WASHINGTON, DC — As participants in the March for Women’s Lives arrived on the National Mall at 9 a.m. Sunday, they were greeted with the very mainstream, very bland bleatings of the Dave Matthews Band over the public-address system. Only a few hours later, though, they were cheering on a spoken-word artist whose call for a new "cunstitution" surely woke up the censors at C-SPAN. Overall, however, the entertainment factor took a back seat to politics.
"Fifty million women who were eligible to vote did not in 2000," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton announced from the stage as the throngs of demonstrators booed those whose apathy helped lead to a Bush presidency. The boos turned to cheers as Clinton described the solution. "You have to be willing to be good citizens," she said. "You have to show up at the polls in November and elect John Kerry!"
Kerry himself was conspicuously absent from the event, having attended a pre-march rally on Friday. His daughter Vanessa spoke, however, along with Dr. Howard Dean and Senator Barbara Boxer. The Democratic candidate’s absence did not deter the marchers, who saw him as the focal recipient their political power. George W. Bush may have the guns, they seemed to say, but we’ve got the numbers.
Organizers estimated 1,150,000 people turned out for the March for Women’s Lives, and even conservative estimates stood at around 800,000 — still impressive for an event that raised awareness mostly through word of mouth. Either estimate makes the march larger than the previous March for Choice, in 1992, which drew 500,000 participants, and places it on a scale similar to that of the Million Man March of 1995. It’s probably safe to say that this was the largest rally for women’s rights ever to take place in the United States. And that’s got to have Bush strategist Karl Rove worried, knowing as he does that women are one of the few demographic categories not evenly split in presidential politics. In 2000, 54 percent of women voted for Gore, while only 43 percent voted for Bush.
The event was originally titled "March for Choice," but was changed to "March for Women’s Lives" to encompass issues such as Bush’s "global gag rule" on international family-planning assistance, sex education, and health care. Connecting choice to these other concerns helps more people relate to the fight to protect abortion rights and helps soften a divisive issue, said marcher Dana McParland, of Staten Island. McParland, who carried a sign identifying herself as both pro-choice and a Republican, said she had to fight her insurance company for birth-control coverage.
While the event organizers were careful to advocate only making Bush aware of their political power, their subtext was clear: voting pro-choice this year means voting for Kerry. Instead of endorsing Kerry outright, organizers told marchers to use choice as their make-or-break factor in selecting a presidential candidate this November, leaving little doubt as to who would come out on top.
Few speakers mentioned Republicans as anything more than a force of opposition that must be defeated. An exception was Camryn Manheim, who plays a lawyer on ABC’s The Practice. After describing how important is that Kerry make the next Supreme Court appointment (conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the more liberal Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens are expected to retire during the next presidential term), Manheim pleaded with the Republicans in the audience to "bring some sanity back to the party."
"What happened to the anti-government-regulation, the ‘live free or die’ Republicans?" she asked. "If you want to erode the rights of women, you guys are going to lose."
Issue Date: April 30 - May 6, 2004
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