A Center for Protest Studies


Lately, I’ve lately been thinking about kinds of public protests: kneeling NFL players, Gandhi and non-violence, the Occupy Wall Street movement, democracy movements in the Middle East, the Women’s March of January 21, 2017, the American Civil Rights movement and black protests, Charlottesville, The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and the First Amendment right to peaceable assembly. All of these examples and more suggest a role that the liberal arts in higher education or a non-profit foundation might play in studying these challenges to political, social, and economic injustices.

So, what might a center for protest studies look like? And how might it include open resource, interdisciplinary, integrative, multicultural, and community-engagement approaches?

Here’s a beginning sketch of a strategic plan, some resources, and a brief list of other centers or research institutes:

Vision: The Center for Protest Studies (CPS) will be recognized as an internationally respected institute and open resource center for the study of public protest.

Mission: To promote the open, interdisciplinary, integrative, multicultural, and community-engaged study of public protest and its peaceful implementation.

Definition: By “protest,” the CPS means the variety of methods whereby an individual or group expresses public opposition to oppressive conditions.

Areas of Interest: The Center for Protest Studies will promote the study of public protest from many perspectives and disciplines, including;

  1. The First Amendment and the Right of Peaceable Assembly
  2. The History of Public Protest in the United States
  3. Protest on the International Stage
  4. Non-Violent Protest Theory and Its Forms
  5. War Protest
  6. Political Resistance and Civil Disobedience
  7. Protest in Art, Music, Theatre, and Literature
  8. Protest and the Media
  9. Protest and Gender
  10. Protest and Race
  11. Protest and the Environment
  12. Protest and Economic Resistance
  13. Sport and Protest
  14. Police, Protest Preparedness, and Negotiation


  • Grant Writing: seek public and private funding to support CPS and its projects
  • Research: fund research in the identification and analysis of issues in the study of public protest
  • Publication: disseminate research findings through online and print material
  • Annual Conference: gather scholars and activists on issues of shared concern in protest studies
  • Outreach: provide educational resources for further understanding of and training in the right of peaceful assembly and protest
  • Curriculum
    • Create Open Education Resources on Protest Studies developed in cooperation with disciplines in the liberal arts: units on or series in topics or issues such as “Philosophical Foundations of Protest Studies” or “The Art of Protest” or “Non-Violent Communication.”
    • Offer a Certificate in Protest Studies: 9 hours beyond core political science courses and attendance at training workshop presented by CPS
    • Offer a Minor in Protest Studies: 18 hours of study in the arts and humanities, including core political science courses and attendance at 2 training workshops presented by CPS


The Center will establish co-directors with course reassignments for the time dedicated to promoting CPS, grant writing, coordinating the annual conference, managing publications, leading selection of visiting scholar, and facilitating outreach efforts.

CPS Faculty

Faculty will be recruited to develop CPS materials and courses to support certificate and minor programs. Course development grants will promote the integration of CPS learning objectives in protest studies in core and major courses.

Visiting Scholar

Grants will be sought to support year-long visiting scholars appointments in protest studies.

Graduate Research Assistants

Graduate student funding will support graduate research assistants assigned to visiting scholars.

Some References

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment, The Constitution of the United States

The citizens shall have the right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good; and apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances or other purposes, by petition, address or remonstrance.

Section 27, Article 1, Bill of Rights, The Texas Constitution

Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau

But there come occasions, generally rare, when he considers certain laws to be so unjust as to render obedience to them a dishonour. He then openly and civilly breaks them and quietly suffers the penalty for their breach. And in order to register his protest again the action of the law givers, it is open to him to withdraw his cooperation from the State by disobeying such other laws whose breach does not involve moral turpitude.

Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), M. K. Gandhi

This is no time for romantic illusions about freedom and empty philosophical debate. This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program which will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolent movement.

“Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 We are a union and we are strong and we are striking to force the growers to respect our strength!

The Union and The Strike, Cesar Chavez, Director, National Farm Workers Association

Gotta get down to it

Soldiers are cutting us down

Should have been done long ago

What if you knew her

And found her dead on the ground

How could you run when you know?

Ohio, Neil Young

In sum, nonviolent campaigns are more likely to succeed in the face of repression than are violent campaigns.

Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, 

Maria J. Stephan; Erica ChenowethInternational Security. 33(1):7-44; MIT Press, 2008.

 In contrast to, say, a military campaign, the basic resource that nonviolence draws upon is unlimited. When I give you respect, I don’t give away or reduce my own supply. Violence, on the other hand, focuses us on material things that are scarce and impermanent, creating a sense of competition and fear.

The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action, Michael N. Nagler

 “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Heather Heyer

Some Other Centers

Global Social Protest Research Group, John Hopkins

Metta Center for Nonviolence

Institute for Protest and Movement Research