Protest’s Place in American Democracy: A Tool for Political Change (by Ellie Gibson)


Hello Everyone:

Thanks for taking the time to read what I have written, and displaying interest in our community. For the last several months I participated in local protests that have been occurring in Portland. This experience has been eye opening for my views of people, the world, and my community. I was lead to focus on this through a requirement for writing, but it has turned out to be much more than an assignment. I have had the opportunity to meet new people, and understand how much influence each of us as Americans have to cause change in our communities and our country. I hope that after reading this someone will be inspired to get more involved with demonstrations, assemblies, walks outs, strikes or protests in their communities. These displays permeate in the minds of our political figures, and very much can cause change. Thanks for reading and I hope that each person who reads this will be more open and understanding this form of democracy. Now is the time, do not forget how impactful you are!

Becoming More Informed: A Proposal

Ellie2As an American citizen, there are many liberties that are enjoyed; The freedom to choose a career, the ability to chose appearance, and the ability to speak freely about political beliefs. For some people these rights did not come inherently. Some had to fight for these rights, some had to protest for these liberties. It has been said that protest is a useless form of mobility in a heated political climate, and that civil disobedience rarely accomplishes anything. Although when reflecting on history, we can see that protest has proven to be an effective part of American democracy.

Protest reserves a place in American democracy, and should be used as a tool for political change. In 1789 the First Amendment was written, and boldly declared that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” As a citizen the right is owned and there are ways that this right can be engaged, and be most productive. Knowing your rights in a demonstration environment is crucial. Occasionally within a protest, even if peaceful, there may be push back from law enforcement as well as citizens. Knowing what parameters you may operate in could help monumentally, and help maintain safety. A great window into this type of activism is through community. Locally, regionally, and nationally there are many groups that operate in reaction to policies that hinder or oppress Americans, or residents of America. By becoming involved, each person has the opportunity to become a collaborator and activist. These groups are sustained to defend and represent civil rights for all American residents. Ultimately there is the act of protesting and the experience of solidarity. It is essential to use communication and wits when protesting, in order to better serve the cause, and to keep safe. These precautions are best understood before the act of protesting. Using these steps when approaching protest or demonstration will result in a more progressive and active protest. Our American right to serve our country in this way should be taken seriously and given much thought.

As mentioned before, the First Amendment is a pivotal piece of American democracy. It allows us the liberty to assemble in protest to issues from civil rights to building demolition. The rights to assemble for an American means in public space. From sidewalks and parks to sanctioned government buildings, the right is reserved to make your voice heard (American Civil Liberties Union). The element of peace is important to keep in mind, because without that, there may be police intervention. In American history we have seen many example of peaceful protest. From conventional demonstration and marches, to direct action and occupation, and strikes. During the Civil Rights movement 250,000 people gathered for the March on Washington and to hear the unforgettable “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. This was an assembly of American’s practicing their First Amendment rights. This specific had many influences on the human rights movement, and the views on assembly by the American people. This assembly created new movement in the Civil rights movement by providing a voice for the people (Peter Weber). Systemically this assembly provoked the legislation that brought on the legislation that inspired the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 into action (March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom). Both of these acts were undoubtedly pillars in which the Civil Rights movement achieved through assembly and urgency through protest.

Getting involved and finding an effort that you support are key when setting out to make change through protest. If the individuals do not agree and find common ground, it is less likely there will be changes made. This is important, groups that align are more likely to provoke real and permanent change. At universities and colleges across the country, there are many centers that you can get involved in. Centers like queer resource centers, multicultural centers, and women’s resources centers. These are places where you can connect with people and find a connection and a bond to build off of. These connections are crucial when considering demonstration, these are your fellow demonstrators. An example of a group that works on a national level is the ACLU. The ACLU is an organization that is committed to defending the individual rights and liberties to everyone in the United States as stated in the Constitution. Groups like the ACLU can be participated in on a local level by reaching the state affiliate and getting involved with fundraising, and assemblies (American Civil Liberties Union). There are many other institutions that involvement is crucial in, from national to local there are avenues to find a cause to stand in solidarity with a cause.

