January 31, 2020 by Sara Harper, LHC Student Intern



Last Saturday, January 25th, I participated in an anti-war protest, organized by the Birmingham chapter of the Party for Socialism & Liberation, in response to political strife over the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. As the rally ended a passerby approached to question the group’s intentions. He commented, “I just think there are better ways to get your message across, because this,” he motioned to the group surrounding him, “is going to burn out.” His comments weren’t unfounded; social movements can fizzle without a strong group organizing and keeping advocates accountable.Regardless of the outcomes, protests have been essential to the formation and vast changes America has undergone throughout history.

March on washington Aug 28 1963

It Isn't Just Yelling

Sure, people who protest seem pretty angry. We are! Protesting is the most outward and public way that advocates can voice opinions on the platforms they feel passionately about. However, public protests are only one tool in the advocacy kit. Protesting is by no means the end-all-be-all to any movement; it just happens to be the loudest and most visible form of advocacy. It’s easy to overlook the organizing power behind rallying a large group of people who are willing to stand in solidarity against whatever they believe to be unjust. Protests are the metaphorical tip of the iceberg for advocates who spend the majority of their time planning, recruiting, and participating in hands-on work related to their movement. 


Legislative Significance

The right to protest is not explicitly mentioned within the first amendment but has historically been covered by the right to assembly and the right to free speech. The first amendment gives American citizens the legal protection needed to organize and publicly voice their grievances. The broad nature of the first amendment protects all forms of voicing dissent, including hate speech such as the antisemetic chants heard at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA. While these views are not generally accepted, they are still legal to express in a public forum per the first amendment. 

The first amendment usually supplies protections to more vulnerable populations who choose to speak out against injustices. The right to protest has been exercised by a myriad of labor unions and other workers’ groups who withhold their labor in order to force management to implement changes in wages, safety laws, or equality in the workplace. Major advancements in civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT+ rights - and the laws now in place - have only happened because of large scale movements, organized by the people within these communities. 
2011 Wisconsin Budget Protests 2 JO


Social Significance

Protesting is a socially significant route to spread information and increase general awareness on topics, not only in America but beyond our borders as well. Protests typically garner media attention which, in turn, exposes a higher percentage of the population to said topics. Media can bolster a movement to numbers the organizers never expected. However, large movements can be seen as aggressive to the local governments who funnel resources towards dismantling the movement organizers. An example of this includes the FBI’s involvement with targeting prominent members of the civil rights movement, including (but definitely not limited to) Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. Government involvement in the dismantling of social movements has a history of escalating situations like the Kent State Massacre in 1970, when authorities opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam war. The shootings resulted in four deaths, nine injuries, and an increased sense of distrust between the government and distressed citizens. Relations between police and protestors were escalated in 2014 during the Ferguson Unrest following the police shooting of Michael Brown. As we move forward, protests have become the forefront of fighting for social justice and voicing dissent against oppression. However, those in power who would rather maintain the status quo retaliate in their own way. This is the ultimate caveat of protests: Rarely does progress happen without fighting against a forceful hand.


Movements and Momentum

The United States will likely never be protest-free; the only reason we exist as a country is because we protested an imperial power and won. The last four years have seen some of the largest protests in American history, with some estimates showing 4.6 million people participating in the 2017 Women’s March! As long as we continue to recognize (and subsequently utilize) the power of organizing and the power of protests, we will continue our American tradition for generations.

Trump-WomensMarch 2017-top-1510075 (32409710246)