Young people in a sit down protest with tape over their mouths. The tape says "Voice?"

Protests are a good way to raise awareness and demonstrate support for an issue. It can also help people feel they are part of a bigger movement and inspire them to action.

Types of Protests

When people think of protesting, they often picture a large march, but there’s lots of different ways to get your point across.

  • Sit-ins involve peacefully occupying a public space by sitting for a designated period of time and are popular in schools and colleges.
  • Silent protests can be done as part of refusing to participate in a required activity. You can organize your protest on a specific day and include symbols of solidarity such as wearing a specific color.
  • Walkouts are often used in schools and workplaces where a group simply leaves at a designated time in an effort to express disapproval. They can often lead into a rally or march. They also can occur spontaneously, in response to some event.
  • Protest rallies involve people making speeches about an issue. You can invite someone to act as an emcee to lead protest chants and songs and other community members who support your issue. Rallies are often used at the beginning or end of protest marches, but can be used by themselves.
  • Picketing and protest marches are similar except a picket stays in one place, like in front of a business, and marches go from one location to another. In most places, you will have to remain on the sidewalk or other public areas unless you’ve obtained a permit from your local government.

Planning Your Protest

  • Use your protest as part of a larger campaign. Depending on what your issue is, you should make sure that you’ve also used other methods to create change. If you are protesting a law or policy, let the people responsible know your complaint and give them a chance to respond. And since not everyone will be comfortable with protesting, make sure you are being inclusive by encouraging other ways for people to show their support, such as making phone calls, writing letters, or organizing a boycott.
  • Decide on a time and place. Protests can happen anywhere, but you should arrange your protest where it will be seen by as many people as possible. Some options include the sidewalk in front of a business, government offices, your school, or a park. If you’re protesting on private property without permission, the owner can ask you to leave and call the police to remove you if you don’t. You should also pick a time when you can get the most people to attend the protest (like a weekend), unless you want to specifically target someone (such as a legislator) and pick a time when they’ll be around. Obtain a permit, if needed.
  • Publicize your protest. Make brightly-colored flyers and posters about the protest and put them up around town and your school. Hand out pamphlets. Publicize in your school newspaper and on social media. Make a press release and send it to local newspapers, to websites and blogs, and to other organizations that may support your message. Call local newspapers and radio stations and ask them to promote the protest. Be prepared to talk about your issue in case you are asked for an interview. Even if people don’t come, they may be curious and research it.
  • Make a visual impact. Make brightly colored posters and banners with catchy slogans and bring some extra. Have pamphlets to help spread your message information on what you’re protesting to interested parties. Put the name of your chapter or group with your contact details so that people who are new to the issue will know who to contact to find out more. You can use chalk to write messages on public sidewalks.
  • Be vocal. Learn or create some chants so that everyone knows what you’re protesting and why. Some examples include:
    • What do we want? Voting Rights! When do we want them? Now!
    • Hey, hey! Ho, ho! curfew laws have got to go!
    • Youth rights are human rights!
    • Whose schools? Our schools!
  • Document your event and have fun. Even if you are protesting something serious, you can make your protest entertaining. Take pictures and post them on social media. Live stream or record your protest. Keep the people energized and having fun.

Know your rights

Outside of school

Sometimes protests are unpredictable, but you should have a plan for how to deal with the police if they show up. Have proof of your permit, if you have one. Make sure you know your rights as a protester and are familiar with how to deal with police in case you get stopped by an officer.

Missing Classes

If your protest involves missing class, you may be punished for having an unexcused absence. However, that punishment should not be any worse than if you missed class for another reason. Make sure you’ve checked your school’s policies on the punishments for unauthorized absences as well as their guidelines for suspensions. If you are being threatened with a punishment that is more extreme, it is possible that your school is reacting to the particular stance that you are taking, and that could be a violation of your freedom of speech.

Disrupting Classes

Schools could also punish you for disrupting other students’ right to an education. Legally, disruption is something that is difficult to determine, but it can include interrupting classes, threatening or harassing others, violent behavior, preventing school events for taking place, or causing emotional distress. Sometimes even the behavior of others, for example, a flood of calls from angry parents to the school, can be considered a disruption. However, if you are just walking out, the “disruption” caused may not be substantial enough to warrant any punishment.