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Monday, March 27

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Last weekend, GB staffers Cinnamon Cooper (CC) and Anne Holub (ASH) went to Washington, DC, to participate in the March for Women's Lives. These are some photos and anecdotes from their trip.


This was my first D.C. protest march. That may not sound like much of anything, but I grew up about two hours from D.C., and visited often, but the capitol I knew best was in various forms of Smithsonian. I drove the 11 hours to D.C. from Chicago with a friend from work, and we stayed with another friend, who also knew some other folks planning on marching. I knew some people driving and flying in, and we all just headed to the Mall at 10 a.m. This was how the day began, you made seemingly ridiculous plans to "meet up" with people, and somehow it worked out. I talked to a ton of people on my cell phone (when my provider wasn't overloaded) to coordinate, to give advice and directions, or simply to prove that I was OK, and that this was really happening.


On Saturday, Planned Parenthood set up a practice rally in a neighborhood just north of The Mall (where Sunday's March would take place). They had stand-up comedians and musicians and lots of tents with informational materials and freebies. One of the more moving parts of the set-up was two large boards that were painted pink and had "I'm marching because" painted on the top. People who congregated took small pieces of paper and push-pins and tapes and wrote their responses on them and posted them to the board. By 1pm the first board was covered and the women I was marching with posted ours to the empty one. Women knelt and read the responses, gave each other high-fives, and generally felt uplifted once they were done. The desire to be heard, or read, was the main goal of the march and the weekend's events. We couldn't guarantee that lawmakers would hear us, but knowing that other marchers were hearing us was a good way to start the weekend.


Somehow, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but no one can tell you what you'll feel when there's a million (a million!) like-minded people standing shoulder to shoulder with you. Our little posse hit the outskirts of the Mall, and there was pink and pink and pink. There were grannies with signs and t-shirts, there were plenty of kids in strollers, and there were even a hefty number of fellows, many decked out in "Feminist Chicks Dig Me" shirts. People stopped us and offered us signs, which we gladly took. I grabbed an official NOW white circle sign which I'd always seen in pictures and news coverage of rallies. I must say, I carried it like a very large badge of honor. A volunteer stopped us and we all signed in for the official counting and got bright green stickers to wear that said "Count Me In". We asked where the Chicago NOW group was meeting and found out that they were pretty far down the mall and we started walking. The whole time there were speakers and faces popping up on the big screens and we just kept on walking and stopping and hollering out when the crowd rose up into a cheer. Even just trying to walk down the broad tracks that outline the Mall was sometimes overwhelming and we instituted a "do you have your protest buddy?" policy to make sure we didn't get separated.


My group was meeting at the east end of The Mall. I entered The Mall at the west end, so I got to walk by almost all of the different groups. Walking along the path, looking at signs, I was looking more to meet up with people I knew than I was taking in my surroundings. Once I got to my little group, I began to look at the big picture. It was then that I realized that not only were there people filling all lines of sight as far as I could see, but I had walked by almost a mile's worth of people who were all there for the same reason I was. To be surrounded by that many people who all had different visions and goals but were willing to come together on this one topic, I was floored. Stopping and seeing the Capital with nothing between me and the building but marchers was a moment I'll never forget. The enormity of the march hit me at that moment.


Standing in Section B24 with Chicago NOW felt good. We met folks, got some small Illinois NOW signs, and got a chance to chow through some energy bars. For a while, we focused our attention on the main stage and watched Linda Carter (yes, Wonder Woman) take the stage in all her glory. She spoke about love for all life, and said "I'm a lover of our inalienable right to reproduce or not." We held our signs high for her. Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton spoke, and wanted to remind us that, while we'd done a great thing by coming out, we needed to remember to get out in November and vote. She reminded us that there were "50 million women who were eligible to vote who didn't vote in the 2000 election." We shouted and shouted and shouted. Then, probably the angriest speaker I heard all day came on. Cybill Shepherd was pissed. She'd marched in three different pro-choice events, and she didn't want to have to do another one. "How many times are we going to have to come to Washington and tell these Peckerwoods..." I turned to the girl next to me and screamed, "Oh my god, Cybill Shepherd just said 'peckerwoods!'" Yes, yes, yes! This was just what I'd hoped for somehow. We were ready, we were geared up, we were just waiting for the call to start marching.


