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Protest: Violent or Not?

Grades 7-8 | Argumentative | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 840L-1230L

Learning Standards





Prompts: Human rights activists are individuals who work to promote basic rights that should be universal for all people. Though the two men lived in different times and different places, Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi were both human rights activists who dedicated their lives to securing the rights of their people. Mandela worked to change racial inequalities in his home of South Africa; likewise, Gandhi helped to secure the rights of the native people in his homeland of India. Though their goals were similar, the two men approached the problem very differently.


The following texts were written by Nelson Mandela and  Mohandas   Gandhi. As you read, consider the similarities and differences in their messages about the use of violence as a form of protest.

Write an argumentative essay that supports either Mandela’s or Gandhi’s position on the use of violence as a form of protest. In it, explain the similarities and differences in their beliefs and approaches. Use evidence from the text to support your position.




Source 1

"I Am Prepared to Die" Speech, April 20, 1964 by Nelson Mandela (Excerpt)


I am prepared to die: Nelson Mandela's statement from the dock at the opening of the defense case in the Rivonia Trial. Palace of Justice, Pretoria Supreme Court Pretoria South Africa. 20 April 1964


.... I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of sabotage … I do not however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, [mistreatment], and oppression of my people by the whites...

I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto (an armed wing of the African National Congress). I, and the others who started the organization, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become [unavoidable], and that unless responsible leadership was given to [guide] and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war.

Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.

But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white...


Source 2

“On Civil Disobedience” Speech, 1916, by Mohandas K. Gandhi


There are two ways of countering injustice. One way is to smash the head of the man who perpetrates injustice and to get your own head smashed in the process. All strong people in the world adopt this course. Everywhere wars are fought and millions of people are killed. The consequence is not the progress of a nation but its decline. … No country has ever become, or will ever become, happy through victory in war. A nation does not rise that way, it only falls further...

No clapping is possible without two hands to do it, and no quarrel without two persons to make it. Similarly, no State is possible without two entities (the rulers and the ruled). You are our … Government, only so long as we consider ourselves your subjects. When we are not subjects, you are not the [ones in power] either. So long as it is your endeavour (effort) control us with justice and love, we will let you do so. But if you wish to strike at us from behind, we cannot permit it. Whatever you do in other matters, you will have to ask our opinion about the laws that concern us. If you make laws to keep us suppressed in a wrongful manner and without taking us into confidence, these laws will merely adorn the statute-books. We will never obey them. Award us for it what punishment you like, we will put up with it. Send us to prison and we will live there as in a paradise. Ask us to mount the scaffold and we will do so laughing. Shower what sufferings you like upon us, we will calmly endure all and not hurt a hair of your body. We will gladly die and will not so much as touch you. But so long as there is yet life in these our bones, we will never comply with your arbitrary laws.







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