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The March for Women's Lives, April 25, 2004

March Button

Browse photos of the march.

On Sunday, April 25, 1.15 million people converged on the Washington, DC mall in the largest march on Washington in U.S. history. Called the March for Women's Lives, this was the first march focused on women's reproductive freedom since 1992. When half a million marched that year, it was declared one of the largest political events in the city's history. The numbers had jumped considerably since 80,000 Marched for Women's Lives in 1986, and 300,000 marched in 1989.

Although the name was the same, and abortion was still the primary issue, the number of sponsors and the number of themes was vastly expanded over previous years. In addition to the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which has organized pass marches, they included the Feminist Majority,the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Black Women's Health Imperative. Themes included women's health, access to contraception, sex education, and global family planning.


Listen to Women

March organizers, primarily working through the Feminist Majority, spent the last year mobilizing people to come to Washington, intending that sheer numbers should "send a wake-up call" that women's rights were being eroded. They succeeded, filling buses and trains with people who came to vote with their feet.

People came and went all day. Some had arrived in Washington well in advance and were on the Mall at 6:00 a.m. when volunteers were given their tasks. Others went to breakfast events before walking down to find their place in the organizational grid. Locals came after church with their friends, or brought their children after soccer practice.


Banners

Swirling crowds filled the Mall between 3th St. and 14th St. for the morning and afternoon rallies. In between, most participants marched across the Ellipse before turning onto Pennsylvania Avenue and regarthering on the Mall. Since the street and park in front of the White House is closed, march organizers chose this route so marchers could be seen from the back of the White House. President Bush left town for the weekend.

On Pennsylvania Avenue about 300 pro-life demonstrators, wearing blue T-shirts that said Operation Witness, stood along the sidewalk while chanting and holding posters in opposition to abortion. A police barricade and a few officers separated them from the marchers. Although the police presence was very light for Washington marches, there were no incidents, even when pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators occupied the same sidewalks with their signs. A few members of the Christian Defense Coalition were arrested when they ignored warnings to return to their designated demonstration area. Words were the weapons in this battle of the culture war. Opponents of a woman's right to choose have made an annual pilgramage up Washington streets around January 23 to protest Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's decision which legalized most abortions.

While all large marches are organized chaos, this was one of the most carefully choreographed marches in memory. Delegations and groups were assigned places in a grid laid out on the Mall. A sea of professionally printed signs jumped and waved above the heads of marchers. Those who brought their own banners or personal statements were burried by the tens of thousands of hot pink Planned Partenthood and Yellow NARAL signs in the hands of demonstrators. Representatives from 57 countries carried their national flags in the march, perhaps the only group that stood out among the pre-packaged signs. Photo-ops were well staged.

While all large marches are organized chaos, this was one of the most tightly organized marches in memory. Delegations and groups were assigned places in a grid laid out on the Mall. A sea of professionally printed signs jumped and waved above the heads of marchers. Those who brought their own banners or personal statements were burried by the tens of thousands of hot pink Planned Partenthood and Yellow NARAL signs in the hands of demonstrators. Representatives from 57 countries carried their national flags in the march, perhaps the only group that stood out among the pre-packaged signs.

Almost 120 speakers were squeezed into a a program that started at 10:00 a.m. on 14th St. and finished at 5:30 on 3rd St. They ranged from the usual politicians and entertainers to movement luminaries and ordinary activists. Some of the former also marched behind the banner, but they weren't in the front line. The real front line had an identical banner held up by ordinary activists. The celebrity line was further back.

Athough the march was officiallly non-partisan, few of the speakers or the participants were. Issues surrounding sex -- abortion, gay rights, birth control, etc. -- have become partisan litmus tests. Those who are out of step with their party are shunned or stay silent.

About fifty pro-choice Republicans bravely carried their own signs and T-Shirts but were lost in state delegations that were voting Democratic. Also hard to spot were members of the Woman's National Democratic Club, who wore sashes proclaiming their affiliation. At least they were lost among compatriots.

Two days earlier Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry spoke at a support rally a few blocks away, while a few pro-life demonstrators chanted slogans to those going through the metal detectors. Although he did not personally march, Kerry's pro-choice views are well known.

The "Women for Kerry" rally was only one event among many in a five-day festival of reproductive freedom. One could choose to work or play, protest or lobby, march or dance, or a little of each.

