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 /

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 /

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.

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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