Given recent news, you might be surprised to know that peaceful demonstrations are the norm in America. Headlines will always focus on any violence that erupts, even during mostly peaceful protests, such as was the case recently in Ferguson, Missouri. But the United States also has a long tradition of nonviolent — and very effective — protest.

Even in places where Ferguson-related protests have been marred by a faction that vandalizes or loots stores, there have been reports of the larger group of peaceful protesters chanting, “Looters, go home.”

Peaceful protests have been the hallmark of some of America’s most significant social reforms. Women’s suffrage, gained in 1920, and landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s would not have come about without peaceful protest.

The tradition of expressing contrary viewpoints is alive and well in the United States and around the world today.


Recent protests, in addition to those questioning police practices, include a variety of issues:

  • Since 2012, fast-food workers have sought to increase their wages, striking and holding protests in 190 cities to ask for a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Seattle and San Francisco increased the minimum wage. More cities may follow.

  • During the U.N. Climate Summit in September, nearly 400,000 protesters marched in New York to urge action on climate change. “We cannot pretend we do not hear. We have to answer the call,” said President Obama.

  • In Chicago, a 1,200-member teachers union went on strike in October over health care costs and working conditions. Since then, the city and the teachers have agreed to a new, three-year contract.
  • In November, 100,000 nurses nationwide rallied to improve protection for nurses treating patients with Ebola. As a result, California announced regulations to provide better protective gear and training.
  • In December, over days, groups of about 30 animal-rights activists demonstrated at the New Jersey statehouse calling for an end to an annual bear hunt. New Jersey did not cancel it, but protesters vowed to return.

People gather to protest a bear hunt.
Animal-rights activists gather at the statehouse to protest New Jersey’s legal bear hunt. (© AP Images)

The right to assemble is a vital part of democracy, an extension of Americans’ freedom of expression. Assemblies, or protests, allow people to form groups and exchange ideas, and contribute to a stable society that values human rights.

Internationally, the U.S. government works on a variety of human rights issues in the belief that everyone should be protected by the values in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.