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March For Women’s Lives
L ike many who participated in the April 25 March for Women’s Lives, nurse Joyce Amit marched in memory of women she had never met. “Two of my great aunts died from illegal abortions,” she said. “They were between 18 and 20 and unmarried. My family didn’t talk about them much so I know very little about what actually happened. But I know enough that I never want to see another woman die that way.”
Some marchers carried photos of loved ones lost to back alleys, while others carried signs of a less personal nature. Their messages targeted an array of social ills:
- Regulate industries, not ovaries
- Fight for women’s lives, not world domination
- Against abortion? Have a vasectomy
no second term
- Terminate unwanted presidencies
- Derechos reproductivos son derechos humanos
Keep your rosaries
Susan Davis, a feminist activist who first demonstrated for abortion-on-demand in 1970, was impressed that the march was about reproductive rights, rather than simply abortion. “It felt like an anti-Bush rally that tackled a range of issues, from welfare to racism to misogynist polices in the U.S. and around the world,” she said. “It was also great to see more men, more young people, and more women of color than usual.”
boasted that the demonstration drew participants from 57 countries.
In addition, youth came in droves, with at least one-third of the
more than one million marchers younger than 25. Colleges—including
Catholic Notre Dame and Georgetown—sent huge delegations.
For many, the march was the culmination of a week of activities. Planned Parenthood sponsored a street fair in Dupont Circle, distributing information on everything from emergency contraception to AIDS prevention, while the National Network of Abortion Funds held its annual conference to promote programs to assist low-income women. Fundraisers of all kinds generated revenue for a host of cash-starved groups.
Militancy was also on display. Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), a thorn in the Church’s side for more than 30 years, hosted a rally at the Vatican Embassy the day before the march to denounce “Christian fundamentalism.” Calling the Embassy a “crass, crude political machine,” CFFC president Frances Kissling denounced the church for sitting at the UN “like any other state and voting on whether women live or die.”
“It is sometimes hard for Catholics to call their own religious leaders fundamentalists,” she continued. “But one of fundamentalism’s central tenets is the control of women’s lives, especially over reproduction. No other religion has blanket prohibitions against contraception for married couples and against abortion for all reasons.”
Pauline Muchina, a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, further lambasted Catholic protocols that teach that condom use is wrong, despite its proven effectiveness against disease. “Saving lives is more important than preserving traditions,” she said. “There are 14 million African children living without parents because of AIDS. We can stop HIV/AIDS if we end gender discrimination and poverty and give people the tools to protect them- selves from infection.”
This theme was echoed at the Sunday March for Women’s Lives. Speakers—120 were scheduled—included celebrities alongside politicians and activists. While some used the podium to solicit support for Democratic candidates, others denounced:
- the narrowing separation between church and state
- the winnowing away of abortion rights and abortion access
- the global gag rule that cut funding to health centers that counsel women about, or perform, abortions in 16 countries
- the curtailment of civil liberties since September 11
- abstinence-only sex education programs
“There is a war going on, a war on women,” Whoopi Goldberg told cheering rally-goers. “We are one Supreme Court vote away from losing Roe in the U.S. and, as we stand here, women around the world are dying from illegal abortion. One woman dies of an illegal procedure every six minutes. They die because they got pregnant in the wrong country.”
“You’d think the Administration would support contraception to reduce the number of abortions, but they don’t,” Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) thundered. “This government is the greatest danger on earth,” veteran feminist Gloria Steinem declared. “It has broken every environmental treaty and stands with only the Vatican and Muslim extremist countries against reproductive freedom.” Although Steinem urged demonstrators to oppose Bush and his minions, she also asked that they remember movement martyrs:
- Fannie Lou Hamer, who was sterilized against her will
- Becky Bell, the first teen to die because of parental consent laws
- Rosie Jimenez, a single mother who died because she could not get a government-funded Medicaid abortion
Other speakers posited more pragmatic agendas. “The battle is won or lost at the ballot box,” said Bylle Avery, of the National Black Women’s Health Project. “You need to go up to strangers and be a walking, talking voting machine between now and November.”
New York Senator Hillary Clinton got the day’s biggest applause when she told the crowd, “If all we do is march today, it will not change the direction this country is heading in. This must be the beginning, not the end. Keep in mind, 50 million women in our country did not vote in 2000. You have to be willing to stand up for the Constitution and elect John Kerry in November.”
Although a few demonstrators sported “Republicans for Choice” placards, the crowd was largely in Kerry’s corner. As marchers reached 17th Streets and Constitution Avenue, a team of Democratic Party activists handed “Women for Kerry” stickers to an overwhelmingly appreciative crowd. “J.K. all the way” chants erupted.
Other chants were aired as participants made their way through streets lined with anti-abortionists:
- Ho, ho, hey, hey: abortion rights are here to stay
- Pro-life, that’s a lie. You don’t care if women die
- 2,4,6,8: we’re the one’s who ovulate
- George Bush, you’ve got to go. When you get pregnant, let us know
Bethel Schlau, a Brooklyn, New York editor and mother who has had two abortions, felt enormously empowered by the messages she heard at both the march and rally. “It was fantastic seeing all those people together saying, ‘Keep your hands off my body’.” She says, “I had to terminate a pregnancy in my 20th week because of a genetic abnormality, so I am especially furious about the so-called partial birth prohibition. If I hadn’t been able to have a D&E, I would have gone insane.”
Virtually everyone queried at the march had something positive to say about the event, yet many worry that the day’s momentum will be difficult to sustain. Alison Garcia, a first time demonstrator, fears, “All of our energy is going to go into defeating Bush and not enough is going into making sure that Kerry and the Democrats uphold reproductive freedom. We need to be sure that both parties are held accountable to women and the issues feminists care about.”
For its part, NARAL is losing no time in keeping activists engaged. The day after the march, the group sent an email to supporters asking them to share their march stories, write letters to the editor to contest inaccurate march coverage, register to vote, and participate in both local and national elections. “The effort of 31 years since Roe v. Wade can be undone if we lose in November,” the email warned.
Eleanor Bader is a freelance writer and teacher. She is also co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.