What does protest look, sound, and feel like?

People in charge can sometimes make decisions that are not fair for everyone. This can cause frustration, anger, and sadness. When people protest they come together to express these emotions and to demand change. Every protest is different, but they do have some features in common.

Activity: What is a protest?

Explore the ways in which we protest in Aotearoa.

There are many ways in which we can show that we are upset with the way things are within our world. Protests can look and sound and feel very different depending on the cause.

Sometimes protests will be loud and involve many, many people. An example of this kind of protest was the School Strike 4 Climate in September 2019.

Watch the following Newshub video of the event, and discuss the questions below.

  • What are some of the features of this protest?
  • What was the issue they were protesting about?
  • What emotions do you think the protestors would have had?
  • How were they expressing their emotions?
  • What do you think the purpose of a protest like this is?

Not all protests are like the School Strike for Climate Change. There are many kinds of protest actions:

  • Strikes
    Strikes are when a group of people stop going to work, or school. It usually takes place when people are unhappy about something that they want to change.

  • Occupations
    Occupations are when people stay on land to protect it. There have been a number of significant occupations in our history - Takaparawhau Bastion Point, Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens/Ihumātao are just a few.

  • Petitions and letters
    We can protest by signing a petition. Some of the biggest changes in Aotearoa have happened this way - including women’s right to vote and teaching te reo Māori within schools.

  • The arts as protest tool
    We can use drama, visual arts, music and dance to communicate our resistance to events that are happening in our world.

  • Hunger strikes
    A hunger strike is when people will limit the amount of food they eat as a sign of protest.

  • Marches and rallies
    Protest marches, hīkoi or rallies have large groups of people walking and gathering to make their protest as visible as possible.

  • Signs of solidarity
    Protesting can be as simple as showing your support for a cause. Wearing badges, flying flags or following on social media are all small ways to signal support for an issue.

  • Passive resistance
    Passive resistance is a way of protesting without using violence. It often involves peacefully disobeying laws or objecting to something through an action like a silent sit-in.

Below are some items from Te Papa’s collections, and some video clips of different types of protest actions. Can you match them to the descriptions above?

Re: News: A behind the scenes look at the actual Māori Language Petition

Te Papa collection item: ‘Māori Land Occupation, Bastion Point’

Ans Westra, Maori Land Occupation, Bastion Point., 1970s, gelatin silver print. Purchased 1993 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (O.009289)

Newshub: Thousands of university staff go on strike over pay negotiations

Te Papa collection item: The Rise of the Morning Star artistic intervention on Queen Street

‘The Rise of the Morning Star’ artistic intervention on Queen Street, by Ema Tavola, 1 Dec 2013, digital colour photograph. Te Papa (O.043145)

Te Papa collection item: Women’s Social and Political Union Medal for Valour

Womenʻs Social and Political Union Medal for Valour, 1912, England, by Toye & Co. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (GH024772)

Te Papa collection item: display of badges

Display of badges, 1980s, New Zealand, hessian strip with badges. Gift of the Peace Foundation Disarmament and Security Centre, 2009. Te Papa (GH020698)

Te Papa collection item: ‘Māori land march’

Māori Land March, 1975, by Ans Westra, gelatin silver print. Purchased 1993 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (O.009298/03)

Answers at the bottom of this page.

Activity: Act it out

Use drama to illustrate features of protest.

Drama is a useful tool for expressing ideas around resistance, persistence and protest.

  • In a small group, choose one of the protest examples above and discuss what it would look, sound and feel like to take part in that type of protest.

  • Brainstorm ideas on post-it notes and arrange your ideas into groups. Consider how you can act this out for an audience. What language, behaviour, props and activities could you use?

  • Present your dramatic scene to an audience and see if they can guess the type of protest that you are acting out.

Protest, 2020. Photo by James Eades / Unsplash

Activity: Finding the themes

Seek out diverse perspectives on why we protest.

Your community will have its own priorities around protest. Gathering perspectives from your own context is a really useful way of developing a place-based understanding.

  • Put a call-out to your community to speak with people who have been involved in any kind of protest action. Once you have a sample of people, send them a simple survey, ask them to come in and speak with you, or talk to them on a video call. In advance of these interviews, consider how to have safe conversations, and brainstorm what you want to find out about.

You might like to ask people in your community who have protested, such questions as:

  • What issue did you protest about?
  • Why did you protest about this issue?
  • How did joining in with others help your cause?
  • Did you protest just once, or have you protested many times?
  • What changes have taken place as a result of your protest?
  • If you were in charge, what would you like to see improve?
  • What is your vision for the future in regards to this issue?
  • When you have completed your interview process, you may like to look at the differences and commonalities between the people you spoke to about why they protested. You may also notice that there are many different ways in which we can stand up for what we believe in.

  • Write your own description of what protest is to reflect all that you have learnt in this activity.

Extra links for the extra curious

Go down amazing wormholes with this curated suite of links.

  • NZ Parliament: Shining a light on petitions – New Zealand parliament talk with young leaders about their motivation for the petition to commemorate the NZ Land Wars, their experience throughout the process, and the actions that resulted.

  • NZ Herald: Māori Language Petition 50th Anniversary – the full livestreamed event that celebrated 50 years since the Māori Language Petition was presented.

  • Who was Frances Parker? – New Zealander Frances Parker played a key role in the British suffrage movement. Read more about her fascinating and brave life in this article from Te Papa’s own curators.

Answers to the What is a protest? activity:

  • Behind the scenes look at the Māori language petition – example of a petition

  • Māori Land Occupation, Bastion Point – example of an occupation

  • University staff strike – example of a strike

  • ‘The Rise of the Morning Star’ artistic intervention on Queen Street – example of art as protest tool

  • Women’s Social and Political Union Medal for Valour – example of a hunger strike

  • Display of badges – example of solidarity

  • Māori Land March – example of a march and rally