On Saturday, January 21, millions of American women and men marched in cities and towns across America to protest the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Similar huge marches also took place in many countries around the globe. We watched stunning pictures from D.C. where the Capitol area was so jammed that people could not move; Chicago where police canceled marching to avoid crushing bodies; Manhattan, Los Angeles, Boston, Hartford , Denver, Oakland. Originally called The Women’s March to highlight issues like equal pay, abortion and sexual assault, organizers broadened the platform to include immigrant rights, voter suppression, gender rights, and environmental protection. The protest marches in foreign countries reflected the alarm people felt about Trump’s friendship with Vladimir Putin, raising questions about the viability of NATO, and stress on “America First!” during his speech.
Hillary Clinton had attended the Inauguration, wearing the Suffragette signature white as did Jill Biden . She used Twitter to congratulate the marchers: “Thanks for standing, speaking and marching for our values. Important as ever. I truly believe we’re always Stronger Together.” Her campaign slogan was seen on handmade signs carried by young girls and older women sporting the pink knit pussy cat hats of the multiracial, multigenerational movement. One young girl carried a sign, “I’m 17 — Fear me!” Many chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.” Demonstrators pushed strollers or lifted children on their shoulders. The mood was positive and buoyant. In Boston, Elizabeth Warren spoke of the image of Donald Trump being sworn in the day before, “ The sight is now burned into my eyes forever. We will use that vision to fight harder.” In D.C, Gloria Steinem told the crowd, “Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.”
There have been other critical times in American history when thousands of citizens marched in Washington and demonstrated for a cause that ignited the public consciousness. Some marches succeeded and some did not:
1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession. March 3, 1913. Inez Milholland, 26 years old, wearing a flowing white cape and a wreath atop her long dark hair, mounted a white horse and led the largest women’s march since the beginning of the suffrage movement in 1848. Five thousand women marched behind her; business women in blue, writers in white, and musicians in red, all seeking the right to vote. They withstood insults and hurled objects; 100 were hospitalized by the end. Although President-elect Woodrow Wilson skipped the march, it did energize the public and male politicians in the years that followed. Courageous women finally achieved passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, known as the Susan B. Anthony amendment. Women voted for the first time in the 1920 Presidential election.
1932 Bonus Army March . July 28, 1932. General Douglas Mac Arthur and army troops surrounded a group of protesting troops in Washington, wheeled tanks into position, prepared gas bombs, and gave the former fighters 30 minutes to disperse. The Bonus Army, about 20,000 World War I veterans demanded the payment of bonuses guaranteed under a 1924 law. Payments under the law were supposed to be paid by 1945, but the veterans were suffering without jobs and funds. They did not leave, and the standoff lasted for weeks until President Herbert Hoover ordered their removal. Army troops shot “a heavy barrage of tear gas” at the veterans according to The Times. Two people died during the protest. The Bonus Army veterans were not successful. Mac Arthur’s actions and Hoover’s orders were widely deplored by the public. In 1944, Congress passed the G.I.Bill that offered many WWII veterans the chance to attend college.
1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. August 28, 1963. More than 200,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. to urge Congress to pass historic civil rights legislation. Lyndon B. Johnson was President and Martin Luther King Jr. gave his memorable “I have a Dream” speech that millions listened to and watched on television. At the time, civil rights legislation was stalled by southern lawmakers in Congress. The peaceful march and King’s stirring oratory lifted the American people to demand action by their representatives. A voter registration drive took place in Mississippi. A march took place in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery, where Civil Rights Icon, John Lewis and other protestors were beaten brutally by state troopers on the Edgar Pettus bridge. President Johnson pressured the southern Democrats to support The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and The Voting Rights Bill of 1965. Johnson said at the time, “The Democratic Party has lost the South”, but he was determined to pass the bills for all the American people. They are part of his significant legacy along with The War on Poverty and The Great Society.
1969 Moratorium to End The War in Vietnam: November 15, 1969. 250,000 or more antiwar activists marched 17 abreast down Pennsylvania Avenue calling for a rapid withdrawal of all United States troops from Vietnam. The procession was led by three drummers, followed by people carrying eleven coffins bearing the names of the dead. The marchers were shouting “Peace Now! Peace Now!” Nixon neither attended nor viewed the antiwar march on television. He spent the day watching college football at the White House. The war had begun during Johnson’s administration and the American people watched the death toll grow as Nixon escalated the troop buildups. In 1972, John Kerry, who had served in Vietnam as a Navy commander of a Swift boat, asked at an antiwar protest before Congress, “Who will be the last man to die in Vietnam?”
1974 March for Life. January 22, 1974, a year after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, thousands of women marched in Washington to support a constitutional amendment, known as the Buckley amendment, to overturn the decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion. This did not happen and during the years that followed, individual states have passed laws to make abortion unobtainable to millions of women who lack the funds to travel to states where abortion clinics are available. The years have also seen violence and death of doctors at clinics, and court cases that restrict the entry areas from vocal harassment. Pro Life and Pro Choice are movements that have grown since l973. Pro Life marches occur every year; This year’s will be January 27 with Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Donald Trump, as a speaker.
1987 Second Annual March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. October ll, 1987. 200,00 people gathered in Washington to call for AIDS research and the end of discrimination against gay people. (There had been a 1979 march , before the AIDs crisis.) More than 20,000 Americans had died of AIDS by l987. 30,00 more were suffering with the disease which also held a stigma. At the march, they spread a huge quilt that had the names of the dead. The March was shown on television and helped to personalize the movement. Three years later, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, the largest federally funded program for people living with H.I.V. and AIDS. Until 1995, AIDS deaths continued to climb.
1995 Million Man March. October 16, 1995. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly black men, joined a rally led by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. His message was “to accept the responsibility to be good husbands and fathers and builders of our community.” However, Farrakhan had been criticized previously for sexist and anti-Semitic remarks. The N.A.AC.P. opposed the march. Organizers said the rally spurred 1.7 black men to register to vote. A Washington Post reporter wrote, “Some say its core message of self reliance and atonement left black men grapping alone with issues such as violence, drug abuse and poverty, letting politicians off the hook.” In 2015, Farrakhan held a second march where much of the discussion focused on the use of police force and continued discrimination.
We do not know whether the protest marches that drew millions of Americans on January 21, from their homes to the streets across our country will develop into a Protest Movement. Donald Trump did not draw a majority of the popular vote on November 8. He had 2.8 million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton. He does not have the “mandate” he claims. He needs to recognize that more than half the people in the United States were dismayed by his dark Inaugural Speech about “ American Carnage”. They did not recognize their country from his bleak, gloomy descriptions. He may still have the opportunity to stop and listen to that majority of citizens and voters. Charles Blow, addressed this on the Op Ed page of The New York Times on January 23. It was a message directed at Donald J. Trump. “The women’s marches sent a clear signal: Your comfort will not be built on our constriction. We are America. We are loud, “nasty” and fed up. We are motivated dissidents and we are legion.”
Epilogue: Carl Sandberg wrote his famous poem “The People. Yes” in 1936 when the people in the United States were suffering during the Great Depression. The last stanza is appropriate today.
“Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?
In this darkness with a great bundle of grief
The people march.
In the night and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the
Where to? What next?”
Joyce S. Anderson January 24, 2017