Massive march in Madison leads women’s marches nationwide
Women filled the Capital building in Madison last Sunday in one of the major marches that took place across the country. | Morry Gash/AP

MADISON, Wis.—A massive march in Madison, Wisconsin, which filled the interior of the state’s capital building in a sight unseen in almost 11 years, led women’s marches nationwide for abortion rights.

And, as might be expected, there was a political reason for the Jan. 22 concentration on Wisconsin: There’s a key election coming fast which could determine the future of abortion in the state.

“The GOP thought we’d sit down and shut up when their judicial hacks overturned Roe–wrong,” the Women’s March tweeted, referring to the five-justice Republican-named Supreme Court majority which, last June, exterminated the constitutional right to abortion.

“They thought we’d stay home in November—wrong. Now they’re trying to pass a national abortion ban and they think we’ll stay home—also wrong. This Sunday we march.”

Added Women’s March Executive Director Rachel O’Leary Carmona in her own twitter thread: “If pundits had their way, 2022 would have been a disaster for Dems, but women and young voters showed up and blunted the Red Wave. Our movement is bigger than Roe, and our movement doesn’t end here.”

All the #BiggerThanRoe marches from coast to coast took up that theme.

“As we mourn the loss of nearly 50 years of constitutional protections, we send another clear message,” the woman’s marches organizers  declared. “We are not going gently. We are taking our fight to every state and every legislator in this country.”

“Less than a month after this march, on Feb. 21, is the primary election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And on April 4, the state will elect a new Supreme Court Justice. If a pro-choice candidate wins this seat, we could overturn the abortion ban in Wisconsin.

“When we come together to fight, we win.”

The result in Madison was a jammed state capitol rotunda, including a banner hanging from its balcony promoting not just abortion rights but workers’ rights—harkening back to the last time people flooded the streets and filled the capitol, in February 2011.

That was when more than 100,000 workers and their allies, led by the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, protested right-wing Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s infamous Act 10, his successful attempt to weaken public workers and their unions in the state where AFSCME was founded.

While workers’ rights joined women’s rights in the Madison march, reclaiming the right to abortion from the threats and ravages of the radical and religious right was the main theme of marches and marchers from coast to coast.

D.C., the focus of prior marches, took a back seat to the Wisconsin capital. But in D.C.. more than 1,000 people lined up behind a big banner to march, overcame the bullhorned “murderer!” shouts of a few dozen anti-abortionists on their flanks, and paraded from Freedom Plaza a few blocks to the White House, then circled Lafayette Square. “Political terrorists won’t stop women,” one D.C. sign replied.

The D.C. march, like the others, was punctuated by chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the patriarchy has got to go”, “Our body, our choice” and the now-common “This is what democracy looks like.”

And the woman who on Dec. 7 held up a banner declaring “Scotus is illegitimate,” showed up, too, with the banner. She gave her first name as Nadine and declined to give her last name.

And Nadine added a flag emblazoned “America is not a Christian nation,” to her protest cart—a reference to the unyielding rigid opposition to abortion from white evangelical Protestants and the Catholic Church hierarchy—if not from the church’s faithful. A majority disagree with its stand, polls show.

How rigid are those two religious hierarchies in pushing absolute abortion bans through both states and the new House Republican majority? One D.C. woman, who declined to give her name for security reasons, handmade a sign that read “Even the Taliban don’t ban abortion.” The two “I”s in that phrase were replaced by drawings of women clad in blue head-to-toe burkas.

“I googled it,” she explained. “The Koran doesn’t have anything about abortion, so Afghanistan has abortion. It means we’re now taking a more extremist position than the Taliban does,” referring to last June’s ruling.

Other signs were similarly inventive.

One had a coat hanger taped on top, above the words: “Not a surgical instrument.”

“Abortion is health care. Abortion is essential,” read another. “No forced birth,” read a third.

One sign summed up the agenda of anti-abortionists, too: “You’re ‘pro-life’ until the baby is poor or Black or transgender or gay or an immigrant or sick or disabled, in that order.

Polls show an overwhelming majority of the country supports the right to abortion, with a few restrictions, especially in the third trimester. Rachel Bleshman, attorney from Sussex County, Del.—“the most-red county in the state”—said that’s true there, too.

“Women’s marches there have been more successful than in Wilmington,” Delaware’s sole metropolis, she explained. She came to D.C. this time “because I’m doing this for my three-year-old daughter.”

One of the hand-drawn signs at the D.C. march summarized that result by paraphrasing the famed progressive folk singer Woody Guthrie.

“This land is my land,” the woman’s sign declared.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.