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Mass protests have long been part of American culture, even before there was the United States. When the United States formed, it was recognized that the First Amendment protects citizens' rights to protest. In many cases, these mass movements based on organized and sometimes not so organized protests have led to major social and political change. This is not always the case, but these movements have been both a positive and sometimes destructive part of US history.
====Early Mass Protests====
The main difference between protests in the 18th century and those in the early 19th century was many protests were more likely to be less violent as the First Amendment came into effect. After establishing the United States, protests often shifted to different issues that reflected the politics of the time, including taxes, questions of state rights, and voting rights. However, violence was still common. Shays' rebellion in 1786 led to an armed rebellion that was caused by the issue of tax collection and debt.
The race became perhaps the most consistent and long-term issue in the United States' history that led to protests and riots. Other protests often turned violent, such as the Hard Scrabble and Snow Town riots in 1824 and 1831, when most working-class whites destroyed African Americans' homes.
The first riot in 1824 was sparked by an African American man refusing to get off a sidewalk when approaching white men who came near him. In 1836 and 1839, the Cherokee natives tried to protest their forced removal from the southeastern United States to Oklahoma. Many natives simply refused to go with their possessions as they were moved but ultimately, federal troops removed the natives. Their long march and death along the way became known as the Trail of Tears.<ref>For more on early US protests and incidents, including violent actions, see Danver, Steven Laurence, ed. <i>Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History: An Encyclopedia</i>. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2011.</ref>
Women became active in peaceful national protests against slavery. One of the first political parties to form that advocated an end to slavery and suffrage for all was the Liberty Party, which formed in the 1840s but ultimately failed.
However, its prominent members went on to help found the Republican Party in the 1850s and put Abraham Lincoln as President. The American Anti-Slavery Society also became a key blueprint for protests movements by establishing key speakers, such as Frederick Douglass, and publications (<i>The Liberty Bell</i>) that helped such
organization not only organize protests but also establish movements that lasted for decades through active enrollments of members. The organization used publications and speakers to establish networks across the United States that helped increase following anti-slavery supporters.
In the post-Civil War era, labor strikes and protests became an increasing phenomenon as industrialization accelerated. The Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) were among the most successful organizations to conduct protests and strikes, which became common in the 1880s. While strikes and protests often led to violent incidents, such as the Haymarket affair in 1886, eventually improved labor conditions and pay by the early 1900s did lead to some success for the labor movement, including access to healthcare, such as for some railroad workers, and paid time off.<ref>For more on labor, anti-slavery, and suffrage movements and protests, see: Berkin, Carol, ed. <i>Making America: A History of the United States</i>. 6th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012.</ref>
The anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movements helped to inspire and shape other non-violent protests in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the American Indian Movement. Still, violence often persisted and accompanied more peaceful protests, including against the war in Vietnam and civil rights. More recently, similar strategies for gay, lesbian, and bisexual movements were used to gain increasing rights. One of the largest protests in United States history in Washington occurred on April 25, 1993, where over 800,000 marched in support of lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights.<ref>For more on protest movements in the 20th century, see: Sullivan, James. <i>Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs</i>. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019.</ref>
In recent decades, riots often formed when racial injustice became evident. The Los Angeles riots in 1992 was a well-known example, which occurred after white police officers were acquitted in the beating of motorist Rodney King. Anti-globalization protests sometimes turned violent such as the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization meeting that led to clashes between police and protesters. The largest anti-war protests arguably occurred on February 15, 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, when cities across the United States and many countries organized a day of protests against the impending war. The largest marches in United States history (both over 1.5 million people) occurred in the 2017 and 2018, with the Women's marches occurring and initially sparked by President Trump's statements that were seen as anti-women and offensive.
The March of Our Lives in 2018 was another large-scale (over 1.2 million) demonstration against gun violence. However, racial-related protests and riots continued to persist, including the Ferguson Unrest in 2014 that led to protests and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri. The most recent example is the George Floyd killing, which has led to mostly peaceful protests globally with some more violent incidents. These events highlight that while many protests and movements have shifted, often because of great success, race continues to be an issue leading to peaceful and violent protest movements in the United States.<ref>For more on recent
protest and riots that shaped the United States, see: Stoltman, Joan. <i>Protests and Riots That Changed America</i>. American History. New York: Lucent Press, 2019.</ref>
Protests and the rights to express dissatisfaction with government and official policy is so ingrained in American history that it forms the country's First Amendment. While violence has continued to plague many movements and strong reactions to events, many protests have shifted over the decades in strategy. Pamphlets and underground actions were typical in the early protests against slavery. Later, powerful speakers such as Dr. King and mass media helped to inspire large-scale protests and movements. More recently, social media has helped galvanize efforts such as the Women's March in 2017 and 2018.