Protecting the Right To Protest


These bills create extreme penalties for peaceful activities related to protests, such as blocking sidewalks and roads; contain expansive definitions of “rioting” that criminalize legitimate and peaceful activities; and even include new types of civil and criminal immunity for drivers who hit protesters.

ICNL is working with a broad coalition of civil liberties, racial justice, environmental, and other groups to address these measures. We are supporting local partners by providing rapid legal analysis and facilitating informal peer learning to help activists from across the country learn from each other.

protecting the Right to Protest; little girl with rose and sunflower in hand

In the aftermath of the 2020 racial justice protests that swept across the United States, legislators in 36 states introduced over 100 bills that would undermine the right to peaceful assembly. Eleven have been enacted.

Using this information, local activists in Tennessee were able to stop the passage of a bill that would have created felony penalties for obstructing a sidewalk or street, as well as given new immunity to drivers who hit protesters. In Alabama, our partners were able to defeat a bill that would have expanded the definition of rioting to include protesters that did not engage in any violence. This bill also redefined “incitement to riot” in way that would allow nonprofits and activists who organized peaceful protests to be charged if the protest became violent.

The ability to press for social change is a foundational right in the United States. These victories are critical to ensuring peaceful protests continue to be protected in the future.

Raising Public Awareness

ICNL’s US Protest Law Tracker has become a go-to resource for activists and journalists alike, raising significant national awareness about legislation targeting protesters. The Tracker and ICNL staff’s analysis have been highlighted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Politico, as well as interviews in outlets including NPR, ABC News, and CNN.

This extensive coverage has enabled ICNL to raise the profile of this critical issue among a wide audience. Additionally, it has allowed us to make connections with new partners from different parts of the country, ideological backgrounds, and circumstances to help bridge divisions in supporting the right to peacefully protest.

This story is from our 2020-2021 Annual Report. Each story in the report shows how our partners across the world help protect and, where possible, expand civic space.