Peaceful Protests ~ Lesson Activities

October 1, 2011


1. Ask students to think about different ways people have voiced objections to war and/or unfair laws and policies. (Protests, marches, hunger strikes, writings, etc.)


2. Explain that today’s lesson will highlight efforts of nonviolent resistance that have taken place throughout history, with special focus on efforts by women in Liberia in 2003 to bring about an end to civil war in that country.


3. Ask students to define the terms “nonviolent resistance”/ “nonviolent action” and “civil disobedience.” (“Nonviolent resistance” or “nonviolent action” involves using symbolic protests, civil disobedience and other non-violent acts in order to achieve specific goals. “Civil disobedience” involves the refusal to obey certain laws or requirements of a government and is considered to be a form of nonviolent resistance.)


4. Ask students to list examples of nonviolent protests with which they are familiar. (Mahatma Ghandi’s Salt March, Martin Luther King’s civil rights efforts, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, etc.)

5. Divide students into groups of 2-3 students each. Assign each group one of the following people/groups:

  • Alva Myrdal
  • Bertha von Suttner
  • Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan
  • Cesar Chavez
  • Emily Greene Balch
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Inez Milholland Boissevain
  • Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (Jibreel Khazan) and David Richmond
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
  • Rosa Parks
  • Srdja Popovic
  • Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman


6. Ask students to research the role each person or group played in nonviolent resistance using the websites suggested at the beginning of this lesson, as well as other resources, as needed. Ask students to find out the following about the individuals:

  • At least one major nonviolent action/event with which they were associated.
  • The goal(s) of their nonviolent protest(s). Where and when they lived.
  • The impact of their actions (on others and on themselves).
  • Other additional information about their actions.


7. Create a timeline in your classroom and ask students to put the following information on the timeline:

  • The name(s) of the individual(s)
  • The name of one major event their selected individual or group is known
  • The year the event took place
  • Optional: A photograph of the individual(s) and/or the featured event

Possible events and dates to include:

  • Henry David Thoreau- Wrote “Civil Disobedience, “also known as “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849).
  • Bertha von Suttner- Author of Lay Down Your Arms (1889); Formed the Austrian Peace Society (1891).
  • Inez Hilholland Boissevain- Suffrage Parade (March 3, 1913).
  • Emily Greene Balch- Co-founder and honorary president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (founded in 1915 as the “Women’s Committee for Permanent Peace”). Secretary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (1919-22; 1934-35).
  • Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi- Non-cooperation movement, British India (September 1920- February 1922); Salt March (March 12-April 5, 1930).
  • Alva Myrdal-Represented Sweden at Geneva disarmament conference (1962); Promoted disarmament as a member of Swedish Parliament (beginning in 1962) and as a member of the Swedish Cabinet (beginning in 1967).
  • Rosa Parks – Refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama (December 1, 1955); Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956).
  • Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (Jibreel Khazan) and David RichmondKnown as the Greensboro Four, they conducted a sit-in at the Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro, NC (February 1, 1960). Sit-ins by the Greensboro Four and others continued in Greensboro through July 25, 1960.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.- Montgomery Bus Boycott (December, 1955-December, 1956); Project C/Protests in Birmingham, Alabama (April, 1963); March on Washington (August 28, 1963).
  • Cesar Chavez- Strike and march by California grape pickers (March, 1966); 25-day spiritual fast (1968); Boycott to protest use of pesticides on grapes (1980s).
  • Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman- Mexico City Olympic Games Black Power Salute (1968).
  • Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan- Co-founded the Northern Ireland Peace Movement (1976), also known as the Community of Peace People.
  • Srdja Popovic- One of the leaders of Otpor, the nonviolent protest movement that helped end the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosovic in Serbia (2000)


8. Ask each group to present its information to the class. Ask students to discuss the roles each of the featured people played in furthering their causes and the risks they took.



1. Explain that you will now be showing a video segment from the PBS program Women, War & Peace: “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” a program which documents the role women played in bringing about an end to war in Liberia. Explain that the video segment introduces Leymah Gbowee and describes actions she took to mobilize women in Liberia to speak out against the war.


2. As students view the video, ask them to write down some of the actions that Leymah Gbowee took to mobilize the women of Liberia.


3. Play War and the Rise of Women’s Resistance in Liberia. (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the segment, ask students to discuss steps that Gbowee and others took to mobilize the women of Liberia. (She reached out to women in churches. Muslim women, inspired by Gbowee’s example, reached out to women in Mosques. They encouraged men to lay down their weapons and talked to religious leaders in churches and mosques to pressure the men to stop fighting.)


4. Explain that the next segment highlights actions Leymah Gbowee and her supporters took to protest the war and advocate for peace. As they view the next segment, ask students to write down three actions the women took to protest the war and advocate for peace.


