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Right of Peaceful Protest and First Amendment

Updated August 30, 2021
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Right of Peaceful Protest and First Amendment essay

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Have you ever heard the expression, “A closed mouth never gets fed”? Well this statement is supposed to symbolize how if you don’t speak up for what you want, you will never receive it. This statement is true in many aspects of life, whether it be what food you want to go out and eat with your friends, or a political viewpoint you would like to see in action more than another. Whatever the case may be, staying silent and not voicing your opinion is not always a wise decision. This belief has been exercised many, many times throughout history in the form of free speech and freedom of protest which has been granted to all Americans in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The first amendment should be protected at all cost because it prohibits the government to have too much control over the population while also allowing citizens to express their opinions and personal beliefs without being punished.

It is very difficult to have the state of mind to believe that protest, marches, and free speech have not been the foundations to history altering events. Protest and disagreements have been occurring as far back as 1688 in New World, Germantown. This civil act of disagreement towards the government was exercised in the most simplest way possible, a petition. This petition was used to protest against the selling, buying, and use of African-American slaves and was actually the first American document of its kind.

The “Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery” was developed, written, and exercised by a large group of religious English men in the early stages of the 13 Colonies. The document states, “ …those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alicke? Here is liberty of conscience wch, is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body, except of evildoers, wch is an other case. But to bring men hither, or to robb and sell them against their will, we stand against… “ (1688). This quote shows how the early Englishmen of the colonies saw the contradictory actions the nation was doing and instead of turning their heads away from the situation, they chose to stand together and assemble a petition to express their beliefs.

Englishmen from over 300 years ago are not the only people that understand and comprehend the power behind a proper and organized assembly. Today, people all across America, no matter what economic, social, or political background it may be, are also participating in forms of protest. This is because it raises awareness of their cause while also respecting others rights and beliefs.

In today’s era, there has been numerous planned and organized protest, stretching from small local strikes to nationwide marches and boycotts. In a recent statistical article it discusses the amount of protest from January 20, 2017 to today. These protest discuss various topics such as international issues, collective bargaining, education, representatives, healthcare, environmental issues, executive decisions, immigration, guns, and civil rights. The statistics of how many protest there have been of each topic are as follows: 98 protest, 120 protest, 293 protest, 345 protest, 460 protest, 618 protest, 626 protest, 1,109 protest, 2,456 protest, 2,772 protest, and 3,080 protest respectively. These numbers collectively sums up to almost 12,000 individual protest over the span of just two years, with over 4,000 of said protest having over 5,402,000 attendees, which by the way, the article states to be “…a huge underestimate…” (2017, Caruso). Hopefully, these numbers will easily and effectively put into perspective the great deal of problems this country is facing and how it’s citizens are attempt to work together to make their voices heard and eventually acted upon.

Hopefully, you as an intelligent reader, understand the foundation as to why protest and free speech are an important aspect of society, as it displays the perfect tools for a fully functioning constitutional government. Although there are some methods of protest that are far more convenient and beneficial than others. Overall, there are two main categories to fit protest in: violent and non-violent. In a recent study by political scientist, Erica Chenoweth, she discusses her data collection which has been spanned over the course of more than 100 years as to which category of protest is more successful.

In the article she states, “…I collected data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government or a territorial liberation since 1900,’ she says — hundreds of cases. ‘The data blew me away.’ Here’s {the} chart, which pretty clearly suggests that nonviolent movements are much likelier to work…” (2013, Chenoweth). As you can see from the chart, peaceful/nonviolent protest are over 25% more successful than that of violent protest. While at the same time, violent protest have had a failure rate of about 60%, while non-violent and peaceful protest have had a failure rate of only about 20%. This shows how peaceful protest are far more beneficial and convenient for a political objective.

Now that society is realizing just how impactful and truly amazing protest can benefit their cause, it should come to no surprise that more and more citizens are taking part in this civil form of disagreement towards their government with more convenient and clever ways. Thanks to a recent study by Rob Rosenthal and Lois Brown, we can clearly visualize and understand the newer generations engagement in protests in recent years, compared to that of earlier decades. Specifically discussing those in the 1960’s. The articles states:

The 60s and their aftermath, we know, took place in a perfect storm for radicalism of a overwhelmingly compelling moral issue of rights for African-Americans, an unpopular war, a military draft, a turn toward liberalism in politics at most levels, denial of the vote to young people 18 to 21, and… a booming economy which made job-seeking less urgent and activism less dangerous financially. Numerous events suggest that students today are not abandoning activism but using new forms of activism: replacing confrontation with dialogue, lobbying, and direct service provision and “organizing” locally and globally without ever joining hands. …One does not have to leave “home” and put it all on the line like the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer activists did in volatile and unpredictable places. (2014, Rosenthal and Brown)

This quotation expresses how although the new generation doesn’t seem like they are committing themselves to political movements as those of the “Freedom Riders” and “Freedom Summer” activist, they are still exercising new forms of protest such as dialogue like soap boxes and organizing activities globally like strikes and marches. These methods are extremely convenient for younger generations because it provides outlets to voice their opinions such as stated in an article by Samantha Madison on the Archive Social, “Right now social media is on a computer platform, so it’s easier and more nimble…” (2017, Madison).

