Political Participation in America

What is citizen activism? Explore the right to protest and ongoing challenges to political participation


Citizen Activism: Shaping American Politics

The civil rights movement and recent changes to same-sex marriage laws are testament to how the evolution of the American political system has been influenced by the political activism of its citizens.

An early example is the women’s suffrage movement of the mid-19th with early leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued that women, like men, were citizens of the United States and should be granted the same basic rights and privileges, including the right to vote.

The movement gained momentum in the early 20th century, with suffragists organizing massive parades, rallies, and demonstrations across the country. These efforts were reinforced by increased visibility and contribution of women during the First World war, during which they took on jobs previously held by men, and culminated in the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, granting women the right to vote.

Montgomery Bus Boycott: A Turning Point

One of the most famous examples of protests in bringing about social and political change in America was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights Movement, which began in 1955.


In Montgomery, Alabama, African Americans were required to sit in the back of public buses and give up their seats to white passengers if the front of the bus became full. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and was arrested.

In response, African American leaders organized a boycott of Montgomery’s public buses, which lasted for over a year. The boycott was marked by peaceful protests, such as marches and sit-ins, which brought national attention to the issue of racial segregation in the South. The boycott was eventually successful, with the Supreme Court ruling that Montgomery’s bus segregation laws were unconstitutional.

The Right to Protest

The right to peacefully protest – key to these activist movements – is a fundamental part of American democracy, enshrined in the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and assembly. The Supreme Court has ruled that peaceful protesting cannot be restricted unless it poses a threat to public safety or order.

The exercise of this right can be complicated when peaceful protests are accompanied by pockets violence and looting. When this happens, law enforcement may use force to try to maintain order and protect public safety, which has led to accusations of police brutality and suppression of first amendment rights.

One example of this dynamic occurred following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May 2020. While many of the resultant protests were peaceful, suppression of violence and looting in some cities saw police use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and accusation of excessive force against many protesters and journalists.

US Voter Turnout: Demographics and Patterns

Voter turnout in the United States lags behind several developed nations, even including the historic high of 2020, in which around 67% of eligible voters voted. For comparison, voter turnout in Germany was over 76% in the 2021 federal election.

The voter turnout in America varies significantly by demographic group; for example, young people aged 18-29 are much less likely to vote than those over 65 years old. In 2016, around 47% of eligible voters aged 18-29 voted compared to 74% of those over 65.

Similarly, African Americans and Hispanics have historically had lower voter turnout rates than whites due to a variety of factors such as language barriers or lack of access to polling places.

In addition, voting patterns tend to differ between urban and rural areas; cities often lean heavily towards Democratic candidates while rural areas tend to favor Republicans. This was seen in the 2020 election where Joe Biden won large metropolitan counties like Los Angeles County by more than 40 points but lost smaller rural counties like Madison County in Alabama by nearly the same number.

Gerrymandering: Manipulating Electoral Districts

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries to give one political party an advantage over another by strategically including or excluding demographics favorable or unfavorable to their party. The term “gerrymander” first coined in 1812 after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry approved a redistricting plan that favored his own party.

In recent years, gerrymandering has become increasingly prevalent as states have used sophisticated computer algorithms to draw districts that favor their preferred candidates. For example, North Carolina’s congressional map was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2019 due to its extreme partisan bias.

To combat gerrymandering, 21 states have adopted “redistricting commissions” to draw legislative district lines. These commissions typically consist of a group of citizens or experts who are responsible for redrawing district boundaries every ten years, after the release of new census data. By taking the power to redraw district lines out of the hands of politicians, redistricting commissions aim to create more fair and representative maps.

Challenges to Political Participation

In recent years, there have been a number of challenges to political participation in the US. One such challenge is the proliferation of voter ID laws, which require voters to present some form of identification before casting their ballots.

These laws are often seen as an attempt by certain states to suppress minority voting rights and disproportionately affect African Americans and other marginalized groups who may not have access to valid forms of identification.


In 2018, for example, North Dakota passed a law requiring residents to show proof of residential address when registering to vote; this was widely criticized as it would make it more difficult for Native American populations living on reservations without traditional addresses or IDs from being able to participate in elections.

You will forget 90% of this article in 7 days.

Download Kinnu to have fun learning, broaden your horizons, and remember what you read. Forever.

You might also like

The Presidency and Executive Branch;

What role does the executive branch play? Explore different roles, their powers and limitations.

Political Parties and Elections;

Ideologies behind US political parties and an overview of processes behind elections

Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations;

The nature of regulations across different states and the impacts of federalism on policy

The Legislative Branch;

An overview of leadership roles in the legislative branch and committee procedures

Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, and Inequalities;

What is the First Amendment? An overview of civil liberties, their history, and progress over time

Contemporary Issues in American Politics;

A summary of American global influence, its involvement in global security and foreign policy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *