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The Art of Protest

Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Present, Second Edition


T. V. Reed

The Art of Protest

Second edition forthcoming in January 2019

First edition paperback ($25.00) still available


A second edition of the classic introduction to arts in social movements, fully updated and now including Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and new digital and social media forms of cultural resistance

The first overview of social movements and the cultural forms that helped shape them, The Art of Protest shows the importance of these movements to American culture. In comparative accounts of movements beginning with the African American civil rights movement through the Internet-driven movement for global justice, T. V. Reed enriches our understanding of protest and its cultural expression. 

Imagine the civil rights movement without freedom songs or the politics of women’s movements without poetry. More difficult yet, imagine an America unaffected by the cultural expressions of the twentieth-century social movements that have shaped our nation. The first broad overview of social movements and the distinctive cultural forms that helped shape them, The Art of Protest shows the vital importance of these movements to American culture.

In comparative accounts of movements beginning with the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and running through the Internet-driven movement for global justice of the twenty-first century (“Will the revolution be cybercast?”), T. V. Reed enriches our understanding of protest and its cultural expression. Reed explores the street drama of the Black Panthers, the revolutionary murals of the Chicano movement, the American Indian Movement’s use of film and video, rock music and the struggles against famine and apartheid, ACT UP’s use of visual art in the campaign against AIDS, and the literature of environmental justice. Throughout, Reed employs the concept of culture in three interrelated ways: by examining social movements as sub- or countercultures; by looking at poetry, painting, music, murals, film, and fiction in and around social movements; and by considering the ways in which the cultural texts generated by resistance movements have reshaped the contours of the wider American culture.

The United States is a nation that began with a protest. Through the kaleidoscopic lens of artistic and cultural expression, Reed reveals how activism continues to remake our world.

A Web site for The Art of Protest is available at


A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The Art of Protest

T. V. Reed is director of American studies and professor of English at Washington State University. He is the author of Fifteen Jugglers, Five Believers: Literary Politics and the Poetics of American Social Movements.

T. V. Reed is Buchanan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Washington State University. His recent books include Digitized Lives: Culture, Power, and Social Change in the Internet Era and Robert Cantwell and the Literary Left. Reed edits the website

The Art of Protest

Sophisticated yet very accessible, with a fluid writing style and well-organized chapters ranging from black civil rights to global justice. Succeeding on many levels, the book makes a measurable contribution to the literature of several areas of study, offers a well-informed and insightful introduction to students at every level, and tenders various ideas and tactics to add to an activist toolkit. Essential.


An ambitious project that breathes some vitality back into the study of social movements at a time when we need to remember the lessons of the past and become much more active in the present. Highly recommended as a bird’s eye view into major social movements.

Sociological Inquiry

This impressive study demonstrates that culture matters to social movements and that social movements affect cultural and aesthetic practices. From the transmission of southern spirituals into freedom songs during the civil rights era to political theater in antiracist struggles, from poetry as a site of feminist consciousness-raising to mural painting within the Chicano movement, from rock music and the 1980s anti-apartheid student movement to performance art in ACT UP, T. V. Reed vividly demonstrates that cultural work has been a vital medium for imagining and acting for social change.

Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics

The Art of Protest is a great introduction to the history of social movements, but it is also an important book about art and culture, about the infinitely lively, complex, and contradictory roles assigned to performances and cultural expressions by social movements.

George Lipsitz, author of American Studies in a Moment of Danger

As a veteran teacher and practitioner of artistic activism, there are a few resources I have found to be invaluable: T. V. Reed's The Art of Protest is one of them. Knowledgeable, lucid, comprehensive, and creative, it is simply the best book out there for understanding how activists in the United States have used cultural strategies and artistic tactics to effectively—and affectively—challenge existing power and envision radical alternatives. I have taught the first edition of this book every year since it was first published, and the release of this new edition means I'll be teaching it for years to come.

Stephen Duncombe, co-director, Center for Artistic Activism

T. V. Reed’s fully renovated version of this landmark study is even more relevant than the original publication. In the past fifteen years, the energy and creativity of artists and cultural workers has become increasingly central to the political work of movements. An indispensable overview!

Andrew Ross, New York University

The Art of Protest

1. Singing Civil Rights: The Freedom Song Tradition
2. Dramatic Resistance: Theatrical Politics from the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter
3. The Poetical Is the Political: Feminist Poetry and the Poetics of Women’s Rights
4. Revolutionary Walls: Chicano/a Murals, Chicano/a Movements
5. Old Cowboys, New Indians: Hollywood Frames the American Indian Movement
6. “We Are [Not] the World”: Famine, Apartheid, and the Politics of Rock Music
7. ACTing UP against AIDS: The (Very) Graphic Arts in a Moment of Crisis
8. Novels of Environmental Justice: Toxic Colonialism and the Nature of Culture
9. Puppetry against Puppet Regimes: The “Battle of Seattle” and the Global Justice Movement
10. #Occupy All the Arts: Challenging Wall Street and Economic Inequality Worldwide
Conclusion: The Cultural Study of Social Movements

The Art of Protest

The Art of Protest companion site includes chapter summaries, resources, and a bonus chapter.