Reproduce This March
My one year old daughter is naked in a taxi, leaning out the window, shouting "hi" to everyone who passes by, and it's all the Republicans' fault. First, they have their convention in a city where over half of the population wishes they were somewhere else, then they shut down most of midtown, so my taxi driver can't get a fare on Friday night and has to drive from the airport at breakneck speed trying to make up for it. He weaves through cars, trucks, and tunnels video-game style and my daughter, used to slower-paced California, where people generally stick to their lanes, throws up. Hence the no clothes. I guess the Republicans can't be blamed for the shouting-out-the-window part.
We arrive to find eleven police vans outside the apartment we're staying in. Before I can worry, however, they're moving on, apparently to arrest over 200 bicyclists who made wrong turns. I'm wondering if the whole trip will be this intense but Saturday, blessedly, is decidedly mellower. The large march for reproductive rights, organized by NARAL Pro-Choice America, is even better attended than the organizers expected, with organizer and police estimates of around 10-15,000 people.
The crowd is diverse, energetic, and decidedly law-abiding. And it appears that this time reproductive rights advocates got it right. The speakers and sign-bearers frame the debate in terms of health care, education, and religious, sexual, and economic freedom, not just in terms of "choice," a term that invokes middle-class leisure shoppers rather than the hard reality of a woman's limited reproductive options. People who dismiss abortion as a second-wave old feminist issue should see the young women in the crowd, many of whose t-shirts and signs have a girl power aesthetic. "My bush would make a better president" is a popular sign. A gorgeous young woman with long dreds wears a t-shirt that says "I [heart] pro-choice boys." The even younger children carry signs, some of them made with parent's help, that say, "Everyone poops but Bush stinks" and "Bush needs a time out."
But it's not just the younger activists who are reframing the debate. Rabia Rahaman, an immigrant mother whose seven-month old wears a peace t-shirt, starts to say she is here because she is pro-choice and then stops herself. "I prefer to say that I believe in reproductive freedom," she says. "It encompasses more." She wants her daughter to have decent sex education, she says, and to be able to make her own choices without the additional stigma and trauma that comes from restrictions on reproductive rights. Although she is scared about the possibility of a Republican victory in the election, she won't be going to any more of the upcoming protests. She laughs when I ask her why. "I'm a green card holder, I'm the wrong color, and I have a small baby," she says.
Ann Stone won't be going to any of the other protests either, but that's because she'll be inside the convention. As a member of Republicans for Choice, she says that only 38 percent of their 150,000 members will be voting for George W. this time around. "We tried to change the platform," she says. "We begged, we pleaded, we threatened, but they still wouldn't listen to us."
Stone fans herself and moves on to talk with a young woman with a shaved head who wants to discuss the Republican's position on Head Start. The crowd, at the encouragement of the organizers, looks up and waves to the television chopper overhead. It's one of the muggiest New York days all summer, but the energy and diversity of the crowd are a hopeful sign that reproductive rights advocacy is emerging from the ghetto of "choice" it has lived in for the last ten years.
As we leave, we spot a small bright red and purple object peeking out of the grass. An unattended object! Should we alert the police? We look a little closer. It's a child's sippy cup, a fitting symbol of what is likely to be one of the more unified and relaxed of the many protests planned for the convention.