The first image that comes to mind when you think of marching on Washington is Martin Luther King Jr. at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. Wednesday’s pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — which led Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for the president’s immediate removal today, as one Cabinet member resigned — will be an ugly addendum to the history of protest in Washington’s sacred spaces. But that history is much more than MLK. It’s long, complicated and full of surprises. Today’s Daily Dose explores past demonstrations in Washington, as well as what lies ahead for law enforcement agencies that were unprepared for Wednesday’s violence and what we can learn from similar violence overseas.
Isabelle Lee, Reporter
law enforcement reckoning
1. What Happened?
After Wednesday’s unprecedented security breach, lawmakers vowed to investigate what happened with the U.S. Capitol Police, a force that answers only to Congress and has the primary responsibility of guarding the Capitol. Despite the mass mayhem, Capitol Police made only 14 arrests, while Washington, D.C., police made 52 arrests in all, mostly for curfew violations. More than 50 officers across departments sustained injuries in what Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called a “violent attack … unlike any I have experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.”
The actions — or inactions — of the U.S. Capitol Police were roundly lambasted. “The Capitol Police appeared to me to be woefully unprepared,” said Houston police chief Art Acevedo on a special live episode of The Carlos Watson Show. “I’ve seen some videos of officers just opening barriers and letting people walk through. That is not what we are about in law enforcement.” Fordham University professor and OZY editor-at-large Christina Greer compared the law enforcement approach to what we’ve seen with racial justice protests. “As a Black person, we know that if there were peaceful [Black] protesters, they would have either been imprisoned or, God forbid, they had gotten that close to the Capitol, we know they would have been dead,” she said. “This is America. We know this.”
Ashli Babbitt, 35, a pool services business owner in San Diego, was shot dead in the Capitol, her family confirmed. Video showed a Capitol police officer shooting Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, as she tried to climb through a broken window to break into the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House chamber. (Three more people died of “medical emergencies” during the storming, according to D.C. police.) The shooting stood in contrast to the actions of an officer who was seen taking a selfie with an invader, but Babbitt’s death carried resonance for people like pro-Trump Republican strategist Seth Weathers. “I saw the police actively battling and fighting with these people,” Weathers said on a special live edition of The Carlos Watson Show, disputing the idea that pro-Trump protesters were treated differently from BLM protesters. “I saw them shoot a woman who was going onto the Capitol floor. She was white.”
President-elect Joe Biden said he is not concerned about security for the inauguration after Wednesday’s breach at the Capitol, but law enforcement agencies will be on even higher alert. They had an intentionally smaller footprint at the Capitol on Wednesday, reportedly as an effort to avoid confrontations like those in Portland, Oregon. But it’s pretty clear that didn’t work, and the discovery of pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails indicate a level of planning that police must prepare for on Jan. 20.
5. A Different Approach to the Public
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson declared on his show Wednesday night that the insurrection will be a pretext for the Biden administration to “silence” the voices of millions of Americans who believe the election was stolen. “What happened today will be used by the people taking power to justify stripping you of the rights you were born with as an American,” he said. Overheated? You bet, but this likely will be a seminal moment in the history of Capitol security. A 1998 shooting of two Capitol police officers was cited as a reason behind building the $600 million Capitol Visitor Center, which more securely funnels tourists through the building.
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The Republican Party has been torn apart by the showdown at the Capitol, objections to certify Biden’s victory and a pair of stunning Senate losses in the once-red state of Georgia. Which direction should the party take after Trump leaves office, or should it exist at all? We want to hear from our readers who support Trump or Republicans — or have in the past. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we may feature your insight in a special Sunday Magazine.
washington’s protest history
1. 1894: Fry’s and Coxey’s Armies
Lewis Fry and Jaxob Coxey both organized “armies” of unemployed workers, Fry’s beginning in California and Coxey’s in Ohio, who attempted to make it all the way to Washington. Deciding to march on foot to the capital, Fry’s army made it as far as Indiana before it splintered, making Fry and a few of his supporters the only vestige of the original 800 or so to reach their destination. Where Fry's army fizzled, Coxey's army succeeded. Known as the first march on Washington, it brought together unemployed people from across the country after an economic crash and Congress’ refusal to pass relief legislation. An Ohio businessman, Coxey had proposed a $500 million relief bill for new roads and other federal projects — and his army helped convince Congress to pass the bill. Coxey repeated this feat in 1914 with a second march. Their demands included federal employment for the numerous unemployed men in the country, an end to land ownership by noncitizens and a 10-year immigration ban. Sound familiar?
On the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, thousands of women marched on the Capitol in the first organized large protest in Washington for political reasons. They hoped to inspire support for women’s suffrage. The women were ridiculed and harassed by men and the police as they made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue. The Women’s Suffrage Procession was crucial in building support for the cause, despite Wilson’s refusal to enact any suffrage legislation during his term.
3. 1925: Ku Klux Klan March on Washington
In August 1925, an estimated 60,000 members of the KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time. The Klan was at the height of its popularity and boasted a large membership. Marchers were decked out in full garb but left their faces uncovered. President Calvin Coolidge refused to acknowledge their presence. The march wasn’t taken particularly seriously, with the Baltimore Sun describing it as welcome excitement amid the boredom of life in the capital.
4. 1957: Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington
Three years after the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” address in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Organized by civil rights leaders Asa Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, protesters gathered for three hours of speeches and prayers, the last of which was King’s. In his first national address, he delivered part of the speech in prayer form:
Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights…
Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a “Southern Manifesto” because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.
