Peaceful Protests ~ Lesson Overview

October 5, 2011

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GRADES: 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Three to four 45-minute class periods


Students learn about nonviolent resistance movements that have taken place around the world and, using segments from the PBS program Women, War & Peace: “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” explore how women’s nonviolent protests helped bring about the end of a bloody civil war in Liberia in 2003. In the Introductory Activity, students learn about nonviolent resistance, conduct research about nonviolent protest leaders in different countries and time periods, discuss the goals and impact of their actions, and place them on a timeline. In Learning Activity 1, students learn about actions that Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia took to protest the civil war in their country. In Learning Activity 2, students explore different methods of nonviolent action and read and discuss the letter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from jail in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the statement from Alabama clergymen which prompted him to write the letter.  In the Culminating Activity, students examine nonviolent protest movements throughout history and discuss the goals and impact of those efforts. The lesson concludes with students writing and discussing reflection essays about the use of nonviolent resistance, citing examples studied in this lesson.



Students will be able to:

  • Define “nonviolent resistance” and “civil disobedience.”
  • Discuss who Leymah Gbowee is and what her role was in ending Liberia’s Civil War in 2003.
  • Describe nonviolent actions the women of Liberia took to protest the war.
  • Name at least three leaders of nonviolent protests around the world and discuss the goals and impact of their actions.
  • Describe the role women have played in nonviolent protest movements in at least three countries.
  • Explain the points raised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his letter from the Birmingham jail and apply them to Leymah Gbowee’s situation.
  • Discuss at least one major nonviolent resistance movement in the United States or another country, the nonviolent actions its leaders took, and the impact of the movement.
  • Discuss how nonviolent strategies have been used to achieve various goals in different regions of the world, citing at least three specific examples.



New York State Standards:

Standard SS2: World History

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.

  • Key Idea SS2.2: Establishing timeframes, exploring different periodizations, examining themes across time and within cultures, and focusing on important turning points in world history help organize the study of world cultures and civilizations.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2A: Students distinguish between the past, present, and future by creating multiple-tier timelines that display important events and developments from world history across time and place.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2C: Students analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence perspective.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2D: Students explain the importance of analyzing narratives drawn from different times and places to understand historical events.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2E: Students investigate key events and developments and major turning points in world history to identify the factors that brought about change and the long-term effects of these changes.
  • Key Idea: SS2.3: Study of the major social, political, cultural, and religious developments in world history involves learning about the important roles and contributions of individuals and groups.


  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.3A: Students analyze the roles and contributions of individuals and groups to social, political, economic, cultural, and religious practices and activities.
  • Key Idea SS2.4: The skills of historical analysis include the ability to investigate differing and competing interpretations of the theories of history, hypothesize about why interpretations change over time, explain the importance of historical evidence, and understand the concepts of change and continuity over time.


  • Performance Indicator – SS2.C.4A: Students identify historical problems, pose analytical questions or hypotheses, research analytical questions or test hypotheses, formulate conclusions or generalizations, raise new questions or issues for further investigation.
  • Performance Indicator – SS2.C.4B: Students interpret and analyze documents and artifacts related to significant developments and events in world history.
  • Key Idea SS2.alt.1: Students will study world history, cultures and civilizations and the important contribution of individuals and groups.
    • Performance Indicator  SS2.alt.1D: Students explore the lifestyles, beliefs, traditions, rules and laws, and social/cultural needs and wants of people during different periods in history and in different parts of the world.
    • Performance Indicator SS2.alt.1F: Students utilize media to become aware of current events.

Standard SS5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the United States and other nations; the United States Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.

  • Key Idea SS5.1: The study of civics, citizenship, and government involves learning about political systems; the purposes of government and civic life; and the differing assumptions held by people across time and place regarding power, authority, governance, and law.


