Inez Milholland at the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington.George Grantham Bain Collection, Via Library of Congress
How Demonstrations Have Shaped America
“One of the great weapons of a democracy.”
This is how Harry Belafonte, the performer and civil rights activist, referred to the street march in a recent interview. Mr. Belafonte played a critical role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington that helped spur the passage of two major civil rights bills. He is also a co-chairman of the women’s march set for Saturday.
When thousands of women converge on Washington this weekend, they will join a long tradition of rallies in the capital. From the suffrage processions of the early 20th century to the Tea Party rallies of 2009, marches have drawn attention to crucial issues, occasionally resulted in violence, and often prompted opposing gatherings.
Marian B. Mollin, an associate professor at Virginia Tech who studies the history of social movements, said that successful marches have capitalized on symbolism and street theater, attracted a broad coalition of people and pushed clear policy goals.
But the real test of a march’s long-term efficacy, she said, is whether it energizes participants long after they’ve gone home, sustaining them through the less exciting portions of change. This is what she’ll be watching for in the months after Saturday’s march. “Are they continuing to be fired up when they get back? Because there is a lot of unfun, unglamorous work to do,” she said.
We took a look back at several marches in Washington and the way they changed — or didn’t change — history.
At least 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall on Aug. 28, 1963, to urge Congress to pass a historic civil rights bill. It was here that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
At the time, civil rights legislation was tied up in Congress, facing a filibuster by Southern lawmakers. The march was followed by sustained activism — including a voter-registration drive in Mississippi and a march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery — that helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A march sponsored by the National Gay Task Force in October 1979. By 1987, when a second march was held, the AIDS crisis had given urgency to the movement.
That year, more than 20,000 Americans had died of AIDS and another 36,000 had learned they had the disease, which was deeply stigmatizing. Activists were desperate for research and care. They spread a quilt bearing names of the dead. The march helped mobilize and 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.
Joan Webkamigad of the Ojibwa Nation of Grand Rapids, Mich., and her family prepared to take part in the last pow wow held by Native Americans who took part in the "Longest Walk", July 22, 1978, in Washington. Native Americans were trying to get support from the government for problems that face their nations. Some of the groups walked from the West Coast to Washington.
Hundreds of thousands of people, most of them black men, came together on Oct. 16, 1995, for a rally organized by Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He called on them to “accept the responsibility” to “be good husbands and fathers and builders of our community.” It was attended by the poet Maya Angelou but opposed by the N.A.A.C.P.
Organizers said the event spurred 1.7 million black men to register to vote. But the march’s legacy is the subject of debate. In 2015, Mr. Farrakhan held a second march. Much of the discussion centered on the use of force by the police and continued discrimination. Art Scott, 59, a salesman who attended, told The Times: “There comes a time, after being pushed for so long, to push back. I think that’s the feeling in the black community right now.”
The photographer Nina Robinson spent the week meeting women from all walks of life who shared their thoughts about attending protests following Donald Trump’s Inauguration. Click on the images to read more, and please visit Race/Related on Instagram.