"There are just so many people." Tawana Evans was overwhelmed by the estimated 1 million turnout for the April 25 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. Travelling from Houston with a Planned Parenthood contingent of more than 350, Tawana said that it was the first time she had attended a protest.
Hundreds of thousands of women and men like Tawana traveled from every part of the country to send the message to George W. Bush that we won’t go back to the days of the back alleys. They carried signs that read "U.S. out of my uterus," "It’s your choice, not theirs," and "No trespassing: My body is not public property."
One contingent of health care workers and medical students numbering around 400--all dressed in hospital coats and scrubs--proudly carried signs that read, "We are tomorrow’s abortion providers." "I’m out here in support of reproductive rights because I think the right to control one’s reproduction is a fundamental human right," said Robert Roose, a medical student at George Washington University.
Adrian Spatzer traveled from Simmons College in Boston with 100 others. She carried a sign that read, "Gay marriage is a civil right." "The connection is that it’s about choice--the right to have a choice," she told Socialist Worker. "Choice is on a broader spectrum than just abortion. It’s the right to choose who I want to love, the right to choose who I want to marry, the right to choose to be a parent, or the right to choose to have an abortion if I want to."
The turnout for the march was impressive -- and showed the depth of disgust that so many people feel about the policies of the Bush administration. But unfortunately, march organizers explicitly refused to connect the dots between the fight for abortion rights and other issues --like the war in Iraq or the fight for gay marriage.
In fact, their overwhelming message wasn’t even that we need to build a new grassroots fight for abortion rights. Their theme -- repeated over and over from the stage, plastered on thousands of placards and handed out at voter registration booths -- was that the only hope for keeping abortion legal is to elect John Kerry.
In a speech before the march kicked off, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) told the crowd that the last time abortion rights supporters rallied in Washington in 1992, the nation elected her husband to the presidency--and abortion was saved. "We didn't have to march for 12 long years," Clinton had the gall to claim, "because we had a government that respected the rights of women."
But more restrictions on abortion rights were put into effect during the eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency than during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. combined. The administration "that respected the rights of women" didn’t lift a finger while the anti-choice bigots chipped away at abortion rights.
Another representative of the Clinton White House had a place of pride behind the lead banner in the two-mile march: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "We must be part of a global network," Albright later said in a speech, "striving to save women’s lives, raise healthy children, strengthen families, build communities and rebut those who seek to impose their own values and choices on the world."
Incredible! This is the same Madeleine Albright who defended U.S. and United Nations economic sanctions and military attacks on Iraq that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children, ripped families apart and tore down communities across the country.
That a war criminal--notorious for once telling a reporter that the price of half a million dead Iraqi children was "worth it" as far as the U.S. government was concerned--could be allowed to speak at a march for "women’s lives" is disgusting. But it is completely in keeping with the politics of the mainstream liberal groups that organized April 25.
They turned the March for Women’s Lives into a pep rally for Democrats. Not a single speaker voiced any criticism of the Democrats for caving to the right on abortion--or even mentioned the dozens of Democrats in Congress who gave George Bush his margin of victory on last year’s banning of a late-term abortion procedure misnamed "partial-birth abortion" by the anti-choice fanatics. And in spite of the spirit of the demonstration, one "celebrity" after another adopted the apologetic tone set by Democrats like Bill Clinton, who famously declared that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare."
With the Bush administration and its right-wing supporters escalating their attack, there is a crying need for rebuilding a confident movement to defend abortion rights. But April 25 was a wasted opportunity to get started.
Instead, the more than 1 million people who turned out to show their support for abortion rights were told that "the only way we're going to be able to avoid having to march again and again and again is to elect John Kerry president," as Hillary Rodham Clinton put it.
This hope is misplaced. Abortion rights weren’t won in 1973 because there was a Democrat in the White House or a Supreme Court full of liberals. They were won because there was a movement in the streets demanding our rights.
Regaining the ground lost over the past 30 years will mean focusing on organizing that kind of movement--not on pulling a lever in November.
Nicole Colson writes for Socialist Worker. This article first appeared on the SW website (http://socialistworker.org/).
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