Thursday, September 20th 2018

How to Protest Peacefully And Effectively

Protests have taken place in the United States for hundreds of years. From the revolutionaries protesting with the Boston Harbor Tea Party to the marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, to those of today, protesting is something that we associate with ultimate freedom. However, hundreds are arrested every year for being involved in protests that turn violent or break laws. While the Constitution does grant rights to free speech and free assembly, there are limits on the content, time, place and manner of protests. It is important to remember these restrictions when protesting in order to get your message across safely and avoid going to jail.

Peaceful and legal protests generally include the distribution of pamphlets, speeches, parades, picketing and marches. However, some require permits so it’s crucial to know the applicable laws before you begin. Street parades, activities in parks and other public places usually require permits, while street corner speeches do not. Still, if you are unsure it is always best to apply for a permit to be on the safe side.

Permits do not always have to be approved but should be granted when “reasonable”.  A protester’s permit cannot be denied based upon content of the protest alone. This even includes hate speech, based upon the Constitutional right to free speech. However, permits can sometimes be denied based upon other factors, such as time of day or the amount of police force needed to ensure compliance with all laws at the event. For example, when a neo-Nazi group applied for a parade permit in 2008 in my college town of Columbia, Missouri, police denied their request because Columbia did not have enough personnel to man both the parade and home football game that day. If the police simply denied the permit based upon the content of the protest, it would have been unconstitutional.

During the actual protest is it important to not block roadways or private entrances. Entering onto private property without permission or stopping the flow of pedestrian or vehicle traffic are other issues that can land protesters in jail. Time of day is also an issue to consider. Leading a march on a neighborhood sidewalk at 3am with speakerphones is obviously not acceptable. But besides place, time and permission, it is important to remember behavior when protesting as well.

You should never make threats or engage in violence – these situations can escalate out of control very quickly and lead attention away from your main cause. Any act of violence could potentially result in an assault charge and heavy penalties. Profanities should also be kept in check as they can result in arrest in some jurisdictions. It is also important to remember your behavior if you are an onlooker to a protest or even chose to counter-protest because you do not share the same beliefs. Many times violence starts from opposing groups and reacting to protesters with anger or violence will only cause more trouble.

Always cooperate with police and do not resist arrest even if you feel that you have protested within your rights. If you are arrested, despite your best efforts, contact a lawyer and keep calm. Many protesters are eventually released without any charges – but it’s always best to know your rights.

If you feel like protesting is not for you there are other ways to get your message across. Boycotting certain companies, voting in elections and volunteering all can lead to change without picking up a picket sign. However if you wish to get your message across with a protest or demonstration remember these rules on how to do it most effectively within your constitutional rights.

Posted by Rachel on July 23, 2010 at 5:03pm.

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