  • Performance Indicator  SS5.C.1A: Students analyze how the values of a nation and international organizations affect the guarantee of human rights and make provisions for human needs.
  • Students trace the evolution of American values, beliefs, and institutions.
  • Key Idea SS5.4: The study of civics and citizenship requires the ability to probe ideas and assumptions, ask and answer analytical questions, take a skeptical attitude toward questionable arguments, evaluate evidence, formulate rational conclusions, and develop and refine participatory skills.
  • Performance Indicator – SS5.C.4D: Students consider the need to respect the rights of others, to respect others’ points of view.
  • Performance Indicator – SS5.C.4G: Students explain how democratic principles have been used in resolving an issue or problem.


National World History Content Standards:

Historical Thinking Standards for Grades 5-12

  • Standard 1: Chronological Thinking: The student thinks chronologically. Therefore, the student is able to:
    • Interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred.
    • Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration in which historical developments have unfolded, and apply them to explain historical continuity and change.
  • Standard 2: Historical Comprehension: The student comprehends a variety of historical sources. Therefore, the student is able to:
    • Identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative.
    • Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses and the purpose, perspective, or point of view from which it has been constructed.
    • Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations but acknowledge that the two are related; that the facts the historian reports are selected and reflect therefore the historian’s judgement of what is most significant about the past.
    • Read historical narratives imaginatively, taking into account what the narrative reveals of the humanity of the individuals and groups involved–their probable values, outlook, motives, hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses.
    • Appreciate historical perspectives–the ability (a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded–the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place; and (c) avoiding “present-mindedness,” judging the past solely in terms of present-day norms and values.
  • Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation: The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation. Therefore, the student is able to:
    • Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.
    • Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, hopes, and fears.
    • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships bearing in mind multiple causation including (a) the importance of the individual in history; (b) the influence of ideas, human interests, and beliefs; and (c) the role of chance, the accidental and the irrational.
    • Draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues as well as large-scale or long-term developments that transcend regional and temporal boundaries.
    • Hypothesize the influence of the past, including both the limitations and opportunities made possible by past decisions.
  • Standard 5: Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making: The student engages in historical issues-analysis and decision-making. Therefore, the student is able to:
    • Identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation.
    • Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and current factors contributing to contemporary problems and alternative courses of action.
    • Evaluate alternative courses of action, keeping in mind the information available at the time, in terms of ethical considerations, the interests of those affected by the decision, and the long- and short-term consequences of each.
    • Formulate a position or course of action on an issue by identifying the nature of the problem, analyzing the underlying factors contributing to the problem, and choosing a plausible solution from a choice of carefully evaluated options.
    • Evaluate the implementation of a decision by analyzing the interests it served; estimating the position, power, and priority of each player involved; assessing the ethical dimensions of the decision; and evaluating its costs and benefits from a variety of perspectives.

National Standards in World History for Grades 5-12

  • World History/Era 8/ Standard 3B: The student understands economic, social, and political transformations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the 1920s and 1930s. Therefore, the student is able to analyze how social and economic conditions of colonial rule, as well as ideals of liberal democracy and national autonomy, contributed to the rise of nationalist movements in India, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
  • World History/ Era 9 Standard 2C: The student understands how liberal democracy, market economies, and human rights movements have reshaped political and social life. Therefore, the student is able to:
    • Assess the progress of human and civil rights around the world since the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
    • Analyze how feminist movements and social conditions have affected the lives of women in different parts of the world and compare women’s progress toward social equality, economic opportunity, and political rights in various countries. [Draw comparisons across regions]
  • World History/ Era 9/ Standard 3A: The student understands major global trends since World War II. Therefore the student is able to:
    • Assess the degree to which both human rights and democratic ideals and practices have been advanced in the world during the 20th century.
    • Analyze causes of economic imbalances and social inequalities among the world’s peoples and assess efforts made to close these gaps.




Women, War & Peace, Episode 2: “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” selected segments

Access streaming video segments at the Video Segments Page.

Clip 1: “War and the Rise of Women’s Resistance in Liberia”
An introduction to the Liberian civil war, which began in 1989, and the birth of that country’s women’s resistance movement.

Clip 2: “Peaceful Protests in Liberia”

A look at the early stages of women’s non-violent protests in Liberia.

Clip 3: “Steps Toward Peace”

A look at steps the women of Liberia took to end a bloody civil war in their country.

