mr. zilla goes to town

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

life at womens' march

Sunday saw the March for Womens' Lives completely dominate downtown DC as somewhere between 800,000 (police estimate) and 1.15 million (organisers' count) people packed the National Mall and march past the White House. It's possible that this is the largest single rally in US history: much bigger than the anti-war rally in April 03; larger than the 250,000 at MLK's "I have a dream" speech in 1963; larger than the 500,000 at the 1969 anti-vietnam war rally at the Lincoln memorial; larger even than the 800,000 at the Million Man March in 1995. And on personal observation I would say that 75-80% of the crowd were women.

The mall is a quite a phenomenally large space and was packed with people from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. See here for the BBC's report and picture gallery, and here for the Washington Post's. Being a part of a crowd of a million (or so) is quite a breathtaking experience, even if from an ants-eye view on the day it's hard to get a sense of those numbers, beyond walking through half a mile of solid crowd to reach our assigned march position.

I can only hope that this massive display of support for a red hot liberal issue puts some jelly in the boots of the folks in the White House.

Personal highlights of the day included seeing the Radical Cheerleaders, and also the "Church Ladies for Choice", who you can see at the very end of the Washington Post's video vignette on the march. They were truly hilarious - at the point we saw them, they had stopped to sing hyms to a tiny group of anti-abortion demonstrators who had a shiny mannequin Jesus with a 'sacred heart' that looked suspiciously like a molotov cocktail. Great personal signage included the "pagans for liberty" group, as well as the rare but valued "republicans for choice", and the sassy "another bitter bisexual for choice". And I shouldn't forget the clever "We have a plan for parenthood. Do you have a plan for Iraq?"

The pro-life counter-protesters were out at the "death march" but in quite small numbers, checking out their designated areas there were perhaps 1,000-2,000 all up. In other words, outnumbered around a thousand to one. They were however up to their usualy gruesome efforts, with massive colour posters of aborted late-term foetuses, not to mention proudly bringing a first-trimester foetus in a glass jar to a Planned Parenthood pre-march meeting. Let's not let that get in the way of some facts: such as that until the 20th week, a foetus has no complex cerebral cortex and no major central nervous activity -- a condition universally regarded as a state of death in adults.

I love the theatre of live and passionate grassroots political activity, and can be somewhat detatched and observational. I don't want to stereotype "pro-lifers" but compared to the marchers there were a large proportion of earnest, praying, bearded older men. And priests. Such groups were often assiduously flanked by counter-counter-protesters, some with yellow hazard signage stating "warning: religious extremism ahead".

However I did see one anti-abortion protester that rocked me back a little. She was a middle aged, latino woman, dressed in simple black and a haunted and weary expression, walking quietly through through crowd on her own. Her sign was simple: my abortion 14 years ago still grieves me. I couldn't help but feel so sad for her, but it doesn't change my position on the issue: its about maintaining the right of any woman to make an equal [and informed] choice, isn't it? She may regret her choice but at least she was free to make it, something the Bush administration is inch by inch taking away from America's women.

On a lighter note to finish, the most hilarious moment of the day came early on, which I had some difficulty explaining to the people around me. For a moment my head spun and I thought I was back in the antipodes, amongst innumerable teenage kiwis. You see one of the pre-march speakers on the mall (after Hillary Clinton, wonder woman Linda Carter, and numerous earnestly awful folk singers) was amping up the crowd, shouting the question, "what are we here for?"

And a million voices, averaging out somewhere around mezzo-soprano or contralto, screamed back....

"chooooooiiiiiiiice!"

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