Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Eyewitness Report from The March For Women’s Lives, April 25, 2004

The Faithful Correspondent sent me this e-mail. I’ve made a couple of judicious edits in the interest of protecting the privacy of some individuals who didn’t know they would be cited in a blog. Other than that, what you see is what she wrote.

We stayed with a friend in the Cathedral area or the northwest corner of the District, which meant that in order to get to the Mall by 10:00 in the morning when the gathering began we had to get to a Metro station, park our car and be on our way by 9:00. We found a parking garage behind Whole Foods in Tenley Town with a spot for our car on the first floor. As we began walking to the station we were joined by a group of young parents pushing strollers and a couple of students, probably from the American University nearby. More people carrying or wearing signs appeared on the platform and quickly the small group grew to a larger one. People from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, from Texas, from Oberlin College, from Bend, Oregon – young ones and older ones. By the time the train pulled in there was just enough room for our little crowd to crowd into the car. We stood and held on all the while checking out the people. It was by then obvious that the train’s passengers were mostly those going to the March. Many had “tattooed” their faces or made homemade signs; there were many saying “It’s Our Choice Not Theirs” with the NARAL logo. We saw signs made by older women members of NOW and slogans from the 1982 march when Reagan was in office. We laughed at a t-shirt reading “Bush Stay Out Of My Bush.” We were bemused by a sign saying “If Men Could Have An Abortion Abortion Would Be A Sacrament”. A group of about eight strapping young women announced they were “Texans For Choice” or “We Need A New Texan.” Soon we saw “Defeat Bush Again!”, “I Had An Abortion And I Feel Fine”, “Gays For Choice”, “Never Go Back!” . . . and of course seas of shocking pink Planned Parenthood t’s (which we ourselves wore) touting reproductive rights were everywhere.

As we alighted at Metro Central to change to the Blue Line the crowds thickened and poured down the escalators. We had to wait for another train since the scheduled one was so packed. I was overcome with emotion at the same time we were being compressed and carried along by the wave of old and young people. I hadn’t seen so many like-minded people in one place at the same time in my entire life. I grabbed your father’s arm saying, “Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it marvelous?” nearly in tears. We’ve spent our entire adult lives living in geographical locations where the bulk of the population is conservative; where they justify ignoring the Reagan and Bush attacks on women’s right to choose by saying, “I’m not a one-issue voter.” Habitually accustomed to voting as their parents voted, my friends pull the Republican lever or send a check to the RNC because that’s what Our Kind do. We’ve lived in rural counties where farmers hate taxes and the suburbanites living on the edges of those farms send their children to private schools, join country clubs and choose to know nothing about the needs of their neighbors trapped in the urban communities below the high rise office buildings where the suburban Republicans work. But, interestingly, a “Barry Goldwater Award” was given at our PPFA annual conference Friday to a young Republican congressman from Connecticut for his support of women’s freedom to choose. He and his wife had been forced to choose to abort a badly damaged fetus of their own and he maintained that government had no business in that hugely difficult decision. He said that Republicans should agree that along with less government regulation of businesses, their compatriots should agree there should be no government interference in the bedroom or between a woman and her physician.

Our destination was the Smithsonian station where coming to the surface we were thrust into a swelling tide of humanity (cliché), of people answering questions, selling snacks, handing out signs and shirts, trying to register each of us (really!), trying to direct the gentle but excited mass of people. Hundreds of port-o-pots (Pot On The Spot) lined the streets bordering the Mall. The area we eventually filled stretched from the Washington Monument to the Capitol and from Independence Avenue to Madison Drive. If you’ve ever walked there you know how vast that area is . . .miles? acres upon acres? And by noon it was packed. We had gotten off at 12th Street but we quickly found out that our Ohio contingent was assigned the 4th Street quadrant. Your father and I necessarily marched before the march that long mile back toward the Capitol to find our northwestern Ohio Planned Parenthood group not far from the Akron, Cincinnati and Dayton ones. We found our buddies easily, lounging on the grass, eating and chatting and looking for the “lost” others that had set out Saturday midnight in four buses from the Kohl’s at US-20 and Simmons Road, driving through the night to march all afternoon and return before Monday morning. We never did find them. I hope they got there. By then it was around 11:00 with an hour to idle before the real march began. [Herein TFC lists friends from home, including one woman in her late eighties and a contingent from the hospice.] We were entertained by images on six enormous screens showing the celebrities whose speeches boomed god-like out to us and whose rock music echoed and roared across the crowds. There were Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Hillary Clinton (enormous cheers and applause – the introducer said “Thank you, President Clinton – oops”) and Ted Turner among many many others. The speeches and music lasted long after we left at 4:00. Finally, just past noon, we were told to step out. We started toward the southern path heading west toward the monument in step to a drum carried by a young enthusiastic “musician.” Before long we stopped and waited as though we were in a traffic line where on-ramps merge into heavy traffic. We marched in place about a half block from where we’d started for nearly 45 minutes. When a marshall with a microphone urged us into the center grassy part of the Mall your father and I pulled out of line and, with accord, headed for an umbrella-ed Dove Ice Cream truck across the Mall in front of the National Gallery. We miraculously found an empty bench which we claimed while we ate our “lunch” – this being about 1:45.

We had been able to be in contact with your brother, who, with [his wife and a friend], had stayed overnight in Silver Spring with the idea of going to a lecture given by an Important Person at the Buddhist Center there. As it turned out, they decided to miss the lecture and sleep in and were intending to join the march around noon. At about 2:00 we again reached them by cellphone; they were in the marching crowd close to the Monument and would follow the designated route until it neared where we were camped, a trip of about an hour they estimated. In due time your father walked to where they’d arranged to meet him and, miraculously we found each other. The five of us walked toward the nearest Metro station, rode to our car-park in Tenley Town, found a nearby Mexican restaurant (not very good food, but food) and parted exhilarated and renewed in our determination to chuck Bush.

I know I’ve failed because I’m simply incapable of conveying with any exactitude the vastness of the crowd, the gentleness with which the message was delivered and the excitement everyone shared in simply being together. We were told it was the largest crowd ever to gather on the Washington Mall. The expected harassment was weak and well-controlled. A single panel truck painted with Biblical exhortations and a huge picture of a post-abortion late-term fetus cruised around the edges of the crowd. We personally saw a young, well-dressed gent wearing a prayer shawl and carrying a bible standing silently on our way out of the gathering on 14th Street. A few people were being arrested by a couple of polite cops. Our numbers were great and the counterreaction was tiny. We have no idea what effect this will have on Congress or the Administration, but it sure made us all feel better.

I’m very proud of her.