Tuesday, 13 November 2012
The March for Women’s Lives, 2004
By Mary Daniels Brown of Notes in the Margin
On April 25, 2004, I attended the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. with two friends from college. We had met and traveled to New York City for a Saturday matinee at the Metropolitan Opera. Friday night, we decided to get up early on Sunday morning and drive to Washington to speak up and be counted - the political process that had worked so well for us in the 1960s.
Driving through New Jersey a little after 6:30 Sunday morning, a disturbing thought nagged at me: What if they throw this party and nobody shows up?
Of course now, a week later, I know that I needn’t have worried. And now I’m able to extract the essence of what was, at the time, a nearly overwhelming experience and to identify three important characteristics of that historic crowd.
The first is the diversity I saw while standing on the National Mall waiting for the march to begin. Young and old, black, white, Oriental, Hispanic - they had all come in support of women’s rights. And although women made up the vast majority of the crowd, there were also some men.
A young couple walked by, with dad toting an infant in a backpack bearing a sign saying, “We’re raising our son to respect all women.” And where else could you have seen Radical Feminists chatting with an older man whose sign proclaimed him a Republican for Choice?
We stood on the Mall for nearly three hours before moving onto the parade route and by halfway through the march, my aging hips and legs were themselves protesting.
But just as I was thinking, “I’m getting too old for this; it’s time to leave the marching to the younger generations,” I’d look around and see the 60-something and 70-something women walking, some leaning on canes, many proudly displaying a chest full of political buttons – their medals from the civil rights, Vietnam and women’s rights wars of the past 40 or so years - and I’d tell myself, “I can do this.”
I downed a couple of Excedrin Quicktabs and walked on, waving to the Grannies for Choice seated in lawn chairs along the parade route and following the “Menopausal Women Nostalgic for Choice” sign.
Yet despite the diversity, there was a palpable sense of unity throughout the crowd. Once, we ended up behind a line of four women carrying a long banner. Wondering whose group observers might think we belonged to, we asked them what their sign said. “Planned Parenthood of Nassau County,” the woman on one end said.
“Not that it really matters,” I told her.
“No,” she said, smiling, “I think today we all pretty much stand for the same thing.”
At one point my friends and I - three Boston University alumnae (classes of 1969 and 1970) - found ourselves walking behind a group of pink-shirted Boston University Students for Choice. That’s the way the day went, with one discovery after another of connectedness and solidarity.
Second, there was about the crowd a sense of camaraderie, care and good humor. On a day that started out cool and overcast but ended up sunny and hot, people didn’t hesitate to hand off their water bottles to those without.
Amidst the crush of bodies, people who normally would fiercely protect their personal space just smiled at each other, excused themselves and moved through the bump and grind of the crowd.
Yet despite the camaraderie, there was no sense of frivolity to detract from the solemnity of the occasion or to trivialize the seriousness of its message. There was humor in many of the signs (“Not every sperm needs a name,” “Keep your Brosaries off my ovaries” and the many permutations of bush and dick puns).
But there was no Mardi Gras atmosphere. People were there to work, not to play, and they remained focused on their job for that day.
Third, I was awed by the sheer number of people there - more than a million, a massive crowd that stretched for blocks and blocks. When a woman on the sideline shouted, “Over a million!” as we passed by, marchers burst into applause.
On our way to the Metro station after we’d finished marching, my two friends and I passed an older African American woman walking with a cane and talking about the size of the crowd. “I’ve attended nearly every march here in Washington,” she said to her companion. “Martin Luther King never touched this.”
A crowd that huge takes on a life of its own. That living, breathing organism sent three messages to U.S. politicians, those men who think they’re in charge:
- We believe in a woman’s right to medical privacy and her right to choose
- There are a lot of us
- Come November, we will vote
Writer and activist Arundhati Roy recently said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
April 25th was not a quiet day in Washington but those of us who were there heard her breathing nonetheless.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]