Protest works

I have very little interest in getting in to debates over how best to protest and otherwise resist the extremism of Donald Trump and his administration. But I will note that when people try to tell you that protesting the administration at all isn’t worth it or isn’t “sufficient,” you might want to respond with two points:

  1. Nobody thinks protest alone is sufficient
  2. Check out what’s happening in Romania right now

The Romanian government is teetering on the brink of collapse, because of massive public protest. Last Tuesday, the still very new (sound familiar?) left-wing (OK, that part is new) Romanian government took steps, specifically a decree (the better to bypass parliament) from Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, to decriminalize corruption offenses if the money involved in said corruption totaled less than $48,000. It also halted all current corruption investigations and cleared some people who had already been convicted on corruption charges.

Surprisingly, the Romanian people, who live in a country that has a bit of a corruption problem–they’re far from the most corrupt country in the world, but neither are they among the least–didn’t appreciate this effort to “bring the law in line with decisions by the country’s Constitutional Court,” which was the explanation offered by their government. The public figured, and I know this sounds crazy, that corruption is corruption, and should be punished even when it’s on the cheap. Maybe they also figured, and again I know this might seem radical, that their new government was preparing to nickel and dime them to death. That the leader of Grindeanu’s Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, is currently under corruption investigation and stood to personally benefit from the decree (it would have cleared the way for him to become PM) probably helped fuel the public anger.

So, in response, people took to the streets. A lot of people took to the streets. Or, to be more precise, they took back to the streets–there had already been some protests as far back as January 18, when rumors began to circulate that Grindeanu’s government was considering these anti-anti-corruption measures. But once the government acted, the protests grew considerably. At least 500,000 Romanians rallied across the country on Sunday in opposition to Grindeanu’s decree–a percentage that, in the US, would equate to something like 8 million people. For reference, the recent Women’s March, thought to be the largest single day protest in American history, brought out about 3 million people by the estimates I’ve seen. It may have been the largest protest in Romanian history–if it wasn’t, it was only superseded by the protests that accompanied the 1989 Romanian Revolution, which overthrew Nicolae Ceaușescu.

Protests outside the government building in Bucharest on February 1 (Wikimedia | Babu)

And you know what? It worked. On Saturday, Grindeanu announced that he was scrapping the decree. That may be too little, too late, though–protests have continued despite Grindeanu’s reversal, and it may be that nothing will satisfy the protesters short of bringing his government down. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is politically aligned with the opposition, so he’s been happy to twist the knife and would be very happy to accept Grindeanu’s resignation, but his powers are very limited. But regardless of what happens to the government, the point is that corrupt people pushing a corrupt agenda can, even as they evade any political roadblocks, still be moved by public opposition.

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