13 Peaceful Protests and Whether They Worked


© Julie Dermansky/Julie Dermansky/Corbis

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have been going on for over a month. From one side, we hear that the occupiers are a bunch of naive kids who need to change out of their hemp ponchos and take a shower if they want to be taken seriously. Others say the demonstrators are using the only means at their disposal to voice their frustrations and effect change.

To bring perspective to the debate, we've looked through the past 200 years of peaceful protests, from tragic to triumphant to just plain weird.

1. Cherokee Indian Resistance to Forced Relocation (1838)

Objective: Avoid having their land seized by the United States government

Method of Protest: Cherokees stood their ground, and made no preparations to move.

Results: U.S. troops destroyed the homes and property of the resisting Cherokees, forcing them to move west on a journey that would leave approximately 4,000 dead from disease and starvation.

Was the Protest a Success? No. The path the Cherokees took from their homes is still knows as the Trail of Tears.

2. Gandhi’s Salt March (1930)

Objective: Independence of Colonial India from British Authority

Method of Protest: To avoid paying the British tax on salt, Gandhi decided to get his own salt. To do this, he walked 240 miles over the course of 24 days, joined by a growing number of followers.

Results: Gandhi was jailed, but the protest drew national attention to his cause and he was eventually released.

Was the Protest a Success? Not immediately, but it is considered a watershed moment for India’s struggle for independence, which was finally obtained two decades later.

3. The White Rose Resistance (1942–1943)

Objective: Undermine the Nazi Rule of Germany

Method of Protest: Distributing leaflets that philosophically challenged the ideas of the Nazis.

Results: The six main members of the group were arrested and beheaded.

Was the Protest a Success? No

4. The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956)

Objective: Lessen racial segregation and inequality for blacks in the American South

Method of Protest: Montgomery’s black population refused to use public transportation.

Results: An Alabama district court ruled that the racial segregation was unlawful. The decision was appealed but upheld by the Supreme Court.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes. It also served as the impetus for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

5. The Kent State Demonstrations (1970)

Caitlin Mirra / Shutterstock.com

Objective: Get President Nixon to stop the invasion of Cambodia and end the war in Vietnam

Method of Protest: Four days of protests and marches

Results: The National Guard fired 67 rounds into the demonstration, killing four and injuring nine.

Was the Protest a Success? Hard to say. While there were no immediate changes in U.S. foreign policy, it did spark many additional protests across the country, which may have had a hand in ending the war.

6. The Tree Sitters of Pureora (1978)

Objective: Stop deforestation of the Pureora forest in New Zealand

Method of Protest: Built tree houses, refused to leave them

Results: The Government agreed to permanently stop logging operations and the area became a park.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes. It has also inspired many other tree-sitting protests, with varying levels of success.

7. Tiananmen Square Protests (1989)

Objective: Political reform and free media in the authoritarian Chinese government

Method of Protest: Seven weeks of peaceful marches and demonstrations

Results: The People's Liberation Army of China opened fire on the protesters. The exact death toll of the massacre is still unknown; estimates range from 200 and 10,000.

Was the Protest a Success? No. The current Chinese government does not acknowledge the killings. All online information about the massacre is censored in China.

8. The Lust Lady Strike of San Francisco (1997)

Objective: Ability for strippers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady club to form a union

Method of Protest: Strippers went on strike protesting outside the club and asking patrons not to enter unless the women were allowed to form a union.

Results: After a lengthy legal battle, the dancers were permitted to form a union

Was the Protest a Success? Yes

9. The Singing Revolution (1986-1991)

Objective: Independence from the former Soviet Union for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Method of Protest: Protesters gathered in the streets where they sang songs of national pride, which had been outlawed by the Soviet occupiers.

Results: After four years of demonstrations, many involving song, and the deaths of 14 protesters in Lithuania, all three countries gained sovereignty.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes

10. Demonstration against Invading Iraq (2003)

Objective: Stop the United States from invading Iraq

Method of Protest: An estimated 6 to 10 million people around the world publicly protested the impending war.

Results: The invasion of Iraq happened anyway.

Was the Protest a Success? No. We still have troops in Iraq to this day.

11. The “Lactivists” at Applebee’s (2007)

Objective: Stop discrimination against public breastfeeding at Applebee’s Restaurants

Method of Protest: A “Nurse-in” was scheduled — across the country, breastfeeding mothers would nurse their infants in plain view of Applebee’s.

Results: Applebee’s put out a statement saying “This situation has provided an opportunity for us to work with our associates to ensure we’re making nursing mothers feel welcome….we will also accommodate other guests who would be more comfortable moving to another area of the restaurant.”

Was the Protest a Success? Yes

12. The Wisconsin Teachers Strike (2011)

Matt Apps / Shutterstock.com

Objective: Keep collective bargaining rights for teachers unions in Wisconsin

Method of Protest: For nearly five months, public demonstrations of as many as 100,000 protesters gathered at the Wisconsin Capitol Building.

Results: The Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers, was not repealed.

Was the Protest a Success? No, though there are still several lawsuits pending against the bill.

13. The Nuts of Jericho (2007)

Objective: Get the post-apocalyptic TV show Jericho renewed for a second season

Method of Protest: In reference to a scene in the season finale, Jericho fans sent over 20 tons of assorted nuts to the offices of the CBS executives who had canceled the show.

Results: The show was renewed for a second season.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes, though Jericho was again canceled after the second season. The third season was released as a series of comic books.