5. Play Peaceful Protests in Liberia. (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the segment, ask students to discuss steps Leymah Gbowee and her supporters took to protest the war and advocate for peace. (They decided to conduct a public protest. They dressed in white and sat at the fish market every day. It was the first time that Liberian Muslim and Christian women joined together. They created a banner that said “The women of Liberia want peace now.” They created signs protesting the war and advocating peace and had over 2500 women join the protest. They sang “We want peace, no more war.” They conducted a sex strike by denying sex to their men.)


6. On a white board, easel pad, etc. write the title “Nonviolent Actions Conducted by the Women of Liberia” and, based on what has been featured in the first two segments, ask students to list the nonviolent actions the Liberian women conducted. (Note: Students will be adding more items to this list in Step 11 of this Learning Activity.)


7. Ask students why the women selected the fish market as the site for their protest. (It was a visible spot where Charles Taylor would see them.)


8. Discuss some of the obstacles they faced while conducting their protest. (Bad weather conditions; potential danger to themselves; the president did not support their cause.)


9. Introduce the next video clip by letting students know it highlights additional actions the women of Liberia took to achieve peace. As students view the segment, ask them to write down the actions that the women took.


10. Play Steps toward Peace.  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the segment, ask students to describe actions the women took to further their quest for peace. (They wrote a position statement to convince the Liberian government to engage in peace talks. The women decided they didn’t want to be seen as politicians and did not want to discuss politics or the practices of the government. They, instead, decided to focus, specifically, on peace. They presented their statement to parliament and decided to sit outside until they heard from President Charles Taylor. April 23, 2003 they met with Charles Taylor and handed their statement to the pro-tem of the senate- a woman- to give to Taylor. They sent women to Ghana to mobilize refugee women living there. In Ghana, they sat outside, holding signs and singing. They talked to delegates behind the scenes at the peace talks to get them to think about possible compromises they could make. They went from delegate to delegate to try to influence them. They continued to protest at the fish market every day, fasted and prayed.)


11. Add the women’s actions to the list you and your students created of “Nonviolent Actions Conducted by the Women of Liberia.”


12. Explain that the peace talks in Liberia were originally only supposed to last two weeks, but they ended up going on for more than six weeks. Ask students to describe additional steps the women could take to get the different sides to come to an agreement and sign the peace agreement.


13. Explain that the next segment shows what actions the women took to get the men to focus on the peace talks and arrive at a compromise. As students watch the segment, ask them to write down the actions the women took.


14. Play Achieving Peace. (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the segment, discuss actions the women took to get the men to focus on the peace talks and arrive at a compromise. (They increased their presence in Ghana and sat by the doors inside the building with looped arms, blocking the peace talk delegates from exiting. They wore white tee shirts. When the security guards told Leymah Gbowee she was obstructing justice, she removed her hair tie and started removing clothing. Gbowee met with General Abubakar, the Ghanaian Ambassador and others. They asked her to release her women and she refused. She then agreed to let the women go, but gave the men two weeks to come to an agreement. She told them, if needed, she would return to protest again in two weeks with more women. After the sit-in, the mood of the peace talk became more serious and the delegates signed a peace agreement two weeks later. They returned to Liberia after the agreement was signed.)


15. Ask students how people reacted to their sit-in. Ask: What were the actions of the security guards? General Abubakar? The delegates? (The security guards first accused Gbowee of obstructing justice, but then told her she should move some women over to the windows to stop delegates from escaping. Joe Wylie, one of the warlords from LURD (the opposition party) tried to break through the group of women. General Abubakar, the mediator, defended the women and told the man to go back into the room where the peace talks were taking place. The General told him that if he were a real man he wouldn’t be killing his people. He told the men not to leave the hall until Abubakar negotiated with the women.)


16. Add the steps from the Achieving Peace segment to the list of actions that the women of Liberia took.


17. Review and lead a discussion about all of the nonviolent actions the women took in their efforts to protest the war. For each method of resistance demonstrated by the women, discuss the following:

  • The impact of that action.
  • The challenges and potential dangers faced by the women.


18. Ask students the following:

  • What would you have chosen to do similarly or differently if you had been in charge of the movement?
  • If you were in charge of a similar type of nonviolent protest movement today and had access to the latest state of the art technologies (social media tools, cell phones, iPads, etc.), what are some additional actions you could take to promote your cause? (Facebook posts, tweets, blogs, etc.)



1. Distribute the “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” list from the Albert Einstein Institution. Divide students into groups of 2-3 students each. Ask each group to check off each of the actions that Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia used in their quest for peace.


