By Clare Myers
The crowds stretched on for blocks, a seemingly endless stream of humanity in a dazzling array of neon colors converging on Capitol Hill last Thursday. It was the 42nd March for Life, said to be the world’s largest pro-life event, held on Jan. 22 to commemorate the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Each year, crowds march on Washington to protest the decision. Last Thursday, I had the privilege of participating for a third time, joining the hundreds of thousands marching to promote a culture of life. Along with a handful of other University of Dallas students and a crowd that organizers estimated to be anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 strong, I took part in this massive protest. But the March for Life never feels like a protest. It feels like a celebration.
The marchers were primarily young, and the National Mall buzzed with energy and excitement. The streets were dominated by school groups from middle school to college, and by families and delegations from churches around the country, more often than not sporting matching group accessories such as cherry red scarves or traffic cone-orange beanies. We donned tasseled American flag hats and climbed Capitol Hill in the bright afternoon sunshine, surrounded by the enthusiastic and cheerful masses. Our fellow marchers were surprisingly diverse. Sisters and monks in habits walked beside a man holding a sign that declared the value of life, which “Allah has made sacred.” Evangelical Christians prayed next to representatives from the Secular Pro-Life campaign.
The March for Life is a peaceful protest, and with the exception of a few very noticeable displays bearing graphic images of abortion victims, the innumerable signs and banners tend to be positive. Countless protesters held signs reading “I AM THE PRO-LIFE GENERATION” or “DEFEND LIFE.” The chants ringing out in the brisk January air reflected the upbeat attitude of the day, and, like the signs, were more cheerful than challenging. One memorable mantra – “Hey Obama, yo mama was pro-life” – was perhaps the closest to confrontational. The atmosphere was closer to a family-friendly concert than a political protest. Several people in the federal offices we walked past opened their windows to wave down at us. A huge group of neon yellow-clad students staked out a large space near the Capitol to perform dances and cheers into megaphones. Nearby floated giant clusters of sunshine yellow balloons.
The march was not entirely lacking in seriousness. A prominent group of protesters carried signs with messages such as “I regret my abortion” and “I was conceived in rape.” The Silent No More Campaign, which reaches out to those who have been directly affected by abortion, arranged for a number of women who had had abortions to tell their stories through a microphone. Amid the clever signs and brightly-colored sweatshirts, it was a reminder of the more solemn purpose of the event.
The March for Life is notoriously underreported in the mainstream media. The New York Times included a small mention of the event in the middle of an article about a Republican bill that includes federal restrictions on abortions. A Washington Post article on the event mostly focused on a few small groups advocating for reform in other “life-related” issues such as the death penalty or immigration, who had joined the pro-life demonstrators. Both newspapers referred to “thousands” or “tens of thousands” of protesters in contrast to the hundreds of thousands estimated by event organizers. While there is no official count to verify which number is correct, the discrepancy between the two accounts is striking.
With the pro-life movement largely ignored by the media, it was encouraging to witness the hopefulness, determination and sheer size of the crowd that marched on Washington last week. As we marched with students from universities across the country, I was inspired by their obvious confidence in the message on the signs they carried: “My generation will end abortion.”