Examining the Past through an “Occupy” Lens

“It would have been a rare spectacle indeed to see troops patrolling Pennsylvania Avenue to protect the life of the President of the United States against a possible attack by a handful of weary, footsore, and bedraggled war veterans.”

Mauritz A. Hallgren in The Nation, July 27, 1932

The Bonus Army marching in parade in Washington, D.C., 1932

The Library of Congress’ recent blog post “Occupying” the Bonus Army Protests of 1932 got History Project staff very excited. One of the treasures left to us by the late Roland Marchand was his collection of “Documentary Source Problems” which were digitized and launched on-line as Adventures in Roland Marchand’s File Cabinet in 1999.  His lesson The Bonus Army in Washington provides context and has students investigating whether the actions taken by the Veterans to occupy the mall in Washington D.C. were a “courageous defiance of lawlessness and a budding revolution” by analyzing documents from the event and considering questions such as: “Was there clear evidence that a Communist-led revolution was in the making,” “Was the Hoover administration trying to provoke a conflict by ordering the eviction of the veterans,” and “Did the clashes between police and the bonus marchers on July 28 amount to an actual riot?” We suggest that current events including the “Occupy” movement in the US as well as protests in the Middle East provide ways for students to make connections to this event from the Great Depression as well as other protest events throughout history.  These protest events provide avenues to discuss how and why citizens seek redress and why this may or may not lead to change. We invite you to peruse this documentary source problem and share your thoughts about using this approach in the classroom with us. The Bonus Army lesson, which has been adapted for high school students, is also available in its original format for use with university students.

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