Ten Reasons Why Political Protests Work: A Legal Historian’s View

  1. Second Thoughts: Protests make elected officials hesitate before taking unpopular action. Sustained protests are wearing on elected officials. Think of the Vietnam War protests and the effect that they had on Lyndon B. Johnson.
  2. Visibility: Protests make opposition visible and provides the optics of opposition that the media can broadcast. Think of the images of the Civil Rights Movement and most recently the Women’s March. There is truth to the chant that the whole world is watching.
  3. Supporting Elected Officials. Protests give elected officials who support the protester’s goals ammunition and the ability to sustain opposition — they need to know that their base is behind them
  4. Camaraderie. The gathering of people who have at least one common goal makes a single individual feel part of a group – they are not alone but part of many who feel the same way. Protesting transforms the individual.
  5. Social Movement. From protest a social movement will emerge. At protests people learn from each other and create webs of knowledge about ideas, events, and actions. We learn to act as a coalition.
  6. Safety. If protestors are targeted for their political views, there is safety in numbers—they can’t go after all of us.
  7. Practice. Exercising one’s First Amendment Rights is frightening and takes courage and practice—We need to learn how to use our bodies and voices to stand up for our beliefs.
  8. Protests are Patriotic. There is a long history of protests against the state from the Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights Movement – it is part of our heritage to make government better and more just. As the chant says, “This is what Democracy looks like.”
  9. Exercising Morality. Protests are a way of visibly saying “not in my name.”
  10. Legal and Social Change. Protest and legal change can go hand in hand. Protests spur lawyers to file legal suits and legal suits can further energize protests.
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