Clip 4: “Achieving Peace”

A look at a sit-in and other nonviolent actions conducted by the women of Liberia in 2003 to get participants at the peace talks in Accra, Ghana to sign a peace agreement in order to bring about the end of civil war in Liberia.

Clip 5: “In Pursuit of Democracy”

An overview of the efforts of Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia to further democracy and peace after the end of Liberian civil war in 2003.



    For use in student research during the Introductory Activity:

    International Civil Rights Center and Museum

    This site includes information about the US Civil Rights Movement. The following pages from the “Explore History” section of the website can be used in this lesson:


    Top Ten Nonviolent Protests

    This site provides photographs and information about ten noteworthy nonviolent protests around the world.


    Bringing down Serbia’s dictator, 10 years later: A Conversation with Srdja Popovic

      This page on the Waging Nonviolence website features an interview with Srdja Popovic about Otpor, the nonviolent resistance movement which he helped lead in Serbia in 2000.


      All Nobel Peace Prizes

        This section of the Nobel Prize Website contains information about all Nobel Peace Prize Winners and features information about many of the individuals highlighted in the Introductory Activity, including the following links:


        Freedom Hero: Inez Milholland Boissevain

          This page on the My Hero Project website includes information about Inez Milholland Boissevain, a lawyer and an advocate for women’s voting rights.


          or use in Learning Activity 2:

          These websites outline the 198 methods of nonviolent action described by Dr. Gene Sharp in his 1973 book The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action. Students use this information in Learning Activity 2 to explore different examples of nonviolent protest. Note: The Albert Einstein Institution website (www.aeinstein.org) features a section about nonviolent action, which includes additional information about nonviolent protests, including a page describing situations in which nonviolent action can be effective. (http://aeinstein.org/organizations72b5.html ).


          Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail

          This letter which Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote while confined in a Birmingham jail is used in Learning Activity 2 in this lesson.


            Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen

              This statement, also known as “A Call for Unity,” written  by 8 white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963, is what prompted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to write his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”


              For use in student research during the Culminating Activity:

              International Center for Nonviolent Conflict

                This website contains information about past and current nonviolent protest movements throughout the world. The “Nonviolent Conflict Summaries” featured in the “Movements and Campaigns” section will be helpful for students as they conduct research about major nonviolent movements.


                Light in Montana: How One Town Said No to Hate

                  This page describes how the town of Billings, MT used peaceful means to protest a hate crime against a Jewish family in 1993.


                  The Orange Alternative: Revolution of Dwarves

                    This website provides information about the Orange Alternative movement in Poland which began in 1981 and which involved a variety of nonviolent actions including the painting of graffiti dwarves on city walls.


                    Optional Resources:

                    Nonviolence: An Introduction

                      This site provides useful information about nonviolent resistance, including definitions, types of nonviolence and reasons for nonviolent action.


                      The Class of Nonviolence: Lesson Six

                        This website includes a variety of essays about nonviolent resistance.

                        Martin Luther King Jr.’s 6 Facts about Non-Violent Resistance

                        This page features a list from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of six facts about nonviolent resistance.



                          For the class:

                          • Computers with internet access
                          • Computer, projection screen and speakers (for class viewing of online/downloaded video segments)
                          • A white board, easel pad or other surface on which to write a list of nonviolent actions conducted by the women of Liberia. (See Learning Activity for details.)

                          For each student:

                          • One copy of “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.” (See the “websites” section.)
                          • One copy of “Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail” and one copy of the “Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen.” (See the “websites” section.)
                          • One copy of the “Nonviolent Resistance Student Organizer.” (Download here.)

                          BEFORE THE LESSON

                          Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

                          Preview all of the video segments and websites used in the lesson.

                          Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer(s) or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s internet connection.

                          Print out one copy of the “Nonviolent Resistance Student Organizer” for each student. (See the “materials” section above.)

                          Print out one copy of each of the following documents for each student: “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” “Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail” and “Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen.” (See the “Websites” section for links.)

                          Bookmark all websites which you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as del.icio.us or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.


                          Proceed to Lesson Activities