On the March in Washington

Taking Note

"WE'RE GOING TO fight for your rights," Rick said.

I was at the Wellesley College student grill with my friend Rick, waiting for the bus to take us to the "March for Women's Lives." Many of the women at the grill weren't going on the march. Too much homework. They seemed slightly miffed that two Harvard guys were displaying any sort of social conscience.

Rick and I went outside to wait. I was suprised at the atmosphere. It was a cross between a high school field trip and a rock concert. To me, fun and abortion seemed to be mutually exclusive terms. You don't go on a political march to have fun. When, people asked if I was having fun, I'd answer, "I'm here to march." Sorry to rain on your parade.

A cheer went up as the bus pulled out into the night. The bus captains took roll call. When they called out my name, I could almost hear women on the bus think "man," drawing out the "a" to make it a four letter word. After roll call people took out their books or their Walkpersons and settled in for the long ride to Washington.

A friend, Mary, passed around some examples of sexist advertisements cut out of magazines, showing women being hung, women in pain, breasts airbrushed into icecubes in alcohol ads. Others circulated petitions asking us to write our congresspeople. A girl saw me scribbling in a notebook. "Reporter," she said and came over to my seat. She was covered in buttons, and showed me a few. One said, "Pro-choice and I Organize." You have to organize to be feared, she explained.

The bus conversations slowly turned to abortion. There was a general consensus among the women on the bus: a woman must have a choice. It's her body, after all. It's her life.

We arrived in Washington at 6:30a.m. Women poured off the bus. Some women had a cigarette and a Perrier for breakfast. The marchers began to gather in a field between the Washington monument and the Capitol building. Various college banners were laid out in roughly alphabetical order. Directors, clothed in white to symbolize women's sufferage, scurried around to organize the marchers.

A director asked Rick and me, "Do you want to carry the lead banner?" What do you say when someone asks you to lead a parade of 125,000 people? You say yes yes yes. She tells you to get on some white clothes and the official gold sash and to come up to the front. You ask a woman for a pin to fasten your official gold sash. The woman asks who sent you here. "Some girl," you answer. "First of all there are no girls here," she says, "only women." She doesn't give you a pin.

THE MARCH begins. You are up front, with about 50 snapping cameras in your face. Bella Abzug is right behind you. Gloria Steinhem too. You join a chant: "We are Pro-choice," to the rhythm of "We are Penn State." Hundreds of people line the streets, clapping and cheering; a few look on, shaking their heads. An old woman stares right at you, as if in anger. Then she smiles, and raises her fists like Muhammud Ali. You smile back, and raise your fist, nearly dropping your end of the banner.

The march winds past the White House--symbol of oppression. The marchers begin to sing something about Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell and garbage heaps in back alleys. Some women slam down red-painted coat hangers on the pavement. There is a huge pile of twisted wire in front of the White House.

The march goes on and on, up to the Capitol. They are singing "We Shall Overcome." Up the steps of the Senate building, carrying the banner, screaming at the top of their lungs, raising their fists. The march is over and the march hasn't begun. Though the front of the march has reached the end, there are still three miles of people, 15 abreast, on the Washington streets.

The speeches begin.

Gloria Steinhem, editor of Ms. magazine speaks. Then Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization of Women, says, "The silent majority will be silent no more. You cannot play with women's lives any longer...you cannot sacrifice women on the altar of self-righteousness."

Gaye Williams, former president of Harvard's Black Students Association, speaks. She cites that Black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth than six years ago, when Reagan took office. Black children are twice as likely to die in their first year of life than six years ago, when Reagan took office.

THE REAGAN Administration has taken the moral high ground on the issue of abortion. Not coming out to condemn abortion clinic bombings. Yet there is a hypocrisy inherent in a government that can call for $100 million to finance killing in Nicaragua and yet balk against sending $100 to terminate a rapist-induced pregnancy in New York City.

There's a war of liberation going on in the inner cities. The victims are fathers who can't find work and can't care, mothers who are overworked and can't care enough. The weapons are poverty, the slashing of federal funds, ignorance, the lack of education and contraception.

Reagan has tried to stop the passage of the 1986 Civil Rights Restoration Act by attaching an anti-abortion amendment. This act would prohibit the federal funding of institutions that discriminate on the basis of race, sex or disability. The Reagan amendment would replace these broken chains with new ones. Until women are no longer trapped in the vicious circle of poverty by their pregnancies, abortions will continue. The marches will continue. And life will lose a little of what makes it sacred.

We must acknowledge that what counts is not life, but living. When a woman's life, and what makes her life worth living is at stake, she must have a choice of action. You cannot play with women's lives any longer, said Eleanor Smeal, stop playing with our lives.