was released from house arrest on November 13, 2010, and has stated since that she plans to run for the presidency of Myanmar’s (Burma) 2015 elections.

8. Taslima Nasrin’s exile in India from Bangladesh, 1994 – present

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”Come what may, I will continue my fight for equality and justice without any compromise until my death. Come what  may, I will never be silenced.” – Taslima Nasrin

Taslima Nasrin is a Bengali author and former physician, who was forced to live in exile after publishing her novel Lajja in 1993. The novel examines religious extremism and the tension between Muslim and Hindu communities in Bangladesh.  She has also written from personal experience about sexual abuse and women’s rights.  Several of her books remain banned in Bangladesh. Despite her exile, she has continued to write about freedom of thought and women’s equality.

9. Corazon Aquino and the People Power Revolution, Philippines, 1986

Corazon_Aquino_inauguration-600x411Pictured: Corazon Aquino swears in as President of the Philippines, February 25, 1986. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“As I came to power peacefully, so shall I keep it.” – Corazon Aquino

Corazon Aquino was one of the key figures involved in toppling the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos and is remembered for restoring democracy in the Philippines. She rose to prominence following the assassination of her husband Senator Benigno Aquino Jr, one of President Marcos’ biggest critics.

Marcos called for snap elections in 1985, and Corazon Aquino ran for President in opposition. Marcos was declared the winner, despite allegations of electoral fraud, prompting Aquino to call for mass civil disobedience. After defection by the military from Marcos’ regime and the People Power Revolution of 1986, Corazon Aquino was recognised as rightful winner, and inaugurated as the 11th president of the Philippines on February 25, 1986.

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