‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’. It may as well be. It has had god-like powers to change the course of human history, across time, around the world, and in all aspects of life- be it social, cultural, or political.
The world we live in has always been ever-changing. A lot of this flux is caused by organic factors like changes in culture, demographics, technology, etc. Some of these changes can be gradual and incremental- like the increasing lifespan in the developed world; while others are rapid and transformational- like the explosive growth of the internet. Some others still, are radical and reformative, and are typically caused by a change in public opinion.
Public opinion on a large scale can set in motion social movements that deliberately set out to cause changes in the structure and functioning of society. These movements create new perspectives, and produce new set of norms, values and relationships within our society and our world. These movements give birth to new realities. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The American Civil Rights Movement led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that categorically ended racial segregation and discrimination in schools, workplaces, public places. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed and granted equal voting rights to minorities. The voice of the people challenged, and changed, the status quo of society in the USA.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa helped shape public opinion about the conditions faced by non-white in the country amongst people around the world in order to isolate the regime and pressure it into ending Apartheid. And, it worked.
Mahatma Gandhi unleashed the power of large scale non-cooperation movements and civil disobedience movements that included hundreds of thousands of voices to challenge, and eventually overthrow, the sovereignty of the British Empire over the lives of the Indian people.
In recent times, we have witnessed the Arab Spring spread across North Africa and Middle East, with people in large numbers demonstrating against oppressive regimes, toppling regimes, and in the case of Tunisia, leading to a constitutional democratic governance system.
Stepping aside from the political, we can see how the Protestant Reformation challenged the pre-existing notion of Christianity in the Western world and the power wielded by those in positions of authority within the Catholic Church.
To return to recent times, we see the acceptance of same-sex marriage in more and more countries around the world as public opinion around the matter keeps evolving and demanding that its changes are reflected in public policies. We can see how public opinion can help conservation of endangered animals, or see the disenfranchised rise against the greed of the 1%, or enable and empower women around the world to reject the culture of sexual harassment by powerful men. There are many such examples in various aspects of our lives where public opinion has disrupted the status quo and reshaped history.
There is an undeniable power in public opinion. It can change the world as we know it.