2. Discuss how each of the actions helped further the women’s cause.


3. Distribute the “Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen” and “Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Ask students to read the letter from the Eight Alabama Clergymen and then to read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s response. Ask students to identify the main points made in each document. As students read King’s letter, ask them to find out what he says are the basic steps to a nonviolent movement, as well as what his views are on following rules.


4. After students have read each letter, ask them to describe the main points made by the clergymen in writing their letter and the main points raised by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his response.


5. Ask students to discuss what King lists as the four basic steps to a nonviolent campaign. (Collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification and direct action.) Discuss how these steps apply to the actions taken by Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia.


6. Discuss what King says about following rules. (“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.” It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”)


7. Compare King’s sentiments about rules to Leymah Gbowee’s reaction to the security guards when they told her she was “obstructing justice.”


8. Optional: This optional activity involves watching and discussing the clip In Pursuit of Democracy, which describes efforts the women in Liberia conducted after the war ended.

  • Let students know that the women of Liberia continued to work together after the war. As students view the segment, ask them to identify the objectives of the women and to describe the actions they took to achieve those goals.
  • Play In Pursuit of Democracy.  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the video segment, ask students to describe the objectives of the women after the war. (To build peace and promote democracy.)
  • Ask students to discuss the steps the women took to achieve those goals. (They decided to forgive the combatants and not blame them for actions they committed during the war. The women worked with and got to know some of the children who fought in the war and realized that these soldiers were also victims of the war. The women believed there would not be true peace in Liberia until there was a democratically-elected president. They decided to work on the election, by campaigning for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won the 2005 presidential election and was sworn in as President of Liberia on January 16, 2006. They also wore clothing that said “Peace Forever.” After working together for 2 ½ years, the women officially ended their mass action campaign, with the promise of regrouping if the situation in Liberia got worse.)



1. Ask each student to select a nonviolent protest movement to research. Here are some possibilities:

  • The Fisher Body Plant Sit-down strike, Flint, Michigan (December 30, 1936-February 11, 1937)
  • Madres of the Plaza de Mayo (also known as “The Mothers of the Disappeared”) Demonstrations, Buenos Aires, Argentina (beginning in 1977)
  • March 1st Movement; Samil Movement, Korea (March 1, 1919)
  • Monday Demonstrations, East Germany (1989-90)
  • Non-cooperation movement, British India (September 1920- February 1922)
  • Nonviolent protests by  women, children and men in the Palestinian village of Budrus in the West Bank (2003)
  • Nonviolent protests by women in Ivory Coast (2011)
  • Orange Alternative Movement, Poland (1980s)
  • Peace Torch Marathon (August 27, 1967- October 21, 1967)
  • People Power Revolution, the Philippines (1986)
  • Reaction to menorah hate crime, Billings, MT (December 2, 1993)
  • Singing Revolution, The Baltic States (1987-90)
  • Tiananmen Square Protests (April 15- June 4, 1989)
  • Trinidad and Tobago nonviolent protests (1834)
  • Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia (1989)

For additional options, students can search the “Nonviolent Conflict Summaries” in the “Movements and Campaigns” section on the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s website, www.nonviolent-conflict.org.


2. Distribute the “Nonviolent Resistance Student Organizer.” Ask students to explore the following about their selected movements and to record their findings on their student organizers:

  • The name of the movement and date(s) the movement occurred.
  • Names of the principal leaders/organizers of the movement.
  • Details about the participants, including the approximate number of people involved in the movement.
  • Details about the movement, including how it started, the goals of the movement and the nonviolent methods used to achieve those goals.
  • The impact of the movement (on the participants and others).


3. After students have completed the organizers, ask them to present their findings to the class.


4. Ask students to compare and contrast the methods used in the movement which they just studied to the methods used in the other examples of nonviolent protest highlighted throughout the lesson.


5. Ask students to reflect upon the impact of nonviolent resistance movements and to discuss the pros and cons of different types of nonviolent actions. Ask students to discuss the risks taken and challenges faced by the protestors in the different situations they examined. Discuss the use of the following in the nonviolent protests studied during this lesson and the reasons for using them:

  • Symbolic Colors
  • Slogans
  • Humor
  • Music
  • Sit-ins/sit-downs
  • Symbols
  • Marches and public demonstrations
  • Strikes/ Boycotts
  • Fasts


6. Lead a discussion about the role women have played in nonviolent protests around the world, citing specific examples from Argentina, Ivory Coast, Liberia, the West Bank (Budrus), Northern Ireland, and the United States.


7. Ask each student to write a reflection essay about the use of nonviolent methods to achieve a goal, citing at least three different cases studied in this lesson. Ask students to include reflections about the risks and sacrifices taken by the participants of nonviolent protests. Discuss the impact of their actions on their own lives and the lives of others in their communities and beyond.


8. Ask students to share their reflections with the class.