Some may deem specific types of protest as strange, unusual, useless, or sometimes even disrespectful, but what many don’t realize is that there are several various types of protest and each and every one can be used to raise awareness of your cause if used effectively. In this sense, protest are like cell phones because there are many different types, some deem them as useless and pointless, and when you find the one that best suits you and your situation it can benefit you greatly. Take for instance this quote by a Conflict Analysis and Resolution Major, “Basically, ‘protest’ is an umbrella term for many different forms of expression of opposition (See Fig. 2).

Typically, this takes form either passively or actively. Passive Action, or Passive Protest, is appealing for change within a system. This can be done in many ways, but it simply means that a message is being conveyed and gains attention, without disturbing a system… Direct Action is not seeking an appeal from a system, but defying it. Direct Action seeks to refute a system’s power and act on the changes, instead of appealing for them…” (2012, Kara). This image and quotation represents how citizens have an endless amount of options and outlets to disagree with their government in any way, shape, or form. Without these outlets available, the government will inevitably become too powerful because no community, or population of people, can input their own opinions of beliefs into the system.

Having the ability to apply your personal opinions and beliefs into our governmental system is not the only advantage to our First Amendment right. Another benefit of this aspect of the First Amendment, in short, is that you can do right where other have done wrong.

Across America there have been wrongly convicted citizens left and right. Thankfully, due to protest, marches, or rallies, these innocent people have had their names cleared from what would have been an ‘open-and-shut-case’. Take this quote published by Career Ride into consideration, “Mass protests all over the nation stirs revolutionary movements and halts the activities of the government if it gets to a strike, which in turn gets the attention of the media and the law insurers are bound to take an action against an issue to which they would otherwise turn a deaf ear…” (2014). This quotation perfectly symbolizes a very positive benefit on protesting and striking being a tool used to right a wrong that a court system of the government has committed that, may or may not, have been the end of someone’s life!

On the other hand, many claim that the fact there are a certain amount of advantages, there could be just as many disadvantages of ralling, striking and protesting. People claim that, “…public protests have a lot of disorganization and aggressive emotions, it also can turn into fighting, so people try to keep away from it…” (2018, Gopin). This can be true amongst many scenarios just as it can be avoided. To prevent these miscommunications and conflicts all together, the leader of these organizations just need to make extra planning far ahead of time.

Others claim, “…the state might term the protest to be an unlawful assembly… the protesters could be subject to the consequences of the act…” (2013, Fisher). Although this is true to violent protest and gatherings, this is entirely out of the protestors, participants, and attendees hands to prevent a decision made by the government in this sense. What the ralliers can do to avoid any misinterpretation from congress or any other governmental staff, they can have a peaceful/nonviolent protest which would eliminate any risk to be ruled as an unlawful assembly since it is simply an exercise of their First Amendment right.

Due to the overwhelming majority of people peacefully and non violently exercising their First Amendment right in an attempt to raise awareness for a variety of reasons, provide their inputs and opinions in a country that they are choosing to reside within, provide justice in an establishment that would “…otherwise turn a deaf ear…” (2014), and prohibit too much power going to the federal government, I believe the First Amendment should be protected at all cost no matter what the situation.

Works Cited

  1. Resources, www.bu.edu/research/articles/counting-american-protests/.
  2. Cejnar, Jessica. “Counting of Protests Continues.” The Triplicate, The Triplicate, 7 Nov. 2013, www.triplicate.com/csp/mediapool/sites/Triplicate/News/story.csp?cid=4389525&sid=923&fid=151.
  3. “Demonstrations Across the Country.” Count Love, countlove.org/.
  4. Fisher, Max. “Peaceful Protest Is Much More Effective than Violence for Toppling Dictators.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Nov. 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/11/05/peaceful-protest-is-much-more-effective-than-violence-in-toppling-dictators/?utm_term=.2098ac191cba.
  5. Gopin, Marc. “The Difference Between Protest America 1968 And 2017.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Jan. 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/marc-gopin/the-difference-between-pr_1_b_14361002.html.
  6. Kopf, Dan. “A Harvard Study Identified the Precise Reason Protests Are an Effective Way to Cause Change.” Quartz, Quartz, 3 Feb. 2017, qz.com/901411/political-protests-are-effective-but-not-for-the-reason-you-think/.
  7. Protest Rallies Are Necessary To Get Justice!, www.careerride.com/view/protest-rallies-are-necessary-to-get-justice-17343.aspx.
  8. “Quaker Protest Against Slavery in the New World, Germantown (Pa.) 1688 [with Enhanced Contrast].” Quaker Meeting Houses, triptych.brynmawr.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/HC_QuakSlav/id/11.
  9. Rosenthal, Rob, and Lois Brown. “Then and Now: Comparing Today’s Student Activism With the 1960s.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Oct. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-rosenthal/then-and-now-comparing-to_b_5724940.htmlCaruso, Catherine. “Counting Protests.” Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) | Human .
  10. “Types of Protests.” Occupy Wall Street Analysis, 1 May 2012, owsanalysis.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/types-of-protests/.
  11. []. “How Social Media Has Changed the Way Political Movements Organize.” Government Technology: State & Local Government News Articles, Emergency Management, www.govtech.com/social/How-Social-Media-Has-Changed-the-Way-Political-Movements-Organize.html.
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