Opinion: The Purpose and Responsibility of Protesting in Atlanta

We stage sit-ins and we plant trees. We form petitions and we write letters. We mobilize and we strategize and we move our nation forward, together. This is the power and the purpose of protesting and let this not be missed on our children. 

This past week has been challenging for our nation, and our beloved Atlanta. The protests that have gripped our country are important and meaningful and it is incumbent on us to teach our students the value of protest and the most effective methods by which to engage in it. 

Young people from Seattle to Atlanta are leading a movement against injustice, police brutality, and racism (which is long overdue). One of these millennial leaders is James “Major” Woodall, the current president of the Georgia NAACP. I had the honor of meeting James “Major” Woodall while teaching at Eagle’s Landing High School in Henry County, Georgia. When I saw that he was facilitating a peaceful protest in response to the killing of George Floyd and a press conference in response to local police brutality, I was honored to show up and support him. 

During the protest, I stood in front of a young white protestor who held up a sign reading “My Privilege is your Protection.” I was impressed at her acknowledgement of privilege and her commitment to use that privilege to protect those who lack it. 

Clearly, someone did something right regarding this young lady’s education. The same can be said for those who taught President Woodall (both inside and outside of the classroom). 

Our Georgia NAACP protest was one of several held throughout our city this week. This past weekend actually aw protests in more than 200 cities around the world, marking this one of the most wide-spread protests in history with more than 4,400 arrests. 

We would be neglectful of our responsibility as educators and good citizens to not take a moment and recognize the historic significance of these protests. 

Great things, I pray, will come from the ashes of these protests. But I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the protest came at a cost. The admonishment of our beloved Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is seared into my memory. Like our mayor, my heart broke too when I watched outside agitators rob local businesses and incite law-abiding Atlanta residents to violence. This means we have some work to do. And this work is not just the work of teachers, but the work of the entire village (yes, parents, that means you).

We must teach our children about the history of protest. We have to help our children consider that protest is the mechanism by which the American people propel progress forward. From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Stonewall Riot of 1969, a number of courageous individuals and movements have helped force change in a nation that often moves deliberately slow to rectify past wrongs.  

When we teach students about protest, we teach them the appropriate structures they can employ to peacefully engage as citizens in our democracy. The history of protests teaches about setting a goal, grassroots organizing, and meaningful civil engagement.  

Protesting is an American right. Amendment I of our Bill of Rights grants every citizen the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.  It is this right that allowed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to march on Washington and Susan B. Anthony to organize for women’s suffrage.  

Protesting pushed President Johnson to push the Civil Rights Act forward (despite a 54-day filibuster) and protesting pushed our nation to finally acknowledge that the right to marry is guaranteed to all under the 14th amendment. 

Additionally, we must teach our students that their protest must impact their politics. Voting is an American right, privilege, and responsibility. Our ancestors fought vigilantly for this right to be afforded to every citizen, regardless of race or gender. Yet, only 46% of all registered voters ages 18-35 exercised this right. Protesting may start on the streets but must end at the ballot box. 

American protests give a voice to those who may have lost theirs and help bridge divides that exist within our fractured nation. 

It is the right of our students to protest and the responsibility of their educators (teachers and parents) to teach them how to do it peacefully and purposefully. 

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