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12 - Marches on Washington and the Creation of National Public Spaces, 1894 to the Present

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

Andreas Daum
Affiliation:
State University of New York, Buffalo
Christof Mauch
Affiliation:
Universität zu Köln
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Summary

All people living in the United States today are familiar with marches on Washington, D.C. In recent decades, group after group has used the streets and parks of Washington to protest and gain public recognition. Some gatherings with large turnouts and extensive publicity campaigns - like the Million Man March of African Americans or the Promisekeepers' demonstration by conservative Christian men - have elicited media attention, presidential comments, and public debates. Other marches may only attract fleeting local newspaper coverage. Even protests organized over the Internet, which have no intention of coming physically to the capital, often used the name “march on Washington” to describe their email petitions and letter-writing campaigns. The tactic's familiarity, frequency, and flexibility developed over the last hundred years and have changed the role of the people in national politics. In the process, march organizers, participants, and observers have claimed and defined new public spaces in the nation's capital.

The first national political demonstration in the capital took place in 1894, when a group known as Coxey's Army marched through Washington. This march set off a vigorous national debate about whether such a demonstration was legitimate. It challenged the assumption that the capital was an official space for representative, not direct, democracy. Members of Coxey's Army claimed they needed access to Washington's spaces to influence the course of national politics. This claim, reiterated by subsequent protesters, helped transform parts of the capital city from ceremonial and official spaces into what I call national public spaces. Protesters reshaped the capital’s spaces: first, Pennsylvania Avenue, later, the Mall, and most recently, enshrined locations near the Capitol and White House. The transformation of these spaces both reinforced the idea that the people deserved an active voice in national politics and also provided a forum from which they could present and promote their own positions.

Type
Chapter
Information
Berlin - Washington, 1800–2000
Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities
, pp. 285 - 304
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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