By the most conservative estimates, the March for Women's Lives in Washington on April 25 was the biggest pro-choice demo ever--and it may have been the biggest march of any kind in US history. Organizers, who had an army of volunteers methodically affixing "Count Me In!" stickers to each member of the surging crowd, put the number at 1.15 million. And one in three, according to Gloria Steinem, was under 25.
There were Radical Cheerleaders, pierced and armed with glittering pompoms and slyly scandalous cheers; jangling, undulating belly dancers accompanied by the beat of the Rhythm Workers Union; the Pink Bloque, a radical dance troupe of young women from Chicago clad in homemade pink miniskirts; members of Keys of Resistance, dressed as 1940s secretaries and tapping out letters to Congress on antique Smith Corona type- writers; delegations from fifty-seven countries; pro-choice Catholics, Republicans, medical students, Latinas, soccer moms. Bush jokes (not the polite kind) abounded, as did T-shirts on women of many different shapes, ages and hues declaring, "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like!" If justice existed in the mass-media universe, the newsweeklies would now pose the question, "Is Post-Feminism Dead?"
Of course, it doesn't, and they won't. But the political reverberations of this groundbreaking event could be significant. The stealth antichoice strategy pursued by the Bush Administration has been premised on the expectation that a gradual whittling away of women's reproductive rights will have little political consequence. The pro-choice movement's response, embodied in the broad-ranging theme of the March for Women's Lives, is to unmask the anti-woman agenda connecting the assault on sex-ed and contraception to the global gag rule to Attorney General Ashcroft's outrageous subpoena of women's private medical records to defend the "Partial-Birth" Abortion Ban (a request that was withdrawn, as it happens, the day after the march). These are not measures that are popular with voters. Anger will draw some to the polls; NOW is asking pro-choicers to multiply their votes through its 10 for Change campaign (www.10forchange.org).
After congratulating the throngs for turning out, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who received a reception fit for a rock star, noted, "If all we do is march today, that will not change the direction this country is headed under the leadership of this Administration." She had a point. The Vatican's bullying of candidate Kerry was just one recent salvo from an antichoice establishment heady from a string of legislative successes; Bush flack Karen Hughes fired another on CNN when she suggested that the marchers, unlike most Americans, had failed to learn to "value the dignity and worth of human life" after 9/11. So, yes, there is much unglamorous work to be done (including pressuring centrist Dems like Clinton and Kerry to stand up on the full range of issues affecting women's lives). But the importance of the march itself--for networking, coordinating, strategizing as well as morale boosting--should not be discounted. On April 25, women moved like a movement again. Activists and organizers deserve to savor their achievement as they take the fight to the next stage.