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Organizing a Protest,
Walkout or Boycott

Protests are a good way to raise awareness and demonstrate support for an issue. They can also help people feel they are part of a bigger movement and inspire them to action. The goal of protesting isn’t just to yell and hold up signs, it’s to inspire change and influence your community. However, protests can be controversial, so you should think about the pros and cons in your particular situation.

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. Sit-ins for student rights have taken place outside the offices of college presidents and in high school courtyards. A sit-in demanding academic freedom could entail students sitting in on a class they’re not allowed to take, sitting outside a principal’s office, or occupying a school board meeting.
  • 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. In 2010, 2,086 students at West High in Madison, Wisconsin gathered for a silent sit-in to protest a change in their curriculum.
  • Walkouts are often used in schools and colleges 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. Walkouts have a long history in the fight for student rights, including Barbara Johns who organized a walkout to protest poor school facilities and segregated schools in the 1950s and Mexican-American students that protested unfair treatments and corporal punishment in the 60s.
  • 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. Rallies should be creative to bring attention to your cause. In 2014, dozens of students from the Providence Student Union in Providence, RI dressed up as zombies for a rally against standardized testing.
  • 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.
  • Boycotts are refusals to buy a product or participate in an activity. Boycotts can happen alongside a protest and are good to use as a last resort- just the threat of a boycott may be enough to make your opposition back down.

Boycotts

Boycotts are similar to non-compliance strategies in that they are refusals engage participate in a certain activity. One common example which has been used by thousands of students nationwide is opting out of standardized testing. Students in Colorado have organized statewide campaigns and staged walkouts during the state-mandated tests. The Providence Student Union successfully petitioned the Rhode Island legislature to pass a three-year moratorium on using high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement through organizing rallies and conducting sit-ins at school board meetings.

Students, along with parents and teachers, have continued their boycotts against standardized tests even in the face of very clear consequences. States and school systems have threatened to fire teachers, fine parents, and suspend students for not taking standardized tests, and have begun doing so. But the the activists in the opt-out movement realize that the real power lies with the students – so the movement is not only holding together, it’s growing.

Youth rights activists have also organized boycotts and protests against convenience stores that have refused to allow more than one student in the store at a time as another successful example.

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