Public Demonstrations

Materials  |  Audio  |  Poll  | Links to Principles of DemocracyResources


Should our democracy have the power to prohibit unauthorized public demonstrations?

In January 2011, tens of thousands of Tunisians rallied. For weeks, they gathered in streets and public squares to protest against their government. They blamed the government for unemployment, rising food prices, corruption, and political repression. Their protests were quite risky. The president, Ben Ali, had tightly controlled the country and its security forces for 23 years. For example, Ben Ali’s forces attacked and killed an estimated 100 demonstrators. Yet, as the world followed – on the Internet, Twitter, YouTube, and television – Ben Ali stepped down. Protests continued, forcing the resignation of the entire government.

Materials (pdf)

Public Demonstration—Lesson:








Links to Principles of Democracy

The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy. 

We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “Should our democracy have the power to prohibit unauthorized public demonstrations?” What principles might you add to the list below?

Please click here for a pdf of the fourteen principles handout on our Democratic Principles & Activities page.


Bill of Rights


Bill of Rights
Most democratic countries have a list of citizens’ rights and freedoms.  Often called a “Bill of Rights,” this document limits the power of government and explains the freedoms that are guaranteed to all people in the country.  It protects people from a government that might abuse its powers.  When a Bill of Rights becomes part of a country’s constitution, the courts have the power to enforce these rights.

Human Rights

humanrightsHuman Rights
All democracies strive to value human life and dignity and to respect and protect the human rights of citizens.  Examples include, but are not limited to the following:

Movement: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of his or her country. Everyone has the right to leave and to return to his or her country.  (Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Religion: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  This right includes freedom to change his or her religion and to worship alone or in community with others. It also includes the right to not worship or hold religious beliefs.  (Article 18, UDHR)

Speech: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information with others. (Article19. UDHR)

Assembly: Everyone has the right to organize peaceful meetings or to take part in meetings in a peaceful way. It is undemocratic to force someone to belong to a political group or to attend political meetings or rallies. (Article 20, UDHR)



For government to be accountable, the people must be aware of the actions their government is taking.  A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom, and why.


Selected Resources

"20,000 Aymaras Occupy Puno," The Free Press (May 28, 2011), (accessed June 24, 2011).

Article 20, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: United Nations, 1948), (accessed June 24, 2011).

Becker, Marc, "Ecuador, Indigenous Uprisings In," Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008), (accessed June 24, 2011).

Congressional Research Service, "First Amendment: Annotations," in The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1992; updated 2000 by, (accessed July 27, 2011).

Disputed Peru Land Laws Suspended BBC News (June 10, 2009), (accessed June 24, 2011).

Emerson, Thomas I., “Internal Order: Meetings, Demonstrations, Canvassing,” in The System of Freedom of Expression (New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, 1970), 285-388 (especially 285-292 and 386-388).

Herrera, Alberto Quimper, “El Derecho de Reunion (Final),” La (January 15, 2006), (accessed July 19, 2011).

“Impulsa Cuevas Ley Para Calendarizar Marchas en el D.F.” El Diario de Yucatan. (June 24, 2011),

Najar, Alberto, “No Más Sangre por Narcoviolencia, Reclamo de Miles en México,” BBC Mundo (April 7, 2011), (accessed June 24, 2011).

“Protesting Terror in Colombia: One Million Voices Against FARC,” Tavaana Media Monitor (Washington, DC: Center for Liberty in the Middle East, March 30, 2011),

Redish, Martin H., “Unlawful Advocacy and Free Speech,” in The Logic of Persecution: Free Expression and the McCarthy Era (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 63-131 (especially 78-106).

Richman, Joe, and Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, “Mexico’s 1968 Massacre: What Really Happened?” Radio Diaries, NPR (December 1, 2008), (accessed on June 24, 2011).