Nearly a million people from more than 60 countries flooded Washington, D.C. Sunday to participate in the March for Women's Lives, a demonstration that called for reproductive freedom, healthcare, family planning, and rights for women both in the United States and abroad. The march issued a call to action against the Bush Administration's persistent efforts to thwart reproductive choice and streamline healthcare and resources for women.
Prior to the march a long list of speakers, including Hollywood actors such as Whoopie Goldberg and Cybill Shepherd, public officials Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and choice movement pioneers like Gloria Steinem, spoke to crowds of people at a rally on the National Mall. Yesterday's march is estimated to be one of the largest in US history, surpassing the 1992 women's march in Washington in which half a million activists participated.
Sponsored by a broad coalition of groups, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the American Civil Liberties Union, the Black Women's Health Imperative, the Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the march saw significant participation from people of color. Among the more than 1400 cosponsoring organizations were college groups, faith councils, gay rights groups, and pro-choice Republican groups.
The march focused on more than reproductive choice, with a large emphasis placed on women's health, public education resources, and the rights of women abroad. Marchers were united against President Bush's policies against women. Marcher Caroline Gabel said that she was demonstrating because she feels that President Bush and other right-wing lawmakers were "arrogant" in assuming authority over women's lives. Another marcher, Donna Clark, noted that she was participating so that future generations of women will have the rights they deserve. Some were compelled to march against specific policies instituted by the Bush Administration, including the international gag rule and the ban on late term abortions. However diverse the marchers seemed, all were chanting in unison throughout the streets of the nation's capitol.
Women's Lives, Women's Stories
Rallying chants weren't the only things echoing through the streets of Washington DC. Hundreds of thousands of personal stories -- told by hundreds of thousands of unique voices -- emerged from the marching crowd.
I marched alongside Marcia Carter, who recalled protesting the War in Vietnam and participating in civil rights sit-ins when she was a college student at Vassar. Drawing upon her activist roots, Carter remarked that she was marching because it is "hard to watch what the Bush Administration is doing to women." Another woman, Marylu deWatteville Raushenbush, helped fight a Wisconsin law in the 1960s that restricted unmarried women from obtaining birth control and defined birth control as "indecent." She and a small group of activists founded Wisconsin Citizens for Family Planning, an organization that fought until the law was declared invalid by a federal court.
Young women told stories about having to walk through picket lines just to receive contraceptives at Planned Parenthood clinics in their hometowns. One young woman said that she was grateful that her Planned Parenthood clinic provides free educational seminars.
March participant Andy Dodds said she was marching for her newborn granddaughter. She and her friend, Winsome Macintosh, opened their homes on Sunday morning for women to stop by before the march and eat breakfast. "It's about strength in numbers," I heard one woman say. "We want to make sure there are as many people at the march as possible."
Two women marching, Lorraine Bucy and Carla Raushenbush, are the great-granddaughters of the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who fought famously for the rights of women in the early twentieth century. They see marching as a continuation of their family's progressive tradition and fight for human rights. "It's important that we -- and all people -- stand up for liberty and choice," remarked Bucy.
Standing as one among thousands, I heard only a fraction of the stories being told yesterday. There were more...thousands of stories permeating the crowd of energetic marchers.
"We're Here, Mr. President"
Heard loud and clear at the march were the voices of young women who made up approximately one third of the participants. One young activist, speaking from the podium at the post-march rally, called for the crowd to chant "We're Here, Mr. President," sending a message to President Bush that young women were active and voting in the next election. With data indicating that young unmarried women are an untapped political constituency, politicians are courting the votes of this group for November. Young women at the march made it clear that in this election they will be voting for a new President. Such sentiments weren't only expressed by young women, all participants seemed galvanized by the need to defeat Bush in November.
Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. John Kerry rallied with women's rights supporters on Friday in preparation for the march. At the march, Kerry volunteers lined the streets passing out campaign stickers that read "Women for Kerry." Veteran activist and early NARAL board member Irene Crown said that she believed the stakes are high in the next election. President Bush is already "taking away the rights" of women, she noted. Another marcher, Donna Gerstenfeld said that "another four years of Bush" would be "detrimental" to women's rights and civil liberties for all Americans.
Few women's rights supporters can rid their minds of the picture last November when President Bush sat among his friends -- all males -- and signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. The measure would prevent a physician from making a decision about his or her own patient. After years of struggle for rights and equality, decisions about a woman's body can be legislated. Throughout the march, I heard countless references to that photograph and the long list of policies that the Bush Administration has instituted against women. Marching past the White House the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were unanimous in their call for new leadership. Message to President Bush: "This time....It's Personal."
Skye Perryman is a contributor to AlterNet. She lives in Washington, D.C. where she works as a Policy Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future.