They’re armed with sleeping bags, ear plugs, comfortable shoes and “fabulous, low-maintenance outfits.” But they’re mentally armed as well for dealing with counter-demonstrators, a march crowd as large as 1 million and for spending every waking moment of the three days with thousands of other protesters.
A Columbia group composed of mostly MU students will join about 200 others from Kansas to participate in a women’s rights march on Saturday.
March in response to some Bush administration policies
According to the march Web site, the event is in part a response to many issues, including the Bush administration’s support of abstinence-only education and including marriage incentives in welfare legislation, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed last year and the “Global Gag Rule,” a federal rule that denies U.S. funding to non-U.S. family planning organizations that perform abortions or provide abortion referrals.
Angie Vo, an MU junior, said she became interested in women’s issues after taking a women’s studies class to fulfill a requirement for her degree. “The course really opened my eyes to a world of inequality that existed not only for me, but for many,” she said.
That experience led her to volunteer at the Women’s Center, which exposed her to other opportunities for activism. In November, Beth Pickens, adviser to the MU Feminist Student Union, spoke to her about attending a march in Washington, D.C., to save women’s lives, Vo said. The next month, Vo organized and directed a fashion show to raise money to send a student group to the march.
“And from then on, my priorities in life have changed, hopefully for the better,” she said.
Friday evening, Vo and at least 114 other Columbia-area activists will board a bus headed to Washington, D.C., for the March for Women’s Lives; the seven-bus Missouri-Kansas delegation of mostly students is the largest for Choice USA, a national organization for young people in favor of abortion rights.
Organizers expect hundreds of thousands
Seven national activist groups, including the National Organization of Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League — Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, organized the demonstration in support of women’s reproductive rights. Organizers expect hundreds of thousands of people from more than 1,300 organizations to join the march to the White House and Capitol Hill.
Choice USA’s youth contingency will be leading the march, and the Missouri-Kansas group will be up front because its delegation is the biggest — and still growing.
“We have a lot of last-minute people,” Pickens said. “About 30 have contacted me but are not committed. I expect a lot of them will call and sign up this week .”
When Feminist Student Union members began talking about attending the march last summer, the cost of renting one bus was about $7,000, meaning the event would probably be prohibitively expensive for most students. After being contacted by a regional coordinator for Choice USA, groups from MU and KU formed a partnership that helped to reduce the price per marcher.
Bake sales, fashion show held to raise funds
The MU group further lowered the price by holding eight fund-raisers, in which it raised almost $8,000. Those fund-raisers included bake sales, donation nights at local restaurants, a cocktail party and a fashion show. “I’m willing to wager that the fact that we brought it down to $25 is pretty unusual,” Pickens said.
During the last march in the early 1990s, most of this weekend’s marchers were preteens. “I think for the majority of people, this is their first major display in the interest of social justice,” Pickens said. “This is the first time they can make a connection between their personal beliefs and public action.”
This is the first event of this size for Vo. “This is actually my first political demonstration, and of course, it is as big as they come. But really, it’s the culmination of about a two-year empowering process that I’ve taken to become aware of feminism, believe in it, and work for positive change using these beliefs.”