The Power of the People: How Democracy Encourages Social Change
Enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights is the right of the people to peacefully assemble. This clause is one of the most important pieces of the United States Constitution, as it encourages public participation in democracy not only through voting but also through peaceful protest and assembly. This tool of American democracy has allowed for great systemic change, and in this blog post, I will show how organization and protest have caused the government to create laws that have forever changed the United States.
The Boston Tea Party - 1773
One of the main reasons the peaceful protest clause was added to the U.S. Constitution was because protesting was utilized by American revolutionaries in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. One major protest was the Boston Tea Party. On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty (an anti-British revolutionary group) threw hundreds of trunks of British tea into Boston harbor as a protest of the Tea Act enacted by Britain. The Tea Act forced Americans to only buy tea from the East India Tea Company (controlled by the British) with extra taxes. This infuriated the Americans, who then threw the tea into Boston harbor as a protest. This major event was one of the direct causes of the American Revolutionary War, which began in 1775. The protest's themes of anti-taxation carried into the US Declaration of Independence, and subsequently, the US Constitution.
Womens' Suffrage Parade - 1913
On March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, between 5,000 and 10,000 protesters marched in Washington, DC, fighting for women's rights, particularly the right to vote. This march was the first large-scale organized march or protest in Washington, DC, setting the example for many future protests. This direct march on Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, sent a message to incoming President Wilson that suffragists would continue fighting for the right to vote. Continued protests throughout Wilson's administration compelled him in 1918 to voice his support for suffrage (the right to vote). The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, was enacted in 1920. Just under 104 years later, the Women's March in 2017 echoed the feminist ideals of the suffrage movement, also falling near an inauguration (the day after Donald Trump's inauguration).
March on Washington - 1963
On August 28, 1963, 200,000 to 300,000 people marched in Washington, DC to fight for civil rights and equality under the law, particularly for African-Americans. Featuring speakers such as John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the March on Washington was at the time the largest protest in US history. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., helped pass the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was also passed, ensuring the right to vote for any US citizen over 18, and stopping voter intimidation towards African-Americans. While the fight for true equality is far from over, the March on Washington was incredibly influential in affecting major systemic change in the United States.
As we have seen, the right to protest has caused a large amount of change throughout American history. The power of the people to affect the US' future does not only exist through the power to vote. Young people can peacefully assemble and make a change, whether it is in front of the town hall or the White House.
GOVLEARN stands strongly for equality and civil rights and fully condemns brutality and violence against people of color. We hope that after reading this, you understand the power protest has to affect change and hopefully provide hope that systemic racism can be ended through social and political change.