Women's voices from across the nation: 'We will not go back'

WASHINGTON – More than 1 million defenders of women’s reproductive rights marched past the White House Sunday April 25 chanting, “We won’t go back,” and “Hey, Bush, your time is up!”

They poured into the nation’s capital in thousands of buses, cars, trains, and airplanes from every state, the District of Columbia and from 66 nations around the world. One couple arrived in a flame red Lamborghini sports car plastered with signs that read, “Republicans for Choice.” The Reproductive Freedom Train brought 700 aboard a reserved Amtrak train from New York City. More than 1,000 flew on chartered planes from Seattle.

The “March for Women’s Lives” flowed for more than five hours from the assembly area on the Mall, past the White House, along Pennsylvania Avenue and then returned to the mall where it formed a mile-long sea of humanity that reached from near the steps of the U.S. Capitol to the base of the Washington Monument.

It was a cross-section of America, hundreds of thousands of men and women, many in cherry-blossom pink, the chosen color of the women’s movement for world peace and equality. The crowd was African American, Latino, Asian American, American Indian and white. It was a majority youth, with as many as 100,000 college and university students – both men and women – who marched behind their campus banners.

The main sponsoring organizations, National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood, all marched with enormous contingents of women and men. The National Black Women’s Health Project, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health also marched. The Coalition of Labor Union Women, and unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO had contingents, as did the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The mood was “anybody but Bush,” and many thousands wore “John Kerry for President” lapel stickers.

Lori Santilli, a clinic assistant for Planned Parenthood in Bridgeport, Conn., told the World this was her first protest march. “It’s a little overwhelming to see so many people supporting a cause. It’s inspiring.”

Beside her were her co-workers, Alicia Caban and Evelyn Cuevas. “It will be tough for young women if they lose that freedom of choice, especially women in poverty,” Caban said. “Affluent women will find a way. Bush is taking us backward. We encourage our clients to register and vote. It is so uplifting to see so many people both men and women, old and young standing up for this basic human right.”

Leslie Dinapoli, an attorney from Philadelphia, marched with a sign that read, “Pregnant by Choice.” She told the World, “I’m 33 weeks pregnant. It’s the choice aspect I want to emphasize. I was emotionally, physically, financially, and relationship-wise ready to have a baby. It is a slippery slope that abortion opponents won’t take the health and welfare of the woman into account, not even if she is going to die.”

Magda DeJesus was leading a contingent of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees District Council 37 in New York City. She is the president of AFSCME Local 1219, a vice president of the DC 37 Executive Board as well as the chairperson of its Women’s Committee.

“The Bush administration is trying to take us backward, trying to take away all our rights,” she told the World. “We don’t have a strong enough voice in the workplace. Women don’t have equal pay. They are cutting our health plan. Women can’t go out and find jobs because they lack childcare. Congress needs to put more money into these programs but they are cutting them. We need new faces up there on Capitol Hill, more diversity. We have 121,000 active members in New York City and many thousands more AFSCME retirees. We have a voice and we have a vote and we’re going to use them to get Bush out.”

Charlotte and Delmar Siverling, retired dairy farmers from Cadott, Wis., traveled 17 hours on one of the five buses from Madison filled with University of Wisconsin students. “I’ve been an outspoken activist for 30 years,” she told the World. “I write a lot of letters to the editor of our local newspapers. I remember when we couldn’t even get birth control. Some of these extremists consider the birth control pill is the same as an abortion. I think a lot of people are active in the effort to defeat Bush. If we can get the votes counted in Florida this time, he can be defeated.”

Ariella Zemach-Bersin, a sophomore sociology major at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, came with three busloads of students from her campus. “I’m here marching for myself and for my mother and sister who couldn’t be here,” she said. “With the power that the right wing has over our government right now, there is a real danger that they could overturn Roe v. Wade and take away our right to end an unwanted pregnancy. It is important that we stand up to defend the rights we already have. This is really an empowering experience.” She said she votes by absentee ballot from her home in Pennsylvania. “But we have tables set up on campus registering people to vote and educating them on the importance of voting next November. My hope is that we get Bush out next November.”

Celia Schorr, a NARAL