Protesters Will Make Their Voices Heard: Attempts to Ban Certain Types of Protest are Destined to Fail

Protesters Will Make Their Voices Heard: Attempts to Ban Certain Types of Protest are Destined to Fail

By Isaac Baker | Staff Editor

May 7, 2024

Students across college campuses are protesting war again and police are breaking up and arresting protesters.[1] American students, part of a global movement, are protesting the genocide occurring in Gaza and the war being waged against Palestinians. Those opposed to students protesting Israel’s war in Gaza frame the issue as a surge of antisemitism.[2] Those protesting demand that their academic institutions disclose and divest from companies facilitating Israel’s war in Gaza.[3] Protests create disruption to bring attention to serious, pressing issues. States, universities, employers, and other institutions regularly use police to break up the protests. State legislatures frequently grapple with how to draft legislation to stop protesters, popular political movements, and uprisings.[4] Attempts to legislate the parameters for protest are doomed to fail. The issue for protesters when governments create parameters for protest is this: if protesters remain lawful and within dictated “peaceful” activities then the protest itself becomes controlled dissent and can be ignored or dismissed. Some rule breaking is either necessary or inevitable if a protest’s argument is going to reach the ears it needs to. Kwame Ture,[5] a critic of peaceful, nonviolent protest, opined to this issue, stating: “in order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience, the United States has none.”[6] Kwame Ture’s point resonates today with those disillusioned by the persistent and effective diffusion of popular political movements from urgent calls for change to vapid platitudes repeated by politicians running for office.

In Missouri, the state where Michael Brown was murdered by police, the state house passed a bill in 2021 that criminalized protesting in streets—a response to calls to defund the police.[7] The bill was a reaction to Black Lives Matter protests that occurred after the murder of George Floyd.[8] State Representative Rasheen Aldridge said “if this bill goes into effect, I’m not going to stop protesting, so I hope that I can continue to serve in this body when you try to get me a felony.”[9] The intention of the bill is apparent: make the most common tactic of Black Lives Matter protesters illegal. Assuming that disobedience is central to civil disobedience, this bill points to a specific protest tactic and makes it illegal, seemingly elevating the profile of a disobedient act. This illustrates the adage that best way to make someone look is to say, “don’t look.” Attempts to ban types of protest highlight the targeted protest as effective to organizers. If the aim is to stop a certain tactic, any such bill will backfire. Rather, if the aim is to allow police to use their monopoly on violence against protesters, organizers will find new methods of disruption.

When states or universities create parameters or criminalize protest tactics, protesters either obey or disobey. Those who disobey, engage in civil disobedience. Those who obey have the message of their protest channeled into a means which the authority decides. As someone who has protested before and will likely again, it feels as though the constrained parameters in which Americans can voice public opposition are designed to make the protests ignorable. Governments, businesses, universities, and any other institutions which exert authority over people do not change without being pushed. Sometimes that push is based in the interests of the institution, sometimes it is a moral conscious saying what it must. The true peril facing protesters apart from the threat of state violence, is not being charged with trespassing, it is the very real possibility that they are organizing within a structure of authority which is designed to ignore or placate them. Rules about how and when people may protest are a waste of time because effective protesters will find a way to create the disruption necessary for their message to be heard. States are best to leave protesters alone, adopting a policy only to intervene to prevent violence against people.

To the protesters currently struggling against militarized police, their university administrators, and the genocide in Gaza, hold on to the moral righteousness of your cause, protect and care for one another, and remember that your message is one that must be heard.

[1] See Nick Perry, Jim Vertuno and Acacia Coronado, Dozens Arrested on California Campus After Students in Texas Detained as Gaza War Protests Persist, AP,, (last updated April 24, 2024). (Sharing live updates on protests and arrests of student protester across the country).

[2] Antisemitism on Campus Surges as Agitators Take Over, FOX NEWS,, (last updated Apr. 26, 2024).

[3] Kim Bellware, College Students are Protesting Schools’ Ties to Israel. Here’s Why., The Washington Post,, (last updated May 3, 2024).

[4] See Anti-Protest Bills Around the Country, ACLU, (last visited Apr. 26, 2024). (tracking the states with anti-protest bills as of June 2017).

[5] Kwame Ture was Stokely Carmichael before changing his name.

[6] The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011).

[7] Jeanna Kuang, Missouri House Passes Penalties for Protesters for Blocking Traffic, Police ‘Bill of Rights,’ THE STAR, May 4, 2021,

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

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