A protest by veterans during the Great Depression set the stage for the Great Society programs

Bonus Army marchers (left) confront the police, July 28, 1932 in Washington D.C., United States. Photo by National Archives and Records Administration/Public Domain

In Washington D.C. in 1932, the unpopular and embattled first-term president desperately hoped to keep the White House during that election year. Tens of thousands of protesters descended upon the nation’s capital during the worst economic crisis the U.S. ever saw. The protestors were World War I veterans. They served the country and were promised a decent salary — a bonus to their low military wages. But they didn’t get it, and this was during the Great Depression. The soldiers, known as the “Bonus Army,” mounted a massive sit-in near the Capitol, which set the stage for a big change in American politics.

“Many of them don’t have homes, they have no money, they have no food, and they had no plan but to just change things up,” says writer Mike Schlitt.