Organized by Randolph and Rustin — and in the tradition of Fry’s and Coxey’s armies — the march advocated for public works funding to create jobs for the unemployed. John Lewis, in a breakout moment for his storied civil rights career, delivered a fiery speech, scorching the proposed Civil Rights Act as too little, too late, and vowing to continue to fight for equality. Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” address from the Lincoln Memorial, looking over an estimated 250,000 people. The iconic event serves as a constant reminder of both the work that has been done and all that needs to be done to advance racial equity in America.
6. 1967: March on the Pentagon
In the midst of the Vietnam War, 100,000 anti-war protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. After listening to music and speeches, protesters encountered a military barricade as they marched toward the Pentagon. They placed flowers in the barrels of paratroopers’ rifles, giving us the enduring visual of facing down the threat of violence with peaceful action. Still, authorities made 700 arrests that day for acts of civil disobedience.
7. 1995: Million Man March
In 1995, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan mobilized Black men across the country to march on the Capitol to bring awareness to persistent problems in their community due to government cuts to social programs. The march was intended to support Black men, with speeches and programs focused on encouraging them to revitalize their communities through pledging to abstain from violence and committing themselves to their families. They were also urged to register to vote, and in the year after the march, more than 1.5 million Black men registered for the first time. The march was empowered and made possible by the Black women behind the scenes.
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The entire year had been marked by intense anti–Iraq war protests, but one of the largest in the U.S. occurred on Oct. 25, 2003. Organized by the group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, the march involved tens of thousands of protesters proceeding through the capital, advocating for an end to the war and pleading with President George W. Bush to bring American soldiers home. The march was a demonstration of the growing desire for government transparency, especially after the lessons of Vietnam. Protesters felt that they deserved the truth about the war.
2. 2009–10: Tea Party Protests
In many ways the closest recent analog to Wednesday’s demonstrations were the heated Tea Party protests while Congress was passing health care reform legislation in the early Obama years. Some 60,000 protesters marched on the Capitol, decrying the administration on Sept. 12, 2009 — and smaller groups gathered to heckle lawmakers during big votes. At an August 2010 mega-rally on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck were the keynote speakers, with Beck claiming: “America today begins to turn back to God.”
On Jan. 21, 2017, the Women’s March became the largest protest in U.S history. In Washington alone, an estimated 500,000 women marched through the capital, protesting Trump’s sexist rhetoric and declaring that they weren’t going anywhere. The sea of pink-pussy-hat-clad people was a better-attended rebuttal to Trump’s inauguration, and fueled the women-led activism that helped Democrats take the House in 2018.
4. March 2017: March 4 Trump
While only 150 people marched from Lafayette Square to the Washington Monument on March 4, 2017, it set off an increasingly disturbing series of pro-Trump demonstrations that culminated in Wednedsay’s violence.
1. Germany 2020
Hundreds of protesters angry about coronavirus lockdowns attempted to break into the country’s Parliament, the Bundestag, in November — and some managed to breach security, threatening ministers inside while filming it on their cellphones. The legislature was voting on the country’s coronavirus policy. Hundreds were arrested and 77 officers were injured. But it wasn’t an isolated incident. Three months earlier, far-right protesters tried to storm the Parliament, carrying the flag of the former imperial Germany. On that occasion, they didn’t make it past security forces. By November, they had clearly refined their tactics.
2. Kyrgyzstan 2020
Three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Central Asian republics remain quasi-dictatorships. Kyrgyzstan has long been the exception. But the country’s October elections drew charges of vote-rigging in favor of parties close to then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Protesters attacked Parliament, entering its chambers and engaging in violent clashes with security officials. One person was killed. Jeenbekov resigned and was replaced by a nationalist politician who’d been jailed for kidnapping — until the protesters released him.
Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have condemned the violence Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol. Yet a similar act by them in the summer of 2019 was the turning point after which Beijing dropped even the appearance of negotiations with pro-democracy activists, instead framing a new law under which dozens have been arrested in recent days. In July 2019, protesters entered the building of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, defacing its walls using spray paint and planting British-era flags of Hong Kong.
4. Brazil 2016
The country was in churn. President Dilma Rousseff of the left-leaning Workers’ Party had resigned after being impeached by Congress on corruption charges. The economy was a mess — and Brazil was hungry for change. In November, around 60 protesters broke into Parliament while it was in session and took over the podium. They demanded a return to military dictatorship (the country had been ruled by the military from 1964 to 1985) as an antidote to corruption. They were arrested after three hours.
5. Burkina Faso 2014
Angered by plans for a law that would have allowed dictator Blaise Campoaré to extend his 27-year tenure, hundreds of Burkinabe protesters forced their way into the country’s Parliament in capital Ouagadougou — and set it on fire. It was a pivotal moment in the simmering protests against Compaoré, who eventually fled the nation and now lives in exile in Ivory Coast.
6. Thailand, 2010
For sheer drama, it’s hard to beat what Thailand witnessed a decade ago, when supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — who had been ousted from power by a court decision — broke into Parliament. Military helicopters were used to airlift legislators from the building. The government, which had previously tried to avoid a confrontation, imposed martial law and used it to suspend civil liberties and carry out widespread arrests — often without charges, according to Human Rights Watch. But the tables would turn when Shinawatra’s sister Yingluck came to power in 2011. Her government issued a program to compensate Thai protesters, mostly so-called Red Shirts supportive of her brother, for police excesses against them.