As the protesters in McPherson Square enter their seventh week inhabiting a “city within the city,” what was the first national effort to Occupy DC – and how did it change the ways Americans saw their nation’s capital city?
On a windy Easter morning in 1894, an unusual parade moved down the main street of Massillon, Ohio. The idea of an eccentric local businessman named Jacob S. Coxey, the parade featured an African American flag bearer, a hundred unemployed white men, and an infant named Legal Tender.
At the time of the parade, the United States was in the second year of a major economic depression and millions of Americans were unemployed; Coxey believed he had the answer to the nation’s economic woes. He proposed that the federal government issue $500 million in treasury bonds, that it apply those funds to initiate a massive program to build up the nation’s roads, and that it hire an army of workers, all of who would be guaranteed eight-hour days and daily wages of $1.50.
Convinced his plan would be ignored unless he presented it in person, Coxey intended to lead his peaceful parade of unemployed citizens all the way to Washington, D.C., where they would present a “petition in boots” to Congress on May 1 – International Labor Day. By the time they arrived, he promised reporters at a press conference on January 27, “We’ll have 100,000 men. We’ll not take a dollar with us, and instead of muskets every man will carry a white flag with the words, ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men, but Death to Interest-Bearing Bonds.’”