The Fine Art of American Protest

Alan Caruba
Issue CCVII - September 13, 2009
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There have been many mass marches on Washington, D.C., so the locals know how to make plans to anticipate the congestion, and the police are polite and skillful in the science of crowd control. They can afford to be polite, because the crowds, no matter how large, are, too.


Oh, sure, they shout a lot, but that’s what a protest march is all about. Back in April 1894 unemployed workers known as “Coxey’s Army” showed up to demand that Congress do something. It was the second year of an economic depression that would last another two years, but it was the worst that had hit the nation barely three decades since the end of the Civil War.


Americans know where to head when they are at odds with their government, and most know or suspect that the source of their problems can be found in Washington , D.C. They are always right.


Bloodshed has been extremely rare at such events. On June 17, 1932 a “Bonus Army”, some 20,000 World War One veterans and their families massed in the Capitol, seeking advance payment of bonuses from the Hoover administration. The year is significant. It was four years since the beginning of the Great Depression that began in 1929.


Orders were given to disburse them and to destroy the shanties they had built. An Army Colonel named Douglas McArthur led the troops. Several of the veterans were killed. Hoover’s reputation never survived that march.


Americans tend to march to protest economic issues and/or wars. Some social issues draw crowds, such as the March 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which most people remember because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, “I have a dream.”


The 1960s were punctuated by many marches to protest the Vietnam War. The crowds massed in 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1969. They kept coming back in 1971. In April 1974, some ten thousand gathered to demand the impeachment of Richard Nixon. On August 10, 1974 Nixon resigned; the first and only President to do so, the final act of the Watergate scandal.


The 1980s had a smattering of smaller marches, but they were about things like lesbian and gay rights or global nuclear disarmament. It wasn’t until another war that a lot of Americans got on the buses to Washington, D.C. again. The Gulf War ginned up a crowd estimated at 75,000. The 1990s saw a handful of marches of not much consequence.


The war in Iraq stirred familiar passions, and the first protest march was on September 24, 2005. By 2007 the pace picked up, but while the war was unpopular with many Americans, it did not generate the kind of anger that Vietnam did. Barely ten thousand showed up in July 2008 and, by Washington, D.C., standards, that was small.


What is significant about the Saturday, September 12, 2009, march was the totally grassroots nature of the event. It was billed as a “Tea Party”, a name taken from the rather spontaneous tea party events that occurred shortly after Congress went insane and started spending billions of taxpayer dollars on bailouts, the takeover of General Motors, ownership of an insurance company, and a huge so-called “Stimulus” bill.


With the economy heading south, Americans quickly and correctly concluded that the Democrat-controlled Congress and the new President were taking the nation over the cliff with their spending, borrowing, and printing of dollars.


September 12, 2009, however, was a protest against President Barack Obama.


Second and third in line for public protest were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Having achieved total political power, the President and Congress had generated a massive grassroots resistance barely seven months into his term.


On Saturday Americans from around the nation gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand that the U.S. Constitution be obeyed!


The U.S. press initially described the crowd as “tens of thousands.” It was so big that, by evening, even the Capitol police had not yet released an estimate of its size, but British press observers pegged it at two million!


America was born in protest, and a new generation is carrying on the tradition. It is not an idle thing. They could have gone to a football or baseball game. Instead, they came to Washington, D.C.


Only fools would dare ignore them.

Alan Caruba writes a daily post at A business and science writer, he is the founder of The National Anxiety Center.

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