May 11, 2019
The 1963 March on Washington was the first mass protest in America. Due to the anxiety around such a massive group descending on Washington, the March was carefully planned from the top down by both the organizers and the Kennedy administration. The route was mapped out to march by the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, away from the White House and the Capitol. All the signs were made by one entity and bore uniform messages.
The Women’s Marches of 2017 were a decentralized, grassroots effort that yielded 5 million protestors nationwide, in red states and blue states, in urban as well as rural areas. In many small communities, the Marches of 2017 were the largest protests they had ever seen. The geographic spread is as significant as the total number of marches.
Protest can be a powerful tool to effect change in many forms. It can raise awareness on an issue and shift the debate surrounding it. Protest can intensify the urgency of an issue and expand the ideas of political possibility of public policies. On a personal level, protest is an act of faith, a way of registering discontent or stand behind an issue, and even a way to connect to something larger than ourselves.
L.A. Kauffman is a longtime grassroots organizer who has mobilized mass protests against the war in Iraq in 2003-2004 and most recently collaborated with the artist Nan Goldin to hold a protest against the Sacklers at the Guggenheim Museum in February 2019. She is the author of How to Read a Protest, The Art of Organizing and Resistance and Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. She also contributes to The Guardian. You can follow her on Twitter @LAKauffman.