A press conference was held on Wednesday, followed by a logistics briefing. Thursday, Planned Parenthood began its annual conference in a hotel on Dupont Circle. In the Circle, PP sponsored booths and exhibits on Friday and Saturday. At one, people wrote notes explaining why they were marching. At another, they could register to vote. The DC Rape Crisis Center personed a separate both, from which it led a rally and march on Saturday evening. Music and speakers blared forth from a stage.

A few blocks away the Human Rights Campaign Fund gave out its own posters linking gay rights and reproductive choice. In the morning about 200 members of Catholics for for a Free Choice marched on the embassy of the Vatican. Youth and Latinas held their own meetings, while NARAL hosted a picnic. There were theater parties and ice cream socials. A Gender Equity and Educational Achievement Conference was held at the National Education Association headquarters all day on Saturday. Religious services were held at the Mall on Sunday.

Saturday night those who came early could choose from a series of receptions held throughout Washington, some free and some paid, to both honor and celebrate the same luminaries who graced the speaker's stand on Sunday. However, at the receptions they were up close and personal. It's amazing that those who came early had enough energy left to demonstrate on Sunday.

Organizers intend that this march be only a beginning. Volunteers collected names and addresses of everyone there willing to sign a sheet. This will make a massive fundraising and voter mobilization list.



Photos of the March for Women's Lives by Jo Freeman

Please click on thumbnails to view the complete image



Planned Parenthood sponsored a reproductive choice
festival the day before the march.

Bulletin Board   DC Rape Crisis Center
Participants post notes explaining "Why I'm Marching"   Many groups had their own tents

Voter Tables
Voter Registration tables

Politicians and celebrities speak at one
of many receptions the night before


Barbara Boxer and Carole King
Barbara Boxer (CA) and Carole King aren't really singing a duet. Sen. Boxer is adjusting the microphone.

Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Kim Gandy and Ellie Smeal
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) energizes the crowd Standing behind her are Gloria Steinem, NOW President Kim Gandy and Feminist Majority President Ellie Smeal


Gwen Moore and Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton    Medea Benjamin
Wisconsin State Senator Gwen Moore and Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton   CodePink leader Medea Benjamin wants to give President Bush a pink slip

Gloria Steinem, Kim Gandy, Nancy Pelosi, Peg Yorkin and Ellie Smeal
Gloria Steinem, Kim Gandy, Nancy Pelosi, Peg Yorkin and Ellie Smeal



Pro-choicers and pro-lifers protested next to each other

     
     

People arrive at the march

Workers for feminist organizations   Pro-choice Republicans
These women do the telemarketing to raise funds for feminist organizations   Pro-choice Republicans gather outside their headquarters at the Willard Hotel



Pink Bloque   Marjorie Sweitzer
Their sign says "shake your asses for equal access"   Marjorie Sweitzer of Alexandria, Virginia has been marching since 1967. She's still rolling along



Pro-choice man   Anti-choice man
Some men were pro-choice   and some were not

There were two front lines, one for celebrities
and one for ordinary activists.


March Banner

The celebrity line

March Banner

The activist line

March Banner

Anthony Romero of the ACLU, Ellie Smeal, Kate Michalman of NARALPro-Choice America, Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood and, behind Feldt's left arm, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright



Current and former women Members of Congress
were prominent in the front line

Carolyn Malony, Sheila Jackson-Lee  and Louise  Slaughter   Carol Mosley Braun,  Barbara  Lee and  Lynn Woolsey
Reps. Carolyn Malony (NY), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX) and Louise Slaughter (NY)   Carol Mosley Braun (IL), Barbara Lee (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA)

Signs were plentiful.

Signs were plentiful.



Banners were few.

Banners were few.



At the rally

The morning rally   The afternoon rally
The morning rally   The afternoon rally
Dorothy Height   Gloria Steinem
Dorothy Height was honored in absentia.   Gloria Steinem was celebrated in person.

Members of Congress

Members of Congress line up for pro-choice.From L to R: Reps: Raul Grijalva (AZ), Carolyn Maloney (NY), Barbara Lee (CA), Louise Slaughter (behind Lee) (NY), Jerry Nadler (NY) speaking, Sheila Jackson Lee (behind sign) (TX), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Susan Davis (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (behind Woolsey) (OH).Behind them are the flags of 57 nations represented in the march.



Lynn Paltrow, Sarah Weddington and Kate Colbert

Three of the lawyers who argued key reproductive choice cases: Lynn Paltrow, Sarah Weddington and Kate Colbert



Medical Students for Choice   Delores Huerta and Ellie Smeal
Medical Students for Choice   Delores Huerta and Ellie Smeal

Before the March   and after
Before the March   and after




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