There is unfathomable grief and anger over the unjustified killing of George Floyd, and now we see escalating protests in response.
The Women’s Museum of California has always highlighted women who throughout history saw injustice and led the way to new freedoms and equality.
We know the power of protest to create social change and can look to the women’s suffrage movement to make the case. In 1913, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage began a variety of protest tactics that were instrumental in raising public awareness of the women’s suffrage campaign. Becoming the National Woman’s Party, which still exists today, the NWP established a legacy of defending free speech, free assembly, and the right to dissent. But winning this battle required more than polite discourse over a few cups of tea.
While traditional lobbying and petitioning were a mainstay of the NWP, they learned that public actions – parades, pageants, soap-box speeches, and demonstrations – were necessary tactics for their voices to be heard. Their peaceful picketing of the White House over many months led to the improper arrest, imprisonment, and physical abuse of many suffragists, which shocked the nation. But, these courageous acts set the stage for the passing of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
It would take several decades, and many more battles lost and won before African American women would gain that privilege, demonstrating courage against unthinkable odds.
Taking a page from the suffragist’s playbook, today’s peaceful but determined protesters are facing a similar uphill battle. Protest leaders today, including #BlackLivesMatter, remind us that they do not advocate violence and looting. However, others who wish to exploit the situation and detract from the millions working for justice do. If history is on their side, the peaceful activists’ show of strength in numbers will force the change that is so desperately needed.
The Women’s Museum of California believes in the strength of the diversity of this country, and more importantly, that the single most powerful, peaceful way to bring about social change is for diverse people to stand together and speak out on behalf of an important cause.