The Power of Peaceful Protest

by Channon Oyeniran

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

 ― Martin Luther King Jr.

In a time where there is so much injustice, hate, discrimination, racism and xenophobia going on in the world, I thought it would be beneficial to talk about a way people have long fought these injustices.

400px-nonviolence_protesters-04-16-00Peaceful protesting (which is what I will be focusing on in this post) is a purposeful method in achieving a particular objective by using persuasion and/or pressure. Race has been and still is a key issue in the West, and with the increase of police violence against black people in the United States (more so than ever in the past four years) and the recent election that sees President-elect Trump, someone who has made racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic and a host of other hateful comments, in the White House in 2017, the act of peacefully protesting is hugely important. [Disclaimer #1: We agree with Bernie Sanders when he says, “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.” We refuse to ignore the hateful messages he sent during his campaign.]

The act of protesting peacefully that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. employed during the Civil Rights Movement is a great example of the change that can be achieved when people come together and challenge what they know to be wrong. The Black Lives Matter movement, which started within the African-American community after the 2012 killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, follows in the same footsteps and seeks to change the blatant systemic racism towards black people and end the resulting violence. I think there’s a lot we can learn from the peaceful protests used in the Civil Rights Movement and apply them to the injustices of today.


Protests during the Civil Rights Movement

One of the strengths of the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) was the variety of protest tactics that were used in order to get results and bring about change.. The main objectives of the Civil Rights Movement were to end racial segregation and discrimination against African-Americans, to establish legal recognition and to ensure protection of citizenship rights. Two key events that helped to initiate the Civil Rights Movement were Brown vs. Board of Education and Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.

In 1951, a class action suit, Brown vs. Board of Education, was filed in Topeka, Kansas by thirteen black parents on behalf of their twenty children and asserted that the system of segregation in public schools did not provide separate but equal treatment of both black and white American children; rather it oppressed black students in all areas. It wasn’t rosa_parks_bookinguntil three years later, in May of 1954, after much deliberation, that the Supreme Court ruled that mandating or permitting public schools to be segregated by race was unconstitutional. This event brought the issue of segregation to the forefront of national attention. 

On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks, the secretary of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger on the bus. As a result of Rosa Park’s action, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was formed and demanded that there would be a bus system that treated all people fairly and equally. After 381 African-Americans in Montgomery boycotted riding buses in Montgomery which resulted in a loss of revenue and in November 1956, a federal court ruled that Montgomery’s buses to be desegregated.

protests-002In addition to the boycotts, there were other forms of peaceful protests that Dr. Martin Luther King and those involved in the Civil Rights Movement engaged in. They included:

  • Sit-ins (Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960)
  • Marches (Selma to Montgomery in 1965) – Marches were the most common form of protest and drew much national attention for the causes for which they were marching.

In its fourteen year existence, the Civil Rights Movement accomplished much for African-Americans, all while maintaining the mandate of peaceful protest established by Dr. King and influenced by Indian Civil Rights leader Mahatma Gandhi. Some of the major successes of the movement include the right to vote, the ban on school segregation, and other labour and civil rights.

Protests during the Black Lives Matter Movement

The strength and success of the various forms of protest in the Civil Rights movement has been revived in today’s civil rights movement, where people ofblack-lives-matter-steps-into-the-spotlight-in-canada-body-image-1468010992 all nationalities have taken to the streets to protest many of the same issues that were at the forefront fifty years ago: racism, discrimination and police brutality.

As previously mentioned, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was started in 2013, after the killing of unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Since then, there has been an escalation of extrajudicial killings  of black men and women in the United States by police officers. The killing and “Not Guilty” verdict in the Trayvon Martin case was the catalyst for this movement to be established, and it continues today to be a voice for those who want to finally see an end to the injustices against black people. What started as an online campaign by black community organizers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometin, has now snowballed into a movement both online and off. [Disclaimer #2: Please note that we are not anti-police. We are anti-police brutality, and we are pro-justice and very thankful for police officers who uphold the law fairly.]

z6icygeThe movement that started in the US has spanned borders and now has a presence in countries  including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. While peaceful protests remain a powerful tool for the BLM movement, its most powerful tool has been social media. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement, who did not have the benefit of social media, BLM has been able to capitalize on this tool and use it to share its objectives and message with the world. In its fight to end systemic racism, police brutality, discrimination, etc., the BLM campaign has learned from the Civil Rights Movement, taken away from it and found more potent ways to reach the masses and end racism against black people.

Why are protests so powerful?

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”

 -Mattie Stepanek

Whether it’s 1956 or 2016, the influence behind peacefully protesting is powerful! There is just something magical that happens when people can unite and become one, with one voice, one mindset and one goal. There is power that arises when people join together and make their concerns heard to those in positions of influence. Violent protests often don’t get the same results as peaceful ones and people just end up getting hurt, killed, or thrown in jail.

Check out this bar graph from political scientist Erica Chenoweth. This clearly shows the success rate of nonviolent protests over violent ones.  


These trends indicate that nonviolent protests are more beneficial than violent protests in getting the message across. (Lots more information on those statistics: HERE!) Peaceful protests have been and continue to be effective then and now because a united front of many people is more persuasive than standing alone.

In Conclusion

In my opinion (and Michelle agrees), peaceful protesting is still a powerful way to achieve goals and set a standard of accomplishing change in today’s society. In order to make an impact and a positive change, activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, can look back and learn from the Civil Rights Movement on how to successfully reach their goals and make a long lasting change.


This post was planned prior to the news that the peaceful protests in South Dakota led to the halting of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read more here. This serves to further display the power of protest!

For more information…

GET INVOLVED –> Check out the Injustice Boycott, starting today!

UPDATE 12/7/16: Another way to get involved!!! Join the #LoveArmy, and sign up here:

4 thoughts on “The Power of Peaceful Protest

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