There were typical slogans and many mass-made signs. But the people who truly stood out were the people who went over the top and wore costumes, or decorated themselves with messages. These women were having a blast, joking and laughing with each other. It was nice to see that not everything had to be stodgy and serious. The fake parrot on top helped all their friends find them. If you want to be seen in a crowd of a million people, you have to have something tall, and you have to look different than everyone else around you.


Some of the groups I saw among our little B24 spot were Louisville, Kentucky for Choice, The Belly Bus (Our Bellies Our Choice), Harvard Students for Choice, Pirates for Choice (Arrr, My Booty, My Choice), Boston College Students for Choice, Goddesses for Choice, Women of Color for Choice, and Idaho for Choice. There was a thought that kept on running through my head: while having the national organizations leading the media coverage was good, it was these smaller local groups that really made me happy. It was why I was so excited to meet up with Chicago NOW; because these were my neighbors. We had to remember that, while we all had gotten information from the national groups, everyone had probably traveled there with friends. I was there with current and former co-workers, the Harvard kids all were classmates, and the belly dancers supposedly have some kind of belly dancing class together. They all decided that they wanted to get on the bus, or plane, or in the car, and get their booties to D.C. and that kind of local solidarity was a kind of energy you just can't get anywhere else.


After I found my group, I began milling around the area looking for cool photo opportunities. I saw this lone bagpiper standing and looking quite lost. He kept glancing around him and looking at his watch. I went up to see him and asked him if he had meant to be there today. "Yes, ma'am! My group and I were to meet here to perform as the march began. But it appears that we've all agreed to meet in another spot." For the next hour or so he wandered around and always seemed to come back to the same area. Once we got word that the march had begun, and the speakers were finished, someone suggested he play. He began tuning up and the crowd parted around him, leaving him in a circle. He took a deep breath, smiled and half-bowed and then began pounding his foot to keep time with the rhythm of his playing. The crowd gathered around him and began clapping along. One brave woman, who screamed "No pictures!" wandered into the circle with him and began to do a dance. He finished his song, with his face red, and perspiration on his forehead, and we all cheered and clapped and hooted and hollered. "If they can't hear me now, they'll never find me." Shortly afterward we began to shuffle toward the start of the march route, but he continued to stand there, blowing a few notes when the crowd encouraged him.


Then we started to march. Of course, it was extremely hard to get a million people off the Mall at that point, and more than one person made the "this isn't a march, it's an amble" joke. But it was once we cleared the Washington Monument and got out into the street that we felt this wave and surge all around you just like an ocean. We followed near Chicago NOW for a while, but soon lost even the super-tall sign in the sea of protesters all around us. We stayed near the giant uterus (yes, a giant uterus, complete with tiny eggs in the ovaries) that read "My Body My Choice". We slowly made it around the ellipse and then as we were about to get on to Pennsylvania Avenue (the White House looming off to the side) a pro-choice fellow held up a sign that warned us "Dangerous Fanatics Ahead" and told us that the pro-life protesters had gotten a permit to be on the sides of 8 blocks of the street. I told all of my protest buddies, and we geared up a cheer. By this point, we'd been doing some cheers whenever the crowd offered one up, but now we had a true audience and we let fly any time they screamed at us, we screamed back. I have to admit, I was nervous, having never encountered this degree of hatred before, but as we made it down the street, we could see how each group of pro-lifers were surrounded by pro-choice protestors facing away from them, and holding their signs up for the crowd. They wanted to make sure that you never lost that feeling of solidarity, that you kept up the cheers, and made your way down the street. We stepped it up, and grew joyful as the Capitol building once again came into view.


The group of people I started the march with was the contingent from Chicago NOW. (By the way, it is National Organization for Women, not of women.) There are many male members of the chapter, several of whom are very active and were present on Sunday. It was delightful to be surrounded by people you know and then to be surrounded by an even larger group of people you don't know. The small but tall sign with Chicago on it drew various people who couldn't find the group of people they were hoping to walk with but decided to march behind the Chicago sign. Aw, yeah! Representing in DC!


