The first major protest following the Women’s March on Washington took place on January 26, just five days after the historic national protests. Trump and the GOP held the Republican Retreat in Philadelphia. You might know it as the liberal city that has a Bernie Sanders mural on a building, or as the city Donald Trump lost in the general election. Also only the day before the retreat, Trump directly called out Philly and said they would not receive federal funds if they remain a sanctuary city. Democrat Mayor Jim Kenny said the city would not bend to Trump’s will.
Trump arrived in Philly on Thursday, January 26, 2017, only six days after his inauguration. As Slate.com pointed out, Trump was greeted by a “throng of protesters who took to the streets for the third day of massive protests since Trump’s inauguration six days ago.” Protests erupted the day before in Philly against the arriving Congressional GOP members. On Wednesday night at least a thousand people came out to the Queer Rage Dance hosted in the streets of Philly. But the massive crowd of 5,000 people didn’t happen until Trump arrived on Thursday. Philly.com summed up the new era feeling around the rally that night with the title: “In Trump’s America, mass protests become the New Normal.” One could call this the Trump Bump for mass protests.
There were two major protests on Thursday: one in the morning and the other at night. The larger protest began at Thomas Paine Plaza, directly across the street from City Hall, around 11 AM, where thousands of people carried diverse homemade signs resisting Trump in some fashion. “This is Not Normal” was one sign that caught the interest of Philly.com. Homemade signs were carried over from the Women’s March less than a week earlier, and new signs were made because of Trump’s ability to embarrass himself on a daily basis. And liberal Democrats still gleefully wore their Pink hats that first appeared at the Women’s March.
The march launched from Thomas Paine Plaza and walked around City Hall, but it took about 20 minutes before the Plaza was emptied. Trump and the GOP stayed at the Loews Hotel, only a few blocks away from City Hall, but dump trucks blocked every street around the hotel for a two-block radius. 1199 SEIU-NJ posted pictures of people performing a die-in near one of the dump trucks by City Hall. The march ended with speeches outside the BNY Mellon Center, outside Pat Toomey’s office, which had a DPC orange-colored (ironic right?) truck parked outside, rather than the dump trucks around the rest of the city.
I estimated about 5,000 people marched that day, which showed that the Women’s March on Washington wasn’t just a fluke. Instead, the Retreat in Philly proved that in the Age of Trump we will see the rise of a protest culture. Only five days earlier roughly 50,000 people marched in Philly during the Women’s March on Washington. Prior to both of these massive protests, however, Philly rarely had such big protests. Only about 15,000 came out for the DNC, which was a national protest in a sense. But in my years of activism the last time I saw 5,000 people protest in the city was for Reclaim MLK Day back in January 2015, when a wide coalition of liberals and progressives marched in support of King. But the Retreat protest managed to get 5,000 people in the streets with only a week notice ahead of time, although it did rely on the same formula of grouping liberals and progressives together. But the fact that two of the largest Philly protests in recent history took place only five days apart shows the true significance of mass protests in the year 2017.
A second protest began several hours later that night with a march launching from Rittenhouse Square. Philly Voice reported in the headline: “Philly protests endure into night of Trump’s visit at GOP retreat.” As CBS Philly pointed out there was a heavy police presence throughout the day, but especially at the night rally put together by BLM and ally groups. Less than a thousand people marched in the streets in all directions that night, led by more than a dozen trained drummers and other musicians, who followed the lead of a music teacher who was able to get everyone to stop playing their instruments at the same time by blowing a whistle. Each time the music went silent one could hear the crowd chant “This is what Democracy looks like!” (Video of this can be seen on Facebook Live here and here.) By 9:00 P.M., nearly 12 hours after the first protest that morning, the final hundred people performed a brief teach-in outside a hotel.
The protests ended on Friday, January 27, when several dozen demonstrators protested the GOP members going back to D.C. at 30th Street Station in Philly. Philly.com‘s headline reported that day: “Protesters aim to target GOP lawmakers as they leave Philly.” But the GOP members didn’t arrive for their scheduled train rides out of fear of protesters, making the week of protests highly successful. Philebrity.com happily wrote about this news: “When protestors arrived at 30th Street Station late this morning, to greet the visiting GOP one last time for the week with messages of dissent and resistance to an increasingly aberrant, toxic presidency, they soon realized: None from the party had the courage to enter the station, and take the train that had been chartered on the GOP’s behalf.”