More than a thousand people marched in Philly on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 16, 2017, just four days prior to Trump’s inauguration. Even though organizers emphasized that the march was to honor the great black leader MLK, the rally itself was filled with Black Lives Matter and Anti-Trump chants and home-made signs. This was similar to the large MLK Rally that I attended in January 2015, when between 3,000 and 5,000 people joined the march organized by a new coalition that formed out of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner protests of December 2014. But now in 2017 the shock and anger at Trump’s victory became a new focus.
The rally in 2017 was organized by the MLK DARE (Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment), which included church groups like P.O.W.E.R., union groups like Unite Here, and civil rights groups like PA-Black Lives Matter. According to Billy Penn, more than 30 groups sponsored the rally. The MLK rally took place at the beginning of the week that was filled with protests against Trump’s upcoming inauguration. Only five days later more than 50,000 people would protest in Philly for the Women’s March on Washington.
But the eruption of several protesting again in 2017 indicated the massive protests expected to follow Trump’s inauguration. NBC Philly and others reported a week before about the rally with the headline: “Anti ‘Right Wing Extremism’ March in Philly Set for MLK Day.” Even CBS Philly estimated that thousands attended the rally under the headline: “Thousands March Through Old City To Honor MLK Day.”
People gathered near Independence Hall, where a variety of bright-colored flags waved together in the sub-freezing weather. We marched for several miles before reaching the rally point at an intersection in front of Mother Bethel A.M.E. church. Most of the speakers talked about their fear of Trump as being our president. A leader for the nurses union spoke about the national day of protests for healthcare the day before, including a rally she led in Philly that garnered several hundred people. Asa of PA-BLM gave one of the most powerful speeches that day, calling for a wide coalition of groups to resist racism and bigotry.
The Philadelphia Tribune reported that the organizers of “March for a Better America” (a term that mocked and even critiqued Trump’s deceptive campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”) unveiled what they called a “21st Century Declaration of Rights” which called on “politicians, community leaders, and common citizens to support the basic human rights we cherish, such as affordable housing, health care, and quality public education for all.”