Protesting is part of American history, these historic demonstrations led to changes in US policy

Protests made way for the American Revolution, women’s suffrage

Demonstrations have a rich history woven into America’s fabric with a certain amount of success in creating the change protesters demanded.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The death of George Floyd has sparked global unrest and ultimately, change.

With Floyd’s death, the nation saw the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement. As large-scale protests calling for police accountability persist across the U.S. for the third week, elected leaders at the nation’s capital have introduced the Justice in Policing Act which would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police use of choke holds, among other changes, according to an early draft. This legislation comes after many states and cities have changed their own policing policies, including in Orange County, Florida.

Protests, a civil right protected under the First Amendment in the U.S., often come as a reaction to another event or piece of legislation.

The George Floyd protests began in Minneapolis on May 26, the day after Floyd was suspected of being asphyxiated by now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Video of Floyd’s death shows the moments when Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. The video sparked outrage as protests popped up in all 50 states in opposition to police brutality and institutionalized racism.

These protests are not the first of their kind. Demonstrations have a rich history woven into America’s fabric with a certain amount of success in creating the change protesters demanded.

Below is a timeline of some memorable demonstrations in American history. Keep reading for details on these history-making protests and how it changed the country.

[Click here to expand timeline]

Boston Tea Party

Before the Bill of Rights even existed, Americans were protesting unjust treatment. One of the most famous protests is often outlined in American history books: The Boston Tea Party.

The political protest happened on Dec. 16, 1773. Colonists were frustrated and angry at Britain for imposing taxes on the colonies when they had no representation in Parliament, the British government -- hence “taxation without representation.” A large group of men boarded docked British ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston harbor, according to

Although the movement was supported by patriotic leaders like John Adams and John Hancock, other colonists leaders like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin thought the act was distasteful causing confusion on how to handle the protest.

This was the first major act of defiance to British rule and copy-cat tea-dumping demonstrations happened again in Massachusetts as well as Maryland, New York and South Carolina. This eventually led to the First Continental Congress in which colonial leaders decided despite their disagreements on these tea-dumping protests they all wanted independence from British rule. The fight for independence played out through the American Revolution and the rest is history.

Women’s Suffrage Parade

Though women had been fighting for the right to vote for 60 years, the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade was the first national event hosted for the movement.

Thousands of women gathered in Washington D.C. to call for a constitutional amendment allowing women to cast their ballots and their voices be heard. Masked as a parade, the largely peaceful protest had more than 20 parade floats, nine bands and four mounted brigades. The event was intentionally held March 6, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson would be inaugurated as president, according to the Library of Congress archives.

Though the parade was peaceful, spectators in town to watch Wilson take the White House tripped and even violently attacked the women. More than 100 women were hospitalized for injuries, but the parade went on. Their experiences made national headlines and resulted in congressional hearings. Though the 19th Amendment wasn’t ratified until Aug. 18, 1920, historians often credit the Women’s Suffrage Parade for paving the way for other female activists to enfranchise women. This event is a large reason why Women’s History Month is celebrated in March.

The women's suffrage movement dates back to the Revolutionary War, but women's rights trailblazers spearheaded the push for voting rights in the mid-19th century. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

March on Washington

Attended by more than 250,000 people in Washington D.C., the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was to protest the challenges and inequalities African Americans still faced even a century after emancipation.

Dozens of civil rights leaders helped organize the march, emphasizing its need to be peaceful, according to The milestone in history most notable for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

The march, years in the making, came during a very divisive time. Alabama’s Gov. George Wallace just tried to physically stop the racial integration of the University of Alabama and Dr. King was thrown in jail in Birmingham. Despite the racial tension, hundreds of thousands called for fair treatment and equal opportunity for black Americans and demanded the passage of the Civil Rights Act that was stalled in Congress at the time. The peaceful interracial assembly at the nation’s capital pressured lawmakers to pass sweeping legislation a year later and it guarantees equal voting rights, outlawed discrimination in restaurants, theaters and other public places.

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington. During the critical era of the 1950s and '60s, King, who led the 250,000 strong March on Washington, and Malcolm X were colossal 20th century figures, representing two different tracks: mass non-violent protest and getting favorable outcomes by any means necessary." (AP Photo/File) (AP1963)

Stonewall Inn Riots

The Stonewall Inn Riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising, occurred in June of 1969 and was established as a landmark in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

According to PBS, the riots began on June 28 in New York at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn, which was home to a mafia-run bar that was popular among the gay community. At the time, homosexuality was illegal in New York.