Marches, protests, assemblies, and demonstrations open many circuits when put into place. These are places, people and experiences that are not just broad exercises of rights, but groups with intent and urgency. These can be wide expansive opportunities for the people of the country to display their power, as a group and create change. On a global level, this is practiced even in newly democratic nations. Recently, in South Korea there was a protest that took place from October 26th 2016 to March 11th 2017. This protest had one loud message, we want Park Geun-hye impeached. Park Geun-hye was acting president of South Korea who was elected in 2013. In October 2016 it was uncovered that Park Geun-hye had been sharing information with a confidant who had no upper level clearance to be hearing the information the Park was sharing (Griffiths, James). This erupted in major protests by the South Korean people. Hundred of thousands of people gathered over the course of those 6 months to show their disapproval of the President and her position in office. After months of assembly President Park was impeached on March 10th 2017. This is a good example of the power of a unified and present message. Being persistent and present until the change is made or set into action.

Often when hearing the argument that protesting is not worth in engaging in, there are a lot of similar arguments. These arguments state protesting is the least effective form of civil engagement. They state that they are disruptive to the public. They say that this ‘aimless’ activity is non productive. These claims are usually fueled and spread by people on opposite side of the goal of the protest, and are only meant to stop people from practicing this right. As mentioned before, history shows that this form of engagement is sound. Not only have protests created systemic changes, but they have also forced leaders to reevaluate policies and positions.

Just to simply look back into American history provides much insight in just how productive protesting, demonstrations and assemblies can be. Just to name a few that resulted in awareness and change; The Civil Rights Movement, The Suffrage Parade, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, The Boston Tea Party. It’s hard to believe that protest accomplishes nothing when it has so often been called upon as a tool for change. It is not usual that systems which continually produce results fall under fire. Why is this form of political movement becoming such a threat?

When demonstrations or protests last for weeks, months, or years some people take that as an opportunity to insert that no progress is being made. Although it is quite to the contrary, like many changes protests can take time. This form of engagement take sometimes large amounts of people, and sometimes large amounts of time. Protesting in the assertive and consistent voice ‘we want change.’ At times it can take a long amount of time for this voice to hear, but the constant demand cannot go unheard forever.

The time is now for American citizens to vocalize and practice their ideals and rights as occupants of the United States. We each are granted the liberty to stand with one another and work together to create real and impactful change. Take each opportunity that is granted in this country. We must work to defend those who are not heard. We must insist on the value of protest and its role in American life.


Works cited

“First Amendment.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University, n.d.

“Know Your Rights: What To Do If Your Rights Are Violated At A Demonstration Or Protest .” American Civil Liberties Union , ACLU,

“March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom.” King Encyclopedia. Stanford University, n.d. Web. <>.

Weber, Peter. “4 Big Accomplishments Of The 1963 March On Washington.” The Week. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

Griffiths, James. “South Korean President Scandle.” CNN, 9 Mar. 2017,

Sang-Hun, Choe. “South Korea Removes President Park Geun-Hye.” The New York Times, 9 Mar. 2017,


A Short Annotated Bibliography

“Know Your Rights: What To Do If Your Rights Are Violated At A Demonstration Or Protest .” American Civil Liberties Union , ACLU,

I thought this source was important to bring into the paper for a few reasons. I allows for a great resource in current event to be brought forth. There has been a lot of talk about the ACLU since the election, and I wanted to include them when speaking of ‘a call to action.’ I think it also bring credibility to the concept that all protesting does not take place on the streets.

Griffiths, James. “South Korean President Scandle.” CNN, 9 Mar. 2017,

I used the story of President Pack and this source because I think it is incredible to hear about the sheer volume of that protest. We don’t often hear about protests of that size taking place in other countries. I thought it offered the awareness that we are lucky to have the right to protest. With this topic it was hard to find sources outside of news and event. I thought it was better to find examples that supported protesting in real life, by credible news sources.

Weber, Peter. “4 Big Accomplishments Of The 1963 March On Washington.” The Week. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

I included this source because I thought speaking about the March on Washington would bring credit to protests by including protests from the past. Martin Luther King and protesting having become semi related, and I wanted to bring that to mind. I also thought it was a prime example of a protest that had permanent and lasting political action.




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