7 Peaceful Protests That Made History

One of the great foundations of America is the First Amendment. We are granted the freedom to speak our minds and demonstrate our opinions, regardless of what they may be. Not every country is this fortunate. Protesting is one of the perks in a democracy.

The US has seen its share of civil unrest in the past year. From the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, to the past few days of tension in Baltimore, civil disobedience has certainly reemerged in our culture.

Many civil rights activists have touted peaceful protesting. Throughout history it has worked to create lasting social change. Here are 7 examples of peaceful demonstrations done right. 

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1989: Tiananmen Square

Jeff Widener / Associated Press

For two months following the death of General Secretary of the Community Party, Hu Yaobang, students assembled at Tiananmen Square to protest for political reform and free media in the authoritarian government. Yaobang was a reformist, advocating rehabilitation of people persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, autonomy for Tibet, as well as social and economic reform. The Communist government was not a fan of Yaobang’s beliefs, and at first did not give him a state funeral, causing over 100,000 students to descend on the Square to demonstrate for reform.

On June 3, 1989 the People’s Liberation Army moved into the Square in foot and in tanks, firing throughout the night, and killing what is still an unconfirmed number of people.

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1970: Kent State Demonstrations

Valley News-Dispatch

In 1968, President Richard Nixon ran for office with the promise of ending the Vietnam War. Two years later, with still no resolution, Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia. The American people were war-fatigued and students across the country began to protest. At Kent State University in Ohio students began a peaceful protest rally, which was later soiled by night rioters, provoking the governor to send in the Ohio National Guard. From May 1 to 4 the protests and tension continued, ultimately leading to the Kent State student shootings. 

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1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In

Wikimedia Commons

Lennon and Yoko used their honeymoon suite in Amsterdam for performance art. For a week the couple stayed in bed, talking to the media about world peace and the war in Vietnam. From there, the couple flew to the Bahamas for another bed-in, but found it too hot, and ultimately ended up at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, where “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded. 

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1963: Martin Luther King’s March on Washington

Public Domain

The struggle for civil rights came to a head on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, DC. More than 250,000 demonstrators descended on the National Mall to fight against discrimination. King gave his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, which ignited national and international media exposure. The march helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

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1955: Rosa Parks Rides the Bus

Courtesy Library of Congress

In 1955, Parks rode the bus home from her job, and as the seats filled up, was expected to give her seat to a white man. Parks refused and was arrested for violating Alabama’s segregation laws. This served as a catalyst for the black community, who boycotted the bus system for 381 days, resulting in the end of segregation on Montgomery busses.

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1930: Gandhi’s Salt March

Keystone/Getty Images

For 24 days and 240 miles the 61-year-old Mohandas Gandhi lead a group of followers to the Arabian Sea in India. Upon arriving at the beach destination, Gandhi picked up a lump of salt and held it high. This initiated the country-wide boycott of the salt tax, imposed upon India by the British Empire. This and Gandhi’s continuing exercise in passive resistance led to India’s independence 17 years later. 

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1849: Henry David Thoreau and Civil Disobedience

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Thoreau was very interested in the political struggles of the mid-1800s. He believed in the abolition of slavery and opposed the Mexican War. In protest, Thoreau refused to pay his local poll taxes. He was sent to jail for a night. Thoreau continued to believe in the right to resist the government, and gave lectures on the subject. He put these lectures into words, creating the historical essay, “Civil Disobedience.” 

Another look: Four Missteps the Media Made While Covering The Baltimore Riots

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Schuman, Nicole. "7 Peaceful Protests That Made History." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2016, thoughtco.com/peaceful-protests-that-made-history-3023308. Schuman, Nicole. (2016, September 8). 7 Peaceful Protests That Made History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/peaceful-protests-that-made-history-3023308 Schuman, Nicole. "7 Peaceful Protests That Made History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/peaceful-protests-that-made-history-3023308 (accessed November 19, 2017).