WASHINGTON – “I know firsthand the anti-choice extremists now in control of the Capitol and of the White House are opposed to basic contraception,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told the more than 1 million participants at the April 25 March for Women’s Lives.
Seven groups – the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood – initiated what turned into the largest and most diverse march for women’s rights ever.
Over 70 speakers addressed the crowd full of families, young mothers, pregnant women and youth. The overriding theme was “We won’t go back” and “We need regime change at home,” and that reproductive rights means more than just legal and safe abortions.
“I have my daughter here and I’m here for her and for all of your daughters,” NOW President Kim Gandy told the marchers, many of whom pushed strollers or carried placards with pictures of their children.
“If we succeed, they will grow up in charge of their bodies and their lives and their destinies. They’ll decide whether and when to have children, they’ll decide whether to marry and they’ll marry who they want to marry,” Gandy said.
“We hope and dream that they’ll grow up with clean air and clean water, a good education, full health care, and freedom from bigotry, hatred and violence. And equal access to the bounty of this country without taking it from the pockets of the rest of the world. And all of this in a world at peace.”
More than one-third of the marchers were under the age of 25. One of them, NLIRH youth organizer Caricia Catalina, said, “We are here to remind everyone that choice is about more than legal freedoms. It means access to doctors. It means access to education. It means access to care in your language.”
Babies born to Black women die at rates as high as in Third World countries and one out of every three Black women in the U.S. has no health insurance, BWHI head Dr. Lorraine Cole told the crowd.
“All these numbers have names and faces, they represent women’s lives,” said Cole. “Just like Sojourner Truth more than 150 years ago, we have sojourned here to speak the truth. The time is now to answer Sojourner Truth’s question ‘Ain’t I a woman?’ with a resounding ‘yes!’”
One of the issues of the march was the global “gag rule” imposed by the Bush administration on family planning clinics around the world that receive U.S. funds. Funding has been cut to clinics that mention abortion as an option.
Madeleine Albright, secretary of state during the Clinton administration, said Roe v. Wade is based on the U.S. Constitution but the right to choose is a global imperative. “I say that not as a matter of ideology but rather as a description of reality.”
The rally speakers were a mix of women’s and mass movement leaders, Democrats, Republicans for choice and Hollywood stars, and included trade union leaders Gerald McEntee and Dolores Huerta. Representatives from over 60 countries participated.
Actress Ashley Judd, wearing a T-shirt that declared, “This is what a feminist looks like,” led the crowd in a chant directed at the Bush administration, “Keep your laws off my body!” and called for “health insurance [to] cover all birth control.”
Judd introduced United Farm Workers co-founder Huerta by saying, “This grandmother rocks! … Si se puede! Si se puede!”
“The most important day of your life is not your birthday. The most important day of your life is Election Day,” said Huerta. “In the Farm Workers’ Union we have a phrase that says ‘every worker is an organizer.’ Today I want to say that every feminist is an organizer.”
Huerta told the cheering crowd, “We have got to take this energy not only to our homes but to our neighborhoods and to our communities and make sure that every single person is registered to vote and that every single person gets out to vote.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) told participants before the march that there were 50 million women in the country eligible to vote who did not vote in the 2000 election.
“As you march today,” she said, “turn to the person next to you, the person in front of you and the person behind you and … ask them, ‘Are you registered to vote? Do you vote?’”
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, whose daughter marched on Sunday, spoke at a related event Friday evening.
The march and marchers put reproductive rights on the presidential campaign roadmap. They were unified on the necessity of defeating George W. Bush in November. As one sign put it, “Landscape the White House … get the Bushes out of there.”
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