Men! Contrary to myths surrounding feminism, not all feminists are women. This young man with his hand-lettered sign seemed like an oddity when I first arrived at the march grounds. Shortly after I took the photo, his friend came up to him wearing a "This is what a feminist looks like" (This was THE shirt to have, by the way. They were quickly sold out.) I was a bit awed and saw that there was a group of 8 men marching together. Throughout the day, the feminist men became common-place. My awe at seeing openly feminist men began to fade. But I was still impressed by the number of men with their hand-painted signs and their cool t-shirts. I could used to that, let me tell you.


By the time we hit the Mall again, we realized that it had taken us four hours to walk the 2-mile march route. But it was fine. NARAL gave us free bottles of cold water. Julianne Moore was looking fabulous on the big screens and we kept on walking up the Mall until we couldn't go any closer to the stage. With the Capitol building in the background, Moby took the stage. He and a couple of other folks did an acoustic version of "For What it's Worth" (you know�"There's something happening here�") that was just what we needed at that point. Kathy Najimi took the stage and said "I think you all deserve a treat" and then she flashed us. (Later, I yelled into my phone, "Kathy Najimi just flashed us!") A million people (plus anyone watching on C-Span I think) saw Kathy Najimi's black bra in all its glory. She spoke about her love of "Ms." magazine over the years, and brought her young daughter up with her, who, at the end, totally unprompted, grabbed the mic and yelled "We are feminists, and we are making a change!" Yes, yes, yes!


The larger groups participating in the march (Planned Parenthood, NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice America, etc.) had huge piles and boxes and tents and store-fronts full of their merchandise. Some of it was for sale, some of it was free. Some of it seemed like overkill. Pre-made signs were everywhere for the picking. As we made our way to the march we got slapped with stickers, were handed deflated beach balls, pom-poms, mini-megahorns, just about anything that a logo could go on. The day before the march I was amazed by the pre-made signs. But seeing a huge crowd with everyone carrying the same signs meant the appeal of the signs quickly disappeared for me -- and for many other people who grew tired of holding their signs and ditched them along the parade route.


The speakers that followed were a little more on the political, and little less on the flashing end of things. There was a group of youth leaders of various pro-choice groups, who spoke eloquently about their missions and struggles. They went off the stage, and NAACP chairman Julian Bond (who I had as a professor at U.Va.) got on the stage, and spoke about the many marches in D.C. he'd participated in, and how the NAACP had always supported the pro-choice movement. Then a group of Congressmen and women got on stage, and I saw Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky grinning from ear to ear on the big screen. We cheered the loudest for Jan.


There were people with handmade signs, handmade t-shirts, but this woman's hand-made earrings made me smile. Not only was she smiling and shaking her head too and fro as we walked, she was also handing a condom to people who did a double-take. She said, "Make this choice before his pants come off!" to a couple of women who laughed but took the condom.


Most of the marchers were walking in a disorganized mass going forward with their signs and their slogans. But along the path a few supporters were outside the march giving shouts of encouragement ("Only 3/4 of a mile left! You can do it!") waving signs letting us know when we were approaching the anti-choice groups, and this young man with his black hoody climbed a pole, grabbed ahold of a stoplight and cheered on us from above. "Whose choice?" he would shout. "Our choice," we would reply. I missed getting photos of his friends and their signs, since they were standing guard keeping an eye out for the cops.


At that point, our knees were starting to buckle, and we had to head off to get one of our group to the airport, and the rest of us to some comfortable chairs. We caught a cab back up town, and the four of us answered many questions from our cabdriver, who had been transporting protesters on both sides all day. It was so amazing to hear all four of us chime in and be able to speak so freely about our beliefs on the pro-choice movement, on preserving civil liberties, and on what might happen if things didn't change in Washington in November. I got out of the cab, still clutching my signs (which are resting in my living room now) and we literally all stood kind of dazed for a moment, and watched as other weary protestors moved in small groups down Connecticut Avenue towards us. We held up our fists and cheered.


As the tired and throat-weary group walked through a park just south of the White House, this puppet thing was there cheering on us. Admittedly I saw a few young children who were frightened by the 12 foot tall creature, but the adult marchers were cheering and yelling "Thank you!" as they marched by it. One woman even ran up and took a small bottle of water out of her pack and handed it to the man inside the puppet. Small acts of kindness like this were rampant throughout the day, affirming my belief in humanity and renewing my hope that there are a lot of people willing to fight for basic civil rights of all Americans.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper and Anne Holub are members of the Gapers Block staff.

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