Public Activism

Students spend time learning about the art of the protest in their AP Language and Composition course.

The AP Language and Composition course aims to teach students the nuances of literary and visual argumentation. Dreams of Hope, a local organization that teaches about the LGBTQ community through performance and visual arts, worked with classroom teachers to develop a three-week unit on a type of argumentation that students rarely have the time to address in the course: the art of public activism.

As part of the unit, Dreams of Hope prepared a brief lecture on the history of the Gay Rights movement and the tactics that various activist organizations utilized in their push toward equality. The class then narrowed their focus specifically to the efforts of the ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) organization during the late 1980s through mid-1990s in order to give students the opportunity to study a numerous public. Students researched the efforts of this organization by reading a number of primary documents and viewing the documentary How to Survive a Plague, all of which discussed the deliberate steps that ACT UP took to achieve concrete goals in their fight to eradicate AIDS. Next, students analyzed manifestos and mission statements as well as placards and magazine advertisements that the organization used to promote awareness and to attract participants to specific demonstrations. Students also evaluated the efficacy of a number of public protests that ACT UP organized over the past thirty years.

Once students identified, analyzed, and evaluated the range of literary and visual rhetorical strategies employed by ACT UP in their various demonstrations, students used time both in and out of class with a group of their peers to form a hypothetical activist organization in response to a contemporary cause of their choosing. Over the course of two weeks, the groups produced the following end product: a creative title for their organization and a justification for this title, a thorough description of the cause for which the group would advocate; a mission statement/manifesto articulating the beliefs, goals, and/or demands of their organization; two high-quality visuals that their group would use to promote your cause; a concrete analysis of these visuals that explains the intended rhetorical effects of the designer’s choices; and a vivid description of an act of performance art protest that their organization would carry out.