Jim is part of the reason I am here, in this car, at 10 PM on a Friday night in January. It is beautiful night, with Orion high in the sky, and crimson Mars glaring down on us. I wish I had my telescope with me, but I do not. I am not out here to look at the sky. We are driving home from the March for Life.
Last year I was going to sign up to go to the March for Life, but by the time I found the information the date was near and I had obligations. This year I decided to be more proactive about it. One thing that helped was finding out Jim was pro-life, and had even been to the March for Life many years ago. Jim is a gentleman I used to work with, back in the days when I was at Bell Labs. He saw my profile pic on facebook (which says "Pro Life") and contacted me.
For a national event, the March for Life is a remarkably well kept secret. Although there is an agenda posted, there's nothing on the site about getting to an upcoming march, or how to join in any of the oter activities on the agenda. Here in NJ, there is no information at all. The USCCB has a "Life Issues" section which has articles about abortion, mostly old, with no information on activities at all. The Diocese of Trenton has an equally useless website when it comes to information.
Apparently the way the diocese reaches out about this issue is a bulletin insert. Of course, bulletin inserts are not published anywhere but in bulletins, and my parish generally chooses not to include information from the bishops in its bulletin. If this sounds like a rant to the bishops to start communicating to the laity, it is.
Luckily for me Jim's parish did publish the bulletin insert, which was the only way I found a bus "near" me to go to the March for Life. I say "near" in quotes because it was still about 30 minutes' drive from me. Apparently none of the parishes close to me were going (what a surprise that the parishes who don't advertise the march don't attend the march).
Even with all this, there was very little information to be had. What should I bring? How should I dress? Do I have to make a sign? I called the beleaguered bus captain, who deferred my questions because he was very busy. I understand that, and he is a volunteer, but who to turn to? I wound up exchanging a dozen or so emails with Jim, who tried to remember what it was like last time.
In the end I relied mostly on my Boy Scout training in how to prepare for a winter hike. In the fullness of time I hope to start a web site for people who want to go to the march next year, to provide the information I did not have available to me.
At any rate, the night before the march I was a mess. I was feeling poorly already. I had a sore throat and was pretty achy. I was nervous about the march, and as I went to bed I started thinking of more and more things I had to remember in the morning. I had a horrible night's sleep, filled with nightmares of being badgered by Senator Menendez, for some reason.
I woke at about 4:45 AM and realized that I had to get up in the next 30 minutes anyway. I showered, dressed, and packed up my bags (yes, I overpacked, but it turned out well that I did) and dragged myself to the car. Since I didn't know the area where the bus was and Jim did I was going to pick him up at his house and carpool to the bus. I was late, and Jim had made a typo in the address he sent me, so there was a bit of stress finding the house.
I did find it, though, and Jim came out with his bag and got in the car. We got to the bus at about 6:30, which was when the bus was supposed to leave. The bus captains, Tony and Jim (no relation), and the bus driver, Bill, were great, and got us all settled. There were still a few people we had to wait for. The bus seated 48 people, but we were only expecting to be carrying 33, so Jim and I each took our own seat across the aisle from each other. That way we could stretch a little.
At about 6:45 we started off. The first stop was a neighboring parish that was sharing the bus with us. We had to wait five minutes for them because they were attending mass before leaving. I wished I belonged to a parish like that, were not only does the parish support its members going, but the priest says a special mass for them.
After collecting the rest of the passengers we started off to the march. I slept for much of the trip down, but I can tell you that the rest station we stopped at on the way down (in Delaware) was packed with buses. In the 20 minutes we were there I counted 64 buses parked, coming in or departing. I each of them held 33 people, that's over 2100 people in that rest stop in that 20 minute interval. I began to get an idea of the scope of the march.
Our bus driver actually dropped us off at the mall at a little before noon, and then went to wait for us at the train station. As we walked form the end where the buses were allowed, towards the Washington Monument, we were offered signs be several groups. We started out with "Students for Life" signs, and eventually traded up to "Men Regret Lost Fatherhood" signs. I had read that Priests for Life and Silent no More had printed up many thousands of signs, and I'd believe it from the number of them I saw.
Sadly, the signs, although beautifully printed on durable corrugated plastic, were so slippery it was nearly impossible to hold them up with gloves. Some people had cut hols in them and threaded twine to hang them. Others had duct taped them over the handle for another sign, but for the most part they wound up on the muddy ground or in the garbage.
