The Biggest March You Probably Never Heard About

WomensMarchCapitol_April2004Ten years ago, my partner, Mike, and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the largest march in American history.

But you probably never even heard about it.

More than 1 million women and men marched on the Capitol in support of women’s reproductive rights April 25, 2004. I wanted to share the story I published back then in “Women’s Press” and several of Mike’s photos.

While reading it, ask yourself, What’s changed in 10 years?

My Body, My Choice, My March

WomensMarchThea_April2004Can we really call ourselves a democracy if our country denies half its population the freedom to pursue their own dreams?

I don’t think so. That’s why my partner, Mike, and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the March for Women’s Lives April 25, 2004. We joined 1.15 million people in the largest political demonstration in the history of the United States. We marched to support access to sex education, reproductive health care, and contraception—basic rights a woman needs to determine her own destiny.

On the morning of the March, we gathered at the west end of the National Mall. I stared across the sea of faces in disbelief. All these amazing people, some who spent the whole night on a bus, or saved up a month’s earnings, to be here. Onstage, celebrity after celebrity spoke, from Carole King to Hillary Clinton, from Ashley Judd to Lynda Carter, from Ted Turner to Gloria Steinem. We cheered. We applauded. By the time we lined up to begin the March, we were ready.

WomensMarchSigns_April2004We poured into the street, and since there were so many of us, we inched our way along the route. I scanned the crowd around me, laughing at people’s clever homemade signs, such as My Vagina Votes and If men could get pregnant, abortions would be available at Wal-Mart. I got caught up in chanting with the people around me, and enthusiastically screamed, “THIS is what democracy looks like!”

A bit later, we encountered the first of about a thousand pro-life protesters who sporadically lined the sidewalks on either side of us. We started in another chant—“Not the church! Not the state! Women will decide their fate!” Just as we rounded the corner I saw a billboard-sized photo of bloody fetuses. A group of pro-life men paced in front of the photos while yelling “baby killers!” at us.

MarchPeople&SignsBut then the most amazing thing happened. Throngs of young marchers spontaneously ran toward the edges of the street. They turned to face us, their backs to the pro-lifers, and held up their pro-choice signs in front of the fetus photos to block them from our view. They chanted “Pro-life, that’s a lie! You don’t care if women die!” over and over to drown out the pro-life insults.

Almost two hours later we reached the end of the March. We filled the entire Mall from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. We faced another stage and listened to more inspiring speakers. At one point, an older woman named June Barrett walked onstage. Ten years ago she and her husband volunteered at a family planning clinic, escorting the clinic’s physician safely to work each day. That is, until a pro-lifer shot and killed the doctor and June’s husband, and left her for dead. Still a pro-choice activist, June attended the March in honor of her husband.

Not much later a group of young medical students made their way through the crowd. They wore white lab coats and carried signs that read, We Are Tomorrow’s Abortion Providers. Like June Barrett and her husband, these “Medical Students for Choice” would be risking their own lives because of their commitment to women’s health care. I cried as they walked by.

MarchMonument&SignPeople of all ages and colors and religions and political beliefs marched that day. Catholics and Jews. Republicans and Democrats. Men and women. Families. Grandmothers and teenagers. Gays and lesbians. Engineers and immigrants. College students and homeless people.

That Sunday, people who might seem to have nothing in common stood side by side, sang and chanted, waved signs, and smiled at one another. Their willingness to stand up for a woman’s right to choose filled me with hope. Perhaps democracy is possible after all.

 10 Years Later

Women’s health and autonomy should not be religious issues. They are — plain and simple — issues of civil rights.

Thea Deley is a feminist/humanist writer and performer based in western Colorado.

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