Recent events in our community have brought conversations about protest back into the spotlight for many people and families in our region. We have found it valuable and important to use this opportunity to expand the conversation about protest in general. We share these points in hopes that they help to add to the narrative of your family conversations.
1. Protest is Part of Our National Identity – and Always Has Been
Protest has been a part of our national fabric and national identity from the very beginning. Specific acts of protest, from the Boston Tea Party on, lead to the very creation of our nation. Protests have continued to be a part of every single social change and advancement across our national history, including civil rights. Our founding fathers protected the act of protest by including these two important rights in our constitution: the right to “peaceably assemble” and the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
2. Protests are Intentionally Disruptive – and Always Have Been
Disruption is often the explicit purpose of protest. They can disrupt narratives, process, the economy, or even traffic. Their disruption is rooted in the principle of non-violence. The disruption serves to not only garner attention but also to represent accountability when it’s perceived to be missing from the system. It’s a method to share the burden of the injustices being protested when no other consequences are available.
3. Direct Action is One Form of Non-Violent Protest
Other forms of non-violent protest include economic boycotts, organizing collective buying power, awareness and advocacy campaigns, storytelling through art and dialogue, particularly those that lift up stories that are not often heard. Sometimes an act of protest can be sitting where you’re not supposed to, or kneeling when you’re expected to stand.
4. There Are Usually MANY Leaders
Protests are usually part of movements that include many leaders and many, many different people. Often movement leaders are memorialized differently later, usually in a way that supports a “hero” narrative. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X worked together. They also had different approaches. They were not rivals. Martin Luther King was surrounded by other leaders, like John Lewis, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer whose participation was essential but who are often left out of the full narrative. Our familiarity with “hero” narratives sometimes causes us to miss the leaders in our midst because they have not been memorialized yet.
5. How Movements are Memorialized Often Doesn’t Match What Really Happened
Our understanding of history also shifts as time progresses and citizens’ perspectives change. Martin Luther King Jr. was not popular in his lifetime. Many of us know that he was assassinated, under constant death threat and that his home was bombed. We often attribute that hatred and dislike only to the white supremacists at the time and forget, or don’t learn, that the majority of the country didn’t hold a favorable view of Martin Luther King Jr. A 1966 Gallup poll showed that only 36% of people had a positive view of him. Yet, in 1999 he was second in a list of Americans that other Americans admired most.
6. Social Change Movements Take a Very Long Time
The seeds for Brown vs. Board of Education were planted decades beforehand. There were 8 years between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. The complex nature of social issues and the this long-term view can make it difficult to recognize crystallized moments of “success” even if there is movement and shifting happening in many places.
7. Protest Movements are Intentional, Purposeful, and Organized
Sometimes stories about protests push forward a narrative that they are spontaneous or develop organically. While there are certainly moments that are unplanned, protest movements tend to be intentional, purposeful and very organized…even if you can’t see it. Sometimes the organization, plans and decision making is intentionally not made transparent in an effort to protect those in leadership roles. Sustained protest campaigns take a lot of pre-planning and are often a part of larger change strategies.
Some Resources to Explore as a Family
Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
Seeds of Freedom by Hester Bass
Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
28 Days by Charles R. Smith Jr.
We March by Shane Evans
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
March (series Book 1, 2 and 3) by John Lewis
The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson
Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden
Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Eyes on Prize Series
Children’s March footage and documentary
The Watsons Go to Birmingham
Ruby Bridges, Disney movie
I’m Not Your Negro