5 Peaceful Protests That Led To Social & Political Changes

Peaceful stances against unequal civil rights have been successful throughout history and nonviolent movements can lead to meaningful systemic change. Edited by Peter Davidson June 9, 2020

The Salt March

During the transition between the wet to dry season of 1930 Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi led a peaceful protest against Britain’s imposed law dictating no Indian could collect or sell salt in the country. Followed by dozens, Gandhi walked over 240 miles leading protesters to the Arabian Sea to pick up a small handful of salt out of the muddy waters of the sea.

Seventeen years later, after this peaceful yet defiant act, India gained independence from Britain.

“Nonviolence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used.” – Mohandas Gandhi


Suffrage Parade

This message, “To ask for freedom is not a crime,” still holds true today. Peaceful protests like the 1913 Suffrage Parade shared the voices of over 5,000 courageous women speaking out for the right to equal political participation. This protest can remind us peaceful acts have the power to change the system.

“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.” - Emmeline Pankhurst

Delano Grape Boycott

Cesar Chavez advocated for peaceful boycotts, protest, and a grueling yet nonviolent 25-day hunger strike which led to legislative changes to end exploitative abuse of America’s farm workers in the late 1960s. He led a five-year strike in Delano, Calif., bringing together over 2,000 farmers to demand minimum wage primarily for underpaid overworked Filipino farmworkers. This caused more than 17 million Americans to boycott California grapes, which helped secure unions, better wages and security for farmworkers.

“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanity, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non violent struggle for justice.” - Cesar Chavez

Montgomery Bus Boycott

There are times when one person’s peaceful actions can bring about more change than anyone can imagine. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., is one such example. Her defiant act symbolized greater civil rights, spreading the message that all people deserve equal seats. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year later in 1956, segregation on public buses unconstitutional.

“People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” — Rosa Parks


Singing Revolution

The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds where the Singing Revolution took place still bring people together for music and change.

Music and social activism have long been “partners in [nonviolent] crime.” During the Singing Revolution, Estonia literally sang its way out of the rule under the Soviet Union. In 1988, more than 100,000 Estonians gathered for five nights to protest Soviet rule. This was known as the Singing Revolution. For Estonians, music and singing acted as a way to preserve culture while the small but fierce country held it’s own during invasion from Germany, Sweden, Denmark and others. In 1991, after decades of Soviet rule, a country with just 1.5 million people regained it’s independence.

“Land of my fathers, land that I love / I’ve given my heart to her / I sing to you, my supreme happiness / My flourishing Estonia!” - lyrics from Mu Isamaa, On Minu Arm


These examples of change are a reminder that peaceful protests work. Real political, social change stems from acts of nonviolence.

While media bombards us with stories of bloodshed, the true spotlight should be on those standing together today asking for equality for all

By Meghan Werft  and  Julie Ngalle  JULY 8, 2016 in the Global Citizen


Think, pray, meditate, read, or whatever motivates your instinct for peace on earth - then do something while we have time.

“Seventy years ago Camus showed us that the human condition itself amounts to a plague-like emergency – we are only ever managing our losses, striving for dignity in the process. Risk and safety are relative notions and never strictly objective. However, there is one inconvenient truth that cannot be disputed: more black Americans have been killed by three months of coronavirus than the number who have been killed by cops and vigilantes since the turn of the millennium. We may or may not be willing to accept that brutal calculus, but we are obligated, at the very least, to be honest.” (1)

Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, after The Fall was published. The story, a literary masterpiece, demonstrates a unique capacity at the heart of his philosophical writing. Life is no one single, simple thing, but a series of tensions and dilemmas. The most seemingly straightforward features of life are in fact ambiguous and even contradictory. Camus recommends that we avoid trying to resolve them. We need to face the fact that we can never successfully purge ourselves of the impulses that threaten to wreak havoc with our lives. Camus’s philosophy, if it has a single message, is that we should learn to tolerate, indeed embrace the frustration and ambivalence that humans cannot escape. (2)

Researchers at Leeds University performed a group experiment where volunteers were told to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions on where to walk. The scientists discovered that people end up blindly following one or two instructed people who appear to know where they are going. The results of this experiments showed that it only takes 5% of confident looking and instructed people to influence the direction of the 95% of people in the crowd, and the 200 volunteers did this without even realizing it. (3)

Mass media is a powerful tool to influence the attitudes and behavior of those who consume it. Commercial advertising, for example, uses tactics that encourage bandwagoning (the desire to be part of a group) and feelings of nostalgia to manipulate consumer activity. During elections, political advertisements and network campaign coverage influence voters and impact the political process. Decisions that news organizations make regarding how to present facts and what stories to broadcast can also impact voter attitudes toward a political issue or candidate. (4)

“Cops” is done. The long-running show, which has been accused of glorifying the police, was canceled as nationwide protests call for reform. In 2017, “Cops” celebrated its 1,000th episode. Its first episode featured a raid on a Florida crack house. According to a 2005 report in Broadcasting & Cable, most police departments, which reserved the right to screen the video before the broadcast, said the show served as a recruiting tool. (5)