Washington — Hundreds of thousands of people descended on the nation’s capital Sunday to protest recent U.S. policies regarding women’s reproductive health. Included in the throng of marchers were more than 100 young men and women from the Columbia area.
“I don’t think there’s usually enough men at these kind of events, so it’s really important to show up and support it,” said Scott Beauchamp, who endured a 24-hour bus ride from Columbia to attend Sunday’s march. “I think it’s really a civil rights issue.”
Activists from across the country wore their politics on their sleeves, with marchers displaying T-shirts that read “Don’t Mess with Texas Girls,” “From Washington to Washington D.C.” and “Pro-Choice Tennessean.”
Supporting their beliefs
Young and old carried signs down Pennsylvania Avenue. Some were handmade; others had been distributed by march organizers like the National Organization for Women, National Abortion Rights Action League, Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.
“There are women here who are 75 to 85 years old. That’s the unbelievable thing — these women can get on a bus and come down here to march,” said Toni Grekin, 59, of Deposit, N.Y. “I didn’t think I’d march again, but the timing is too important with the election.”
Grekin wore sandwich boards that on the front read “typical, small-town, soap-opera-watching grandma for choice.” On the back, it said she shared her hometown with Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, a pro-life organization.
People on each side of the abortion debate were motivated by Terry to attend Sunday’s march. Rob Gallo of Southhampton, N.Y., drove seven hours to Washington, D.C., after receiving information in the mail from Terry notifying him of the march.
“This is my first time ever — I don’t know what you call it — anti-demonstration. I’ve been pro-life my whole life, but this is the first time I’ve ever come out here like this,” he said.
Gallo and thousands of other counter-demonstrators stood behind police barricades as the marchers made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Concerns for election
For many in the Columbia delegation, Sunday’s march had special significance because this is a presidential election year.
“It’s exciting and scary at the same time,” said Dan Taylor, a member of the Columbia contingent. “I don’t know what the hell is going to happen to our country, and I’m really afraid for it.”
The protest was as much about politics as policy. Ana Gasteyer, a comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, encouraged young people to vote at the pre-march rally as volunteers walked through the crowd handing out voter registration cards.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., reiterated her support for the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, and defended his record on reproductive rights.
A youthful nature
Rachel Binkley, a senior at MU, brought her 4-year-old son to the march and hopes to pass on her beliefs to younger generations.
“He’s gonna be a man who respects women and their bodies,” she said of her son, Tayus, who watched the march from his stroller while wearing a boy for choice pin.
Organizers made efforts to emphasize the youthful nature of the march. Delegations from Choice-USA, a youth-oriented, pro-choice organization that sponsored the Columbia group, marched at the front.
Teri Goodall-Komar, who lives in Binghamton, N.Y., was impressed with Sunday’s turnout and with how much the marchers knew about reproductive issues. But she said she’s concerned that younger women may be taking for granted rights that they may be in danger of losing.
“And it frightens the hell out of me,” she said.