The pilgrimage to Lafayette Square began at 10 a.m. for Washington’s Families Belong Together March, just one of more than 700 across the country on June 30. Some protesters wore white, others sported symbolic silver blankets, but almost everyone had a sign. The throngs of red, blue, and yellow “Families Belong Together” posters were speckled with countless others, some textbook slogans printed on cardstock and others, homemade phrases written by hand: “Borders are Bullshit,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Abolish ICE,” “I’m a Dreamer of Impeachment,” “Love Has No Borders.”
Based on the nationwide turnout, protesters knew that President Trump’s executive order, signed ten days prior, was just a symbolic political gesture—a tiny bandage on a deep and open wound—not an actual solution.
Some posters didn’t even have words, just pictures. Hands clasped in the shape of a heart, the stripes on the American flag turned into the bars of a jail cell, or most commonly, the Statue of Liberty depicting the so-called tolerance and acceptance of the United States. The posters spoke equally as loud as the rally’s speakers, ranging from activists to actresses. Throughout the park, people strategically stood in areas with the most shade coverage, posing with their signs and searching for refuge from the heat. But as one of the organizers of the protest reminded the crowd, “It may be hot, but not as hot as the cells in Texas where those kids are.”
After almost two and a half hours, protesters began marching from Lafayette Square, past the White House (the president was off golfing) heading down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Department of Justice. The march stretched nearly a mile, a distance that paled in comparison to the journeys of migrant families at the border, as protest leaders reminded everyone. The crowd circled the Department of Justice building with their bodies and voices: Some were calling to “abolish ICE,” others were chanting in Spanish, and still others were breaking out the protest favorite, “This is what democracy looks like.”
The signs weren’t just in people’s hands. The Department of Justice entrance sign became a photo-worthy monument after “#MuellerTime” was written hastily across it in chalk, like a child might write on a sidewalk. One protester taped a sign reading “IN” in front of the Justice Department’s front entrance, informally, but powerfully, dubbing it the “Department of INjustice.” Underneath hung a sign reading “I am a child,” perhaps an homage to the “I Am a Man” protest signs from the civil rights movement. The law enforcement officers guarding the building did not interfere.
The words that people said, wrote, and held up expanded the original slogan of Families Belong Together to incorporate a diversity of causes. This march, at least the one in the District, was different than others in the past. Unlike previous women’s marches, or gay rights marches, slogans and chants took on new life to embrace broader meanings that could incorporate anyone, regardless of identity or ethnicity. This wasn’t just a call to end family separation—something that has been happening for years at the border—but a larger call for acceptance. Not everyone at the march lived in a border state, nor was everyone there an immigrant. But separation means something to everyone: segregation, sexism, condescension, racism, kidnapping, banning, discrimination, and sadly, for some, patriotism.
Immigration activists hope to harness these broader meanings are not just for one afternoon, but to fuel the movement for as long as necessary, until the inhumane practice of family separation ends for good.