The Power of Peaceful Protests

Photo by Associated Press
“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” - Rosa Parks

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month, a time to commemorate and celebrate the achievements of African Americans in the history of the United States. From Martin Luther King to Frederick Douglass and Hiram Revels, African Americans have contributed significant efforts to promote social justice and human rights for all.

One of the most distinguished leaders, who was a crusader for both Civil Rights and Women’s Right is Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks confronted social norms by refusing to give up her seat to a White passenger in 1955 in Alabama, where African-American residents were relegated to sitting in the back, and Whites sat upfront. Known as the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement”, her single act of courage brought upon one of the most pivotal U.S civil rights events in history, the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The 13-month long protest, called for social and political change in the segregated southern states of the U.S., and challenged racial segregation. The boycott caused the bus company to suffer economically, eventually leading to the involvement of the Supreme Court in declaring bus segregation unconstitutional in 1956. One of the most influential supporters of the movement was a young Martin Luther King, Jr., who went on to become of the most prominent civil rights leaders in history (“The Supreme Court Declares Bus Segregation Unconstitutional (1956)" 

Rosa Parks became known as one of the most inspirational leaders of the civil rights movement and defender of social justice. Her single action, while riding a bus that day, moved hundreds of people to stand up for human rights and organize an effective, yet peaceful response to injustice.

As an organization that was founded on humanitarian roots a century ago, AFS recognizes the value of standing up for human rights in a peaceful way. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is among one of many non-violent national protests that has changed the course of history. Internationally, The Salt March in India and National Day of Protest in South Africa are among the top inspirational and effective nonviolent protests that have called for action through peaceful resistance. As the leader of the Salt March, Gandhi urged thousands to participate in a protest that challenged the British colonial rule of India, eventually leading to the country’s independence in 1947. Similarly, in 1950, the National Day of Protest in South Africa called for anti-segregation and equal rights for all. As the leader of the African National Congress, Mandela urged his citizens to “Stay at Home” as a symbolic day of remembrance for those that lost their lives during the fight for liberation in South Africa.

All three of these movements were peaceful, yet powerful in delivering their message on the importance of promoting human rights and civil liberty, amidst intercultural conflict. As educators, it is important that we encourage our students to stand up for human rights and challenge social injustice through peaceful resistance.

While there have been many protests that have turned violent, AFS believes in urging students to find creative and peaceful ways to stand up for civil rights. One way to expose your students to the value of non-violent peaceful protests is by inspiring your students to research other domestic or international protests. This is a great way to get your students to think about different ways to combat social injustice and may even encourage them to get involved in their community.

As a teacher, you can motivate your students to take it a step further, to participate in an intercultural learning experience such as AFS’ Global Prep program, where they can explore the sites of the protest – from Egypt to India and beyond, as well as engage with some of the local communities to learn of its cultural influence. We hope you can continue to spread the message of peace to your students to help them build a better world for the future.

Resources for Teaching about Peaceful Protests:

AFS International: Intercultural Conflict Styles
AFS-USA: Explore The #saynotoracism Campaign
Scholastic: Rosa Parks: How I Fought for Civil Rights
Choices: The Arab Spring, One Year On

Works Cited

"The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Dember 1955- December 1956." PBS. PBS, 23 Aug. 2006. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.
""National Day of Protest and Mourning, Stay at Home on Monday, 26th June!"flyer Issued by [twelve Persons], June 15, 1950 | South African History Online." "National Day of Protest and Mourning, Stay at Home on Monday, 26th June!"flyer Issued by [twelve Persons], June 15, 1950 | South African History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.
""National Day of Protest and Mourning, Stay at Home on Monday, 26th June!"flyer Issued by [twelve Persons], June 15, 1950 | South African History Online." "National Day of Protest and Mourning, Stay at Home on Monday, 26th June!"flyer Issued by [twelve Persons], June 15, 1950 | South African History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.
"Non Violence." PBS. PBS, 19 Jan. 2004. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.
""Report on the National Day of Protest, June 26, 1950." Issued by the Secretary-General of the ANC and Initialed by Nelson R. Mandela, June 26, 1950 | South African History Online." "Report on the National Day of Protest, June 26, 1950." Issued by the Secretary-General of the ANC and Initialed by Nelson R. Mandela, June 26, 1950 | South African History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.
""Report on the National Day of Protest, June 26, 1950." Issued by the Secretary-General of the ANC and Initialed by Nelson R. Mandela, June 26, 1950 | South African History Online." "Report on the National Day of Protest, June 26, 1950." Issued by the Secretary-General of the ANC and Initialed by Nelson R. Mandela, June 26, 1950 | South African History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.
"The Supreme Court Declares Bus Segregation Unconstitutional (1956)." PBS. PBS, 23 Aug. 2006. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.