The city would raid institutions that openly served members of the LGBTQ+ community and shut them down. The Stonewall Inn, according to, had a relatively cheap cover charge and allowed drag queens, and “was a nightly home for many runaways and homeless gay youths, who panhandled or shoplifted to afford the entry fee. And it was one of the few—if not the only—gay bar left that allowed dancing.”

On June 28, police raided the Stone Wall Inn and what began as a fairly typical operation for the time escalated into a nearly week-long string of riots and protests after some patrons refused to leave the property.

According to, the raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar. On that night, officers entered the club, eventually arresting 13 people and, including those who were found to be in violation of the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute; to enforce the statute and make arrests, female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex, according to

The protests that the raid sparked often drew thousands of demonstrators. While the Stonewall Riots were not the beginning of the movement for LQBTQ+ rights, it was a landmark in an uphill battle.

The March for Our Lives

On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people were killed and 17 more were injured when a former student opened fire on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus in Parkland, Florida.

This mass school shooting, one of the most deadly in American history, would change the trajectory of the lives of the survivors and the lives of those who lost loved ones; it would also ignite one of the largest and longest lasting pushes for gun reform in the nation.

The March for Our Lives protests sparked a nation-wide movement composed of mostly young people and students who demanded better laws and increased governmental action to protect schools against mass shootings.

Following the Parkland shooting and outcry from students and parents alike, new laws were implemented in Florida as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act.

Lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate each filed corresponding legislation to address firearm and school safety. Later, the bills would be combined to create the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act. The Safety Act, signed into law by then Gov. Rick Scott, was the first sweeping legislative action in the state specifically meant to prevent more public mass shootings.

The safety act implemented the following changes in Florida:

  • Raised the minimum age for a person to purchase a gun from 18 to 21
  • Created a waiting period so gun buyers would have to wait three days, or until a background check is complete, to purchase a gun - whichever is longer
  • Banned bump stocks, which are devices that attach to rifles allowing them to fire faster
  • Allowed armed School Resource Officers to patrol campuses and respond to threats when necessary
  • Allocated millions of dollars in funding to make school buildings and campuses more secure, and to hire more school-based police officers
  • Expanded mental health services and regulations to Florida school districts by allocating funding to provide proper care to students

Nine other states also implemented “red flag-type laws” following the Parkland mass shooting.

FILE - In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. The National Rifle Association of America dropped on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, its lawsuit against the city of San Francisco over a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors labeling the gun lobby a terrorist organization. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson, File)

Youth Climate Protests

Climate change, while a sometimes polarizing topic, has taken the forefront of campaigns organized across the country as more and more people realize that the mistreatment of the earth now may lead to catastrophic consequences later.

Young people across the globe mobilized to demand action and policy change to help the planet amid what many experts called an ongoing climate crisis.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 17, became one of the most prominent faces of the youth climate movement, traveling internationally to personally join climate protests and mobilize activism groups.

On Sept. 20, 2019, hundreds of thousands of people called out of work, school and other obligations to take to the streets of their cities to protest climate change.

According to the Associated Press, marches, rallies and demonstrations were held from Canberra to Kabul and Cape Town to New York. More than 100,000 turned out in Berlin alone.

In New York, where public schools excused students with parental permission, tens of thousands of mostly young people marched through lower Manhattan, briefly shutting down some streets, AP reported.

In Florida, high school students shouted “Miami is under attack” in Miami Beach, where some worried about losing their homes to rising water, according to AP. On the West Coast, student-led protests drew in some Google and Amazon employees.

The protests continue even in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, as innovative activists find ways to bring their protests online using livestreams and social media to further campaigns for change.

Students march through UM's campus as part of the global Youth Climate Strike on March 15, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003 file photo, protesters pack London's Whitehall during a march to Hyde Park, to demonstrate against a possible war against Iraq. The Iraq war is widely seen as damaging the reputation of then Prime Minister Tony Blair and put a break on his ambitions to cement Britain's role inside the European Union. On Jan. 31, 2020, Britain is scheduled to leave the EU after 47 years of membership. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File) (AP2003)

About the Authors:

Erin began her career at News 6 as an assignment editor, then became a show producer. She is now a digital storyteller as part of the Click Orlando team.