Power to the People: Protests and Demonstrations in NYC Parks

Since the American Revolution, New York City’s parks have played host to public demonstrations and protests. Colonists gathered at what is now City Hall Park and toppled Bowling Green Park’s statue of King George. Since then, people have taken to the city’s streets, plazas, and parks to voice their dissent during periods of unrest. In 1882, the first Labor Day parade culminated at Union Square. Washington Square Park has served as the backdrop for many demonstrations including a labor march in 1911 following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Protests over homelessness and gentrification erupted in Tompkins Square Park in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Today, our parks continue to serve as places of assembly and calls to action. Black Lives Matter has regularly gathered in Foley Square, Union Square Park, Washington Square Park, and other downtown parks, while proponents of international movements meet daily in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza near the United Nations.

The following images from the NYC Parks Photo Archive and NYC Parks photographers touch on a small sampling of public demonstrations on parkland, representing the city’s rich history of protest and advocacy.

This 'Power to the People' exhibition was curated with support from NYC Parks’ Ebony Society and displayed in the Arsenal Gallery for Black History Month in 2019. This online version of the exhibit was updated to include more recent protests and demonstrations, including 2020's summer of Black Lives Matter protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, marches and demonstrations in support of Pride during the month of the 50th anniversary of the Pride March, and the Women's March following the inauguration of former President Donald J. Trump.

First Earth Day, View of crowds in Union Square

April 22, 1970
NYC Parks Photo Archive

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First Earth Day, View of crowds in Union Square
First Earth Day, Revelers near Union Square
Gay Pride Rally—Marchers and Onlookers, Central Park
Gay Pride Rally—Marchers and Onlookers, Central Park
Gay Pride Rally—Marchers and Onlookers, Central Park
NYC Pride Parade, Stonewall 50, World Pride 2019—NYC Parks Whitman Society
Trans Lives Matter Protest, Christopher Park
Trans Lives Matter Protest, Christopher Park
Black Lives Matter Protest, Union Square Park
Black Lives Matter Protest, Astoria Park
Black Lives Matter Protest, Astoria Park
Black Lives Matter Protest, Astoria Park
Black Lives Matter Protest, Astoria Park
NYC Women's March, Park Avenue
Father Duffy Square (Times Square), Protestors on the night before the Senate vote to impeach former President Donald J. Trump
Union Square, Mass rally of the jobless, with barricading policemen in foreground
Southern Parkway near Lefferts Ave.
Tompkins Square Park, North Playground Renovation, Protesters
Vietnam War Protest, Central Park Naumburg Bandshell
Vietnam War Protest, Central Park
Vietnam War Protest, Central Park
Cherry Hill, Central Park, Anti War Protest

History in New York City Parks

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