The History (and Power) of Peaceful Protests

Over the weekend, we saw massive protests around the country and beyond. Millions gathered on streets in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis to protest the murder of George Floyd, who lost his life after being held against the ground by a police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s throat. Video of the incident has since gone viral, prompting outrage across the country.

This country was founded on peaceful protests, and they played an essential role during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as the Boston Tea Party. As Americans, it is our duty to stand up to injustice. Learn more about the legacy of peaceful protests.

Your First Amendment Rights

It all goes back to the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech for all Americans. Protesting is a form of speech. You have the right to assemble, petition, and speak out against policies and ideas that you believe are unfair. Protesting has taken on many forms, including picketing, sit-ins, boycotts, and civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws and practices.

You have a right to occupy public spaces, including sidewalks, parks, and other areas to voice your ideas and concerns. Some cities may require a permit for these demonstrations. If you are denied a permit for your cause, be sure to find out why, to ensure that the denial is not a violation of your First Amendment rights.

The Civil Rights Movement

Many of these tactics were used during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s to combat racial segregation, voter suppression, and violence against unarmed people of color. African Americans and their allies peacefully gathered on sidewalks, in parks, outside of churches, schools, and places of business to advocate for their rights.

These demonstrations eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which did away with social segregation and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination in our country’s electoral system.

Stories of peaceful protests dominated the airwaves at the time, forcing everyday Americans to pay attention to the need for social change. This put additional pressure on members of Congress and the President of the United States to sign these policies into law.

The Boston Tea Party

The original American protest was a way of defying British rule by dumping large crates of tea into the Boston Harbor. Paying a tax on tea was the ultimate injustice to many American settlers back in the 1700s. This massive destruction of property eventually became a rallying cry for independence. Locals soon realized that they didn’t have to pay a tax on tea to a foreign power when they could impose their own taxes on goods and services, and thus, American was born.

The Boston Tea Party was ultimately a smashing success, even if it meant thousands of pounds of tea going to waste. This demonstration is a valuable part of our history as Americans. An entire country started its road to freedom without anyone being killed, and no one was even injured. Remember that physical goods are replaceable, human lives are not.

Anti-War Protests

War has long been a divisive topic in this country. There have been anti-war protests to go along with nearly every war in our country’s history. We saw massive demonstrations during the Iraq, Korean, and Vietnam wars. In the late 1960s right after then-president Richard Nixon first announced that he would be sending troops to Cambodia to stop the spread of communism, four demonstrators were killed by shots fired by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio. The protest began peacefully but unfortunately, did not remain that way. This is a reminder that deploying the National Guard to peaceful protests can escalate tensions, turning the situation into more of an armed conflict.

The antiwar movement during the 1960s and 70s decimated public support for the war in Vietnam. More Americans joined the protest movement as the war dragged on. By then, television had changed the nature of protesting in this country. Images of large demonstrations quickly traveled around the world, slowly weakening America’s position in the far East. The war eventually ended before the U.S. could declare victory as public pressure mounted at home.

#MeToo

More recently, we saw massive protests during the #MeToo movement as women and their allies stood up to institutional sexism and rampant sexual abuse and harassment. It started just after the election of President Trump and has continued every year since. Thousands of women gathered on the streets to talk about their experiences with sexual abuse and how we can change this country for the better.

The protests have led to sweeping social and political changes in this country, including the successful prosecution of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and R. Kelly, all of whom have been sexually abusing women for years. The movement has also changed the way we talk about sexual harassment in this country. Various news outlets, elected officials, and everyday Americans appear more willing to believe women when they come forward with accusations of abuse. Today, social media makes it easy to send and share photos and videos of these demonstrations, thus maximizing their impact.

As you can see, America has a long history of peaceful protests. Hopefully, lasting changes will come about as we continue to speak out against injustice.

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