• Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.

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  • Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.
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Power to the People: Protest and the American Experience

Author: Christa Reitz

This week, the nation experienced a variety of protests and counter-protests stemming from a call to action by the students who survived last month’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  As teachers, we have a great responsibility to encourage students to find their voice during difficult times. By modeling and structuring responsible discourse in our classrooms, we must help to develop a new generation of civically-minded citizens.

As I witnessed student demonstrators in support of and against the ideas behind the walk out, I was very impressed by the thought process behind each person’s action.  Potentially life-altering ramifications involving punishment, college admission, and more were at stake. Administrators had to put plans into place to safely accommodate students who chose to walk out as well as their peers who felt strongly opposed.  I began to think more deeply about the power of peaceful, nonviolent protest in the United States… after all, the very fabric of our nation was woven in dissent.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a journalist, environmentalist, and strong advocate for the women's suffrage movement.  She was fierce and fearless, so it is no wonder that students at a school named in her honor have channeled their voices on the international stage.  This teachable moment is unfolding before our eyes and resonates with our students more than most stories of the past decade, as young men and women their age are making headlines.  As you are able, consider taking time to engage your students in this conversation because they will likely have something to say. It may also be a valuable opportunity to work with administrators and parents to continue the dialogue.  Encourage students to support their argument with evidence on either side. Connections with previous protest movements may also be relevant to your course of study.

The Library of Congress offers an incredible wealth of Primary Sources stemming from protest movements throughout our nation’s history.  Here are a few examples from different time periods, including arts and music-related articles:

“Students Rise to Protest”


“Blues as Protest”


“Songs of Social Change”


“Germantown Friends' protest against slavery 1688”


“Why Women Should Protest,” from the Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911


“Flyer for the 1989 Silent March on Washington”


“At the Ballot Box”


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