Monday, May 03, 2004

March for Women's Lives, part 2

Read Part 1 if you're chronologically inclined.

After an hour or so of speakers, a march organizer announced from the stage that the march had begun. A few minutes later, our section of the crowd began to move. As we rounded the corner behind the stage, we could look back across the Mall at thousands - hundreds of thousands! - of other marchers flowing towards us. It was an inspiring way to begin the march.

A few minutes later, the chants began:

2, 4, 6, 8
Separate the church & state!

Show me what democracy looks like!
This is what democracy looks like!

Not the church, not the state,
Women will decide their fate!

and so on.

It was not long before we encountered our first pro-life (anti-choice) protesters, and from there the march route was lined with them. We far out-numbered them, but they were well-organized. They'd arranged themselves about 1-2 people deep along a mile or more of the route, for maximum effect, and nearly all were absolutely silent and had their sad faces on. I shouldn't mock; those pro-lifers who are sincere probably do feel terribly sad when they participate in a counter-protest. They held signs saying things like, "I regret my abortion," "Abortion is murder," and, of course, the huge blow-ups showing aborted fetuses, which are not pleasant to look at. The important thing for me was to look at those pictures. If you can't face the worst of what the other side has to show you, then perhaps you are not secure in your ideals. What I did not expect was how angry I would get when marching past the pro-life protesters. My hands were shaking. That was when I started leading chants.

Something you should know about me is that I get very, very energized by events like this. And I have a loud voice. And I spend my days talking and organizing other people, so I know how to get something started when I want to. Yes, Ms. Frizzle spent the day leading cheers. Probably way past the point where my voice could take it. The key is to get at least a couple of people around you willing to chime in the first one or two times you chant, and the rest will take care of itself. For the first half of the march, we were walking in one rhythm and chanting in another. This was confusing for me - I kept bumping into people! Oops. Luckily, all the marchers were very friendly and generous of spirit.

One final piece of advice for would-be cheerleaders: Have an exit strategy, as they say. If a chant really gets going, you can take little breaks and let others with loud voices carry on. If it's a call-and-response chant, then you definitely need a way to end it when you get tired. As we were passing some of the most hardcore pro-life people, I was getting very frustrated by the fact that so many, many Americans are pro-choice, yet our government caters to the vocal minority on the issue. From that point on, whenever it was time to end a chant and take a break, I'd shout, "Cheer if you're in the majority!" A huge cheer would erupt from the marching crowd, and the chant would be over, leaving us with a sense of our own power. Awesome.

The pro-life protesters carrying signs saying "I regret my abortion" made me a little sad. The truth is, no matter how people try to paint us, no one is PRO-abortion. I would say that most pro-choice Americans would like to prevent as many abortions as possible, through responsible sex education, readily-available contraception, fighting rape & domestic violence, promoting responsible fatherhood, etc. The bottom line is, when all those things don't work, we still want the choice to be available to us to not bear a child we do not want nor feel ready to provide for. I do not doubt that there are women who do regret their abortions, and that is an awful thing. I suspect that for at least some of the women involved, greater freedom & empowerment would have allowed them to CHOOSE to have the babies they wanted; their regretted abortions may be the other side of the coin of unwanted babies resulting from pressure NOT to abort. All women need information, education, and empowerment so that we can each choose what is best for us. The sad thing is that the women who claim to regret their abortions are responding to their own mistake by trying to limit everyone's choices.

The signs reading "What about MY choice?" etc. - held by men - made me angry. What about your choice? Um, hello?! The VAST majority of men who are responsible and caring partners to their wife or girlfriend will make a decision with her about how to respond to an unexpected pregnancy. The men who find themselves left out of the decision are nearly all men who were not doing right by her up to that point. I have seen hypocrisy similar to this in my own (extended) family; you suddenly find yourself a father, you demand to see the child, but you refuse to pay child support. This is the same kind of deal. In case you haven't noticed, we're doing it on a national scale right now; we have enormous numbers of children in poverty, we cut services to kids all the time, yet if the current administration had their way, a woman would not be allowed to choose not to bring a child into this world, even if she knew it would mean poverty for herself and the child. I realize there are exceptions, times when a man really did want a child, and really had been a supportive and loving partner, and the woman still aborted their child. But I submit that this is a tiny minority of cases, and that many, many more women bore children they did not want into situations where they got no support from the father of the child.

I'm writing a post in my head about "leaving your politics out of the classroom." It might be ready to write in a few days. Time for dinner & grading lab reports; more on the March later.


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