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This Critical Debate is part of a Debate Comparison:

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Less than 30 minutes
  • Constitution
  • Protests
  • 9-12
  • College/University

Looking Back: 9/11 Connections

Use the artifact viewer to explore the image below and discuss the following questions:

  • What happened/is happening in this image? What story does it tell?
  • How is this image connected to the events of Sept. 11, 2001?
  • How could you use this image to make an argument about the state of freedom in the U.S.? About national security?

How accessible should the White House be to protesters?

You are a leader of a national student environmental advocacy group that wants to block construction of a major oil pipeline in the United States. In order to bring more attention to your cause, you organize a successful mass protest in which at least 1,000 students assemble in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Hundreds of those students then attach themselves to the White House fence using plastic zip ties. Others stage a mock oil spill by spreading a large black tarp on the ground and playing dead on top of it.

You believe the president is close to making a decision on the pipeline and are considering a follow-up protest. However, recent incidents involving individuals climbing over the White House fence has brought renewed attention to the issue of security and you are not sure how your protest will be received. Temporary barriers have been erected to keep people several feet back from the White House fence and additional Secret Service officers are patrolling the grounds. What do you do?

What do you do?

  1. Plan another dramatic protest similar to the first.

    The recent news stories about White House security may bring increased attention to your protest.

  2. Plan a more subdued protest.

    Keep protesters in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to avoid alarming the Secret Service.

  3. Cancel the protest.

    You don’t want to antagonize the Secret Service and police or face possible repercussions from the increased focus on security.

  4. Something else.

    Explain your idea.

  • Could additional security measures scare off protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly and petition?

  • Why is the White House a popular location for groups staging protests? Do you think these protests pose a threat to White House security?

  • What is the purpose of staging a large, dramatic protest? Can the same goals be achieved by smaller or more subdued actions? Why or why not?

  • How can Secret Service officers distinguish between an acceptable protest and a threat to White House security?

Have students use the Analyzing Evidence and Making Your Argument handouts to collect and organize additional information about the case, then form an argument supported by evidence. Give groups 30 minutes to prepare, or assign as homework. (Note: Students may wish to organize their sources and evidence using a spreadsheet, such as Google Sheets.)

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