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English Detective #88 Powerful peaceful protest 8-1-17
August 01, 2017

Recently Google honored the “Silent Protest Parade” of 1917. It was not a protest against a government or policy, but against the hatred and racism that led to white rioting and the murder of nearly 200 innocent black people in East Saint Lewis. I was impressed by the parade’s dignity and how effectively it challenged the attitudes that were behind the St. Louis riots.

The Silent Protest Parade was part of a tradition of nonviolent protest that has roots in ancient times but has become a major tool for social change in many places during the last century. Such protests haven’t always been effective—but neither have violent protests or revolutions. A number of websites have lists of famous or powerful nonviolent protests. Here are three of the best:

The Daily Good organization lists 30 effective nonviolent actions from ancient Rome to 19th century Hungary to the 20th and 21st century Americas, Europe, the Philippines, South Africa, and elsewhere.

The second list briefly discusses five 20th century protests. Gandhi’s 1930 salt march protested the British monopoly that led to high prices on the salt people needed to live. It helped open the way for Indian independence. In the 1913 suffrage parade, women in the U.S. pushed for the right to vote. (‘Suffrage’ means voting rights.)

The Delano grape boycott and Montgomery bus boycott were two more American protests to win more right for farm workers and black people. (See the vocabulary section for an explanation of boycotts.) The 1988 Singing Revolution was a mass movement of Estonians singing their forbidden national songs and helped lead to Estonian independence. There’s more here.

If you would like a third perspective, Time magazine ranks “the top 10 most influential protests” here. (Most, but not all, are also on the lists above.)

Vocabulary Notes

To boycott means to refuse to buy or use certain products or services for political or moral reasons. 'Boycott' can also be a noun meaning a campaign to get many people to decide not to use a product or service, or even to refuse to vote in an election they believe will not be fair. The purpose of a boycott is to put pressure on the company that makes or provides the product or service—to make them see they will lose a lot of money or popularity if they don’t change.

A campaign is an organized set of activities with one purpose, such as winning an election or a certain area in a war.

Civil rights—the rights of citizens (often used especially for the rights of people of all races to participate equally in voting and society)

To demonstrate means literally to show, so it can mean to show support for (or opposition to) a group, proposal, or policy. Demonstrations are usually large gatherings of people who want to make their feelings about something clear. They can be violent or nonviolent

A parade is a procession of people and vehicles, often with music, going through a city to celebrate an event or show support for a cause

To protest is to speak out or act against injustice or wrong. (Protest can be used as a noun or adjective as well as a verb.)

Racist (an adj.) means motivated by disrespect or hatred for another race.

There are a lot of related words at Vocabulary for Violence and Social Change Vocabulary.

P.S. I’ve been thinking about offering a short course on the complicated relationship between English vowel sounds and spellings. (That’s the subject of the most popular page on EnglishHints, and I’ve been wondering how many people would want a more complete explanation.) If you are interested or know someone who would be, please sign up or leave a comment at the bottom of the page on English Vowels.

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