Some 200,000 demonstrators are expected to parade in the US capital for the Women’s March on Washington today (Jan. 21), mirrored by thousands more attending marches around the country and the world. What started with a Facebook post is poised to remind the incoming White House administration of the importance of women’s rights, whether in matters of reproductive health, safety, or fair pay. As the crowds head to Washington DC, here is a look at some of the largest rallies the US capital has seen in the last 100 years.
The evening before 28th president Woodrow Wilson took office, 5,000 suffragists marched(paywall) to push the vote for (white) women. It was likely the largest rally that Washington DC had seen up until that time. Some women had come all the way from New York and New Jersey. Despite that, the march didn’t interfere with the president’s agenda, and he reportedly slipped (paywall) “quietly into the capital while suffragists [were] parading.”
The Ku Klux Klan took on Washington at a time of heightened racial intolerance. The Klan’s men and women took the streets of the capital, parading down Pennsylvania avenue to show support for a proposed law that would restrict immigration based on origin and race. Some estimates say the crowd was as big as 25,000 people, others say 50,000. On August 9, 1925, The New York Times reported on its front page that 40,000 had marched, in the biggest-ever demonstration, and that at least 200,000 onlookers watched the parade, receiving it “warmly,” but without cheering as the demonstrators paraded “robed, but unmasked.”
“200,000 march for civil rights in orderly rally; president sees gain for Negro,” titled the New York Times on Aug. 29, 1963, the day after what was then the largest demonstration in American history held to demand political and civil rights for African Americans. The Times estimate was likely conservative: it’s probable that at least 250,000 took part in the event. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famed “I have a dream” speech, which the Times referred to as a “peroration” summing up “a day the capital will remember.”
A second large protest against the war in Vietnam—200,000 people had marched the month before—gathered at least 250,000 in Washington DC with “millions” marching in other American cities, according to the reports at the time. The rally, which began peacefully, ended up in clashes with the police using tear gas.
Rallies and protests in favor of women’s rights and equality had been common in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in 1978 a large, organized march for women made it to the capital. The march supported an amendment to the constitution first proposed in 1923 that would guarantee equal rights between men and women. The ERA still has not been ratified by enough states to make it law.
Though the number of participants in The Longest Walk wasn’t as large as others, the march represented a good number of Native Americans. They walked for 3,200 miles from their native territories in Oklahoma to the capital, raising awareness of legislation that would limit Native Americans’ freedom and rights over their territories. Thirty years later, a similar march left from San Francisco, 8,200 miles away, to the arrival point in DC.
Under the banner of “We Are Everywhere,” on the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the first large march of LGBT rights advocates drew a crowd of 125,000. The demonstrators asked for the repeal of anti-LGBT laws and of discriminatory policies. It marked the beginning of a series of protests that culminated, 14 years later, with one of the largest LGBT rallies held in the capital.
This march was organized to protest the Reagan administration. Organized by the the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest US union federation, the protest gathered 260,000 people critical of the government policies, particularly planned cuts to social programs.
Eight years after the first LGBT rights march, a crowd double the size gathered in DC. The march sought to end discrimination against gay citizens. The march also demanded funding for AIDS research and therapy. With an epidemic that seemed relentless, the disease had already killed nearly 20,000 people, and the Reagan administration’s response seemed inadequate. According to the organizers’ estimates, the attendance was at least 500,000 people.
A rally in support of abortion rights and women’s rights drew an estimated 500,000 to the capital to oppose the possibility that the rights recognized by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision might be limited.
In the largest LGBT protest since 1979, an estimated 1 million or more participants gathered to celebrate the queer identity and the accomplishment of the equality movement, as well as to condemn persisting discrimination.
“Black men fill capital’s mall in display of unity and pride,” titled the New York Times, reporting on the Million Men March. The gathering, called by activist and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, was meant as a display of pride and independence on part of black Americans and as a way to put black minority issues back on the national agenda. The men who attended were invited by the organizers to make a public commitment to self-improvement, in order to combat negative stereotypes brought upon African Americans. According to the original report, attendance was initially capped at 400,000, however the number was subsequently revised to 837,000 based on images from the day.
According to some reports, which place the number of demonstrators north of a million, the March for Women’s Rights of April 2004 was the largest rally ever held in US history. The demonstration was organized to protest the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a law forbidding late-term abortion, that had been introduced in November 2003 by the George W. Bush administration.