Speaking of which, the amount of signage and other trash left behind was enormous. I realize that with over 300,000 people it's impossible to keep the place clean. You can't possibly have enough trash cans, and people couldn't get to them no matter how they tried. Still, I was disappointed.
Jim and I quickly got separated from our bus mates, and decided to stick together so we wouldn't get lost. We got a nice spot on the mall, near the speakers, but far enough away to be out of the main crowds. Despite the weather forecast of "snowy mix", aside from a few flurries there was no precipitation. I chalk that up to the many friends who were praying for me. Thank you all!
As we stood in the crowd, Jim and I listened to the music on the loudspeakers, then the national anthem, opening prayer, and opening address by Nellie Gray. I had heard the speeches were great, and they were. However, each speaker (and there were dozens) wanted the crowd to cheer and applaud, and after a while it became monotonous to do that. So we stood and listened to the speeches and the cheers from the center of the mall, and waitd to be able to march.
We noticed there were only two news trucks in the whole area; FOX and EWTN. It's a shame that the mainstream media, which reports on much smaller protests on issues they support, chooses to totally ignore this protest, which takes up the whole city for a whole day. Even FOX doesn't seem to have a story on their site, although presumably they had some coverage on TV. EWTN broadcast the March in a four hour long segment Friday night. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be on again, and I missed the first hour because I was still on the way home. I did see an article on CNN which featured a pro-abortion protest at the Supreme Court, which I saw no trace of. Despite the media reports to the contrary it is clear that this was a pro-life day!
Suddenly it seemed like the crowd was moving towards the Capitol building. We jumped into the middle of a group, only to discover that the "surge" was about 10 feet. Then we waited and waited. There were a bunch of college-aged kids with a loudspeaker who were leading us in popular songs with pro-life lyrics added. We sang song like Twisted Sister's "We're not Gonna Take it" (with "Right to Life" instead of "Right to Choose" in the lyrics), Queens's "We will 'Birth' You". A group started chanting "Obama, yo mama chose life".
Finally we started moving forward for real, Because Jim and I weren't with a group, we wandered around a bit checking out the various groups that were marching together. We saw states as far away as Iowa, and countries such as Canada, France, and Italy represented. There were a couple of small groups trying to sell "Virginity Rocks" tee shirts, but for the most part few were selling anything.
Some pro-life groups had areas along the march where they were speaking or handing out material, such as Americans United for Life, American Life League, Life News, Life Site News, the Center for Bioethical Reform, Students for Life and many others. Of course, there were a number of religious groups as well. We also saw several "Father Jenkins, free the ND 88" banners, a huge genocide awareness project display, and a gargantuan picture of Jesus, with over a dozen people struggling to carry it.
As we walked towards the capitol building, we passed numerous groups of young people saying the rosary, chanting the divine mercy chaplet, singing "Immaculate Mary" or other hymns. The group was remarkably quiet and orderly. Overall, the atmosphere was of somber respect.
By the time we got behind the Capitol building it was 3:30 and the police were squishing everyone down to one sidewalk, even though the whole street was blocked off and empty. It took us another half hour to get to the congressional offices two blocks away. We had been told it would take about 30 minutes to get through security to get into the congressional offices, and we had to be on the train by 5 to get to the bus by 5:30.
Fortunately we found a quicker way in, and got to visit congressman Chris Smith's pro-life party. There were Krispy Kreme donuts, soda, chips, water, and lots of people. I got to speak to the congressamn for about 30 seconds, and then we had to start for the train station. When we got there we found a line about a block long at the entrance. However, the line was moving well, and we got into the station by 5:05.
We made the bus on time, and there I was glad I overpacked. While we all groaned about our aching feet, I could take off my boot and change into nice soft socks and sneakers! I listened to podcasts, slept, and did crossword puzzles on the way home. I was exhausted. We got back to my car, and Jim asked his question about the day's activities. I had to stop and think for a moment. "How was it?"
It was interesting, and exhausting. In the end, the best analogy I could come up with is it's like voting. My being there may not have mattered a whole lot, but my not being there certainly would have mattered. For that I am grateful I got a chance to go, and hope to go again next year.
Washington Times' Photos
Chris Smith's Speech
My photo set