This article provides the first detailed examination of the “Solidarity Day” march, which was held on September 19, 1981, in Washington, DC. Well funded and well organized, Solidarity Day was a mass protest against President Reagan's policies, particularly his cuts to social programs. Although the march was initiated by the AFL-CIO, participants came from 250 organizations, including 100 unions and a variety of civil rights, religious, and civic groups. Despite an impressive turnout of at least 260,000 people, Solidarity Day has received little scholarly attention. Drawing on unutilized archival records, this article argues that Solidarity Day was a protest that deserves more scholarly—and public—recognition. Solidarity Day showed that the AFL-CIO, which has often been viewed as bureaucratic and conservative, could mobilize mass street protests. It also boosted the morale of many union members, helped to strengthen the leadership of AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, and set the precedent for a different kind of AFL-CIO, one that was much more connected to its members. While Kirkland proved unable—or unwilling—to fundamentally reorient the AFL-CIO toward grassroots activism, these ideas were ultimately carried through by John Sweeney, a reformer who won the federation's presidency in 1995.

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