Exercise Your Rights: A Guide to Your Non-Violent Protests

By Dana Panczenko
Staff Columnist

As a citizen of the United States, I am very aware of my right to be a part of a peaceful assembly, granted to me under the First Amendment of the Constitution, although I might be one of the few Americans crazy enough to exercise this right on a regular basis. Today I will answer the most common questions I get about protesting: what types of non-violent protests are out there that I can do, and what makes a protest a good one?

Marches are exactly what they sound like. They are normally well organized and planned well in advance. Two very popular marches are the March for Life, an anti-abortion march, and SlutWalk, a march against victim blaming for victims of sexual assault. Marches are most effective when organized well, with lots of well informed and passionate people marching in a very public area. While an effective attention getter for a cause, marches can lose power if the group itself loses focus. If a march doesn’t consist of people who know why they’re there and what they stand for, why bother have them march at all? This is especially apparent in the March for Life, where many people travel long distances and bring their young children for a “fun week in D.C.,” instead of treating their march like a serious political action.

Silent Protests are fairly self-explanatory. It is a well organized protest that involves participants taking a vow of silence, usually for a day, to protest a cause. People often visually represent the protest by placing tape over their mouths or by carrying a sign explaining why they are abstaining from speech for the day. Two major silent protests are the Day of Silence for LGBT youth and the Day of Silence for the Unborn, an anti-abortion protest. Silent protests take a lot of commitment because they are disruptive to the life of the participant, as well as everyone trying to communicate with them. But this disruption is also what makes this method effective. The major problem with this approach is that, unless you carry a sign explaining why you have taken a vow of silence, nobody will know what you are doing. An effective protest shares its goal with others, and with a poorly planned day of silence, this may be impossible to do.

Boycotting is when a group of people refuse to use a certain good or service. There have been recent boycotts of stores, like Wal-mart, Papa Johns, and Chick-fil-a. The purpose of boycotts is to deny a company money until it agrees to change. I’m sure many of you remember watching protests in front of Chick-fil-a stores on the news after it became public knowledge that the company donates to anti-gay groups. I’m sure many of you also forgot that happened until you read that last sentence. The major problem with boycotts is that they are short lived. People decide they want whatever product a company is selling more than they want to continue protesting. Boycotts can be a very effective tool for change, but only if they are kept relevant.

Occupation is a type of protest where a group of people organize in a building, a public space, or a symbolic site. An example of this type of protest is the Occupy movement, where people gathered in major cities and took up residence there for months on end to protest economic inequality. This type of protest is highly effective, as it disrupts a public area and demands attention for a long period of time, but it requires a huge amount of commitment on the part of the protesters, who need to be willing to commit time, lose their jobs or lose their physical wellbeing (sometimes due to acts of police brutality on Occupy camps). But if people are willing to commit, occupation is a very effective protest.

Although there are many more examples of non-violent protests, the ones I’ve listed are easy to start and execute. You never know, maybe the next time you get angry over something, you can march on the streets of downtown Chestertown to do something about it.

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