Protests in Philly seemed to be on the rise in 2016, but 2017 brought even more. It ushered in a new era for activists in the city. Motivated by the election of President Donald Trump, protests and demonstrations erupted on a near-daily basis at the beginning of the year. Though some of the resistance died down in the latter half of 2017, new issues popped up, from the Frank Rizzo statue to the prison sentence of Meek Mill.
Here are five of the year’s top moments in resistance.
The Women’s March
Consider this the beginning of the resistance movement for the year. About 20,000 people were expected to join Philly’s Women’s March but 50,000 turned out, descending on the Ben Franklin Parkway on a Saturday morning in late January. Another march is planned for 2018.
The GOP Retreat protest
Trump’s first domestic visit as president was to Philadelphia, just a few days after his inauguration. He was in town for the GOP retreat. Though security ensured protesters couldn’t get too close to the Loews Hotel, thousands marched from Thomas Paine Plaza through Center City. While addressing congress members in Philadelphia, Trump made a statement about Philly’s murder rate we deemed false, and City Council fired back with an anti-Islamophobia resolution at about the time Trump was scheduled to speak.
Months of trying to contact Pat Toomey
Did you call Pat Toomey’s office and get the answering machine this year? You weren’t alone. The U.S. senator, who won reelection in 2016 over Democrat Katie McGinty, was perhaps the most wanted man in Washington at the beginning of 2017. Critics of Toomey pushed him on his choices to nominate Education Secretary Betsy Devos and on health care, but primarily to hold a Philadelphia town hall.
Toomey never did, instead offering a few teleconference town halls and some in-person events elsewhere in Pennsylvania with limited audiences. While individual Toomey protests didn’t match the size of many others in the city, the longevity of protest has been staggering, with the group Tuesdays With Toomey continuing to meet throughout the year. One former Philly resident even turned dissatisfaction with Toomey into a business.
Moving the Rizzo statue
In mid-August, after violence perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted how Philly “had work to do” and needed to take down the Frank Rizzo statue, located in Thomas Paine Plaza. Her words went semi-viral, and soon other Council members joined the chorus to remove the statue of the former Philly mayor and police chief. Rallies were held, and in early November, the Mayor’s Office announced it would recommend the statue be moved to a different location. A formal proposal for removal to the city’s Art Commission likely won’t be finalized until spring.
Local rapper Meek Mill was sentenced to at least two years in prison for technical violations of his probation. He failed a failed drug test, was arrested at a St. Louis airport in an incident that yielded no charges and committed a moving violation from a motorbike incident set to be dismissed in 2018. It wasn’t the first time Judge Genece Brinkley punished the rapper while he was on probation, but the prison sentence brought out hundreds of protesters and an organized campaign funded by his record label. For at least a week, a van circled City Hall with the message “Free Meek,” and a billboard went up above the Schuylkill Expressway. Meek Mill is still in prison, and Brinkley has denied motions for his release on bail.