While protesting late last May, Justin Daniels witnessed the US Capitol Police and the WMATA Metro Police beginning to militarize. Running into another group of people marching toward the White House, Daniels diverted them. It didn’t look safe, he recalled. Daniels led the protesters back and forth to Georgetown.
At the end of the march, several participants asked, “Who are you guys? What are you guys?” Inspired, Daniels created an Instagram account that has organized a march in the District every subsequent Saturday. Six months later, Daniels operates DC Protests, a website and Instagram account with nearly 8,000 followers.
The District is famous for its huge “Marches on Washington” that draw thousands of people from around the country. However, a number of local organizers are assembling groups of DC activists weekly to protest issues surrounding climate change, LGBTQ discrimination, racism, politics and women’s rights.
DC Protest’s gatherings focus on a variety of issues including racism, incarceration, mutual aid, feeding the community and local elections.
“We want people to know the power that they hold in the city,” Daniels said. “Who they elect (here) affects them a lot so we want to educate people.”
The DC Protest group of about 80 to 100 meets Saturdays at 3 p.m. at Malcolm X Park, 16th St NW &, W St NW. Another group of organizers from the They/Them Collective meets at 7 p.m. at Dupont Circle. Daniels said that Black Lives Matter Plaza and Freedom Plaza are also often occupied by local activists during the week.
The Sunrise Movement and ShutdownDC were created to promote climate justice. Both have now transitioned to broader agendas. Their websites, www.sunrisemovement.org and www.shutdowndc.org include calendars with upcoming organizing events and protests; educational materials, sets of political goals and safety guidelines for protesting during the pandemic.
“A lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily have considered going to a protest might be considering it now, because of how scary the political situation is,” ShutdownDC Communications Coordinator Kaela Bamberger said. “And there are tons of opportunities to get involved and to do it safely.”
ShutdownDC itself is organized into small affinity groups made up of like-minded activists, shared protest methods or old friends. Affinity groups are great for community and for sound and collective decision making, said Bamberger.
These are “people that have committed to taking action together,” Bamberger said. “Any group can form around an identity like migrant justice or racial justice, sort of a theme of an affinity group. It can also just be around your neighborhood, or just a group of friends. It’s just a group of people who’ve committed to each other to take action collectively.”
The group meets virtually as a whole on Thursdays at 6 p.m. Details are available on their website. All are encouraged to attend. This is just one of many ways, Bamberger says, to get involved with the DC protests.
The Sunrise Movement has also been active in DC most recently on Sept. 21 when over 100 people gathered at 6:00 a.m. outside U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) Capitol Hill home with noise makers, speakers and drums. Protesters held signs that read “We can’t sleep so neither should Lindsey” and protesters played reels of Graham’s quotes over loudspeakers.
“Protesting the week of the election is super important and super pivotal,” DC Protest’s Daniels said. “We still want our voices to be heard because this isn’t something that is going to go away with an election. This isn’t an election issue, this is not a left or right issue. This is a human rights issue.”
Daniels has no intention of ceasing to organize after November 3. Continuity of protest helps people understand the gravity of the issues. “Once they see people protesting after the election, it’s going to wake up a lot more people,” Daniels said. “This is an issue of people wanting to be treated like their fellow man.”
Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with Hill Rag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at [email protected].