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Largest Protest Marches in the United States

Updated on June 20, 2018
Mike Hardy profile image

Social liberal and fiscally conservative. An advocate for those with developmental disabilities and under represented at-risk communities.

The Largest and Most Notable Protest Marches in Washington DC

Washington DC is The Site For Many Historic Protests
Washington DC is The Site For Many Historic Protests | Source

March 2018's protest March For Our Lives aimed to take to the streets of Washington DC to demand that lives and safety become a priority and end gun violence that led to an epidemic of mass school shootings in the United States. This was the latest protest over the past two years that drew a record turnout during this one day event.

Protest marches and rallies in cities across the nation and in Washington DC is a uniquely American phenomenon. They can be key historical events and the US capital has done well over the years to ensure safety and security of participants. Indeed, the protests over the past twenty years have evolved into social and cultural moments.

Identified and protected in the US Constitution; “The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This freedom has resulted in gatherings at our nation’s capital that have been attended by millions of people. Here are the most notable and largest marches on Washington DC.

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — August 28, 1963

March for Jobs and Freedom 1963
March for Jobs and Freedom 1963 | Source

This key civil rights march was attended by approximately 300,000 people. It is notable moment was when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I have a Dream" speech. King spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the monument honoring President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

In this historic speech, King said he had a dream that "white and black children would one day walk hand in hand and that one day sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners would be able to agree to live together." King's message of nonviolence was broadcast and carried to a nationwide audience. The speech propelled King into national prominence in the United States.

The march is credited with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Moratorium March on Washington — November 15, 1969

Anti-Vietnam War Protest 1969
Anti-Vietnam War Protest 1969 | Source

This protest was held at the height of the Vietnam War. Approximately 600,000 demonstrated against the war. Considered the largest march in the history of the United States at that point.

The protest culminated with over 500,000 demonstrators on the mall in front of the White House. Entertainer and activist Pete Seeger lead the crown by singing John Lennon's song "Give Peace A Chance" for over ten minutes. Protesters continuously sang the chorus, "All we are saying ... is give peace a chance".

The Solidarity Day March — September 19, 1981

Solidarity Day March 1981
Solidarity Day March 1981 | Source

Attended by approximately 260,000 in 1981. This was a protesting President Ronald Reagan's decision to fire 12,000 air traffic controllers because of them striking to demand wage increases and safer working conditions.

Inspired by the anti-Soviet Solidarity movement by labor unions in Poland it was considered the first major labor demonstration to have been organised since the 1930's. It was notable for bringing together many of the labor unions in the United States to stage the protest.

Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights — October 11, 1987

2nd National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights 1987
2nd National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights 1987 | Source

The “Great March" called upon the government to allocate budget and resources AIDS research and treatment, as well as an end to discrimination against LGBT people. The protest included the first public display of Cleve Jones’ Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. It was attended by approximately 200,000 people

March for Life Rally – January 22, 1990

March for Life 1990
March for Life 1990 | Source

Took place at the Washington Monument Grounds. Commemorated the 17th annual memorial rally of Roe v. Wade decision, on the ellipse. According to National Park Service estimates, over 700,000 people attend the rally.

The size of this annual rally grew to the point where buses had to park at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (RFK) stadium. The DC Metro subway system took protesters to the march rally area. An escalator collapsed which hurt several people and forces the protesters to walk miles into the city.

The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation — April 25, 1993

March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation 1993
March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation 1993 | Source

This protest covered the National Mall with between 800,000 and a million people. The LBGT community called for advances in civil rights bills against discrimination, an increase in AIDS research funding, and reproductive rights.

Million Man March — October 16, 1995

Million Man March 1995
Million Man March 1995 | Source

This watershed 1995 protest event is estimated to have broken the 1 million attendee barrier. This rally was to unite the Black community. The march was organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan with speakers that included Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. Estimates for those attending range from 400,000 to 1.1 million participants.

The March for Women’s Lives in Washington DC — April 25, 2004

March for Women’s Lives 2004
March for Women’s Lives 2004 | Source

In 2004, the March for Women's Lives was considered the largest pro-choice protests in Washington DC. Organizers were protesting the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and other restrictions on abortion.Between 500,000 and 1.1 million protesters converged on the city.

Organizers claimed that attendees were estimated at 1.15 million people and declaring it "the largest protest in U.S. history", The National Park Service and media estimated the crowds at 500,000 and 800,000.

The Women’s March on Washington — January 21, 2017

Women’s March on Washington 2017
Women’s March on Washington 2017 | Source

1,500,000 women converged on Washington DC the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. Keynote speakers included Scarlett Johansson and Gloria Steinem. The record-breaking crowds wore iconic pink cat hats. This is considered largest one-day protest in American history. An estimated 4.2 million came out in 600 US cities.

March For Our Lives - March 24, 2018

March For Our Lives 2018
March For Our Lives 2018 | Source

Students from Stoneman Douglas High School took center stage and organized the national event after a school shooting left 17 classmates dead. Organized after the February 14 shooting, students mastered social, cable and broadcast media to urge gun control.

An estimated 500,000 marched on Pennsylvania Avenue demanding stricter gun laws. Protests were organized outside of Washington DC were attended by approximately 1.2 to 2 million attendees. Making the one day event the largest protest in United States history.

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© 2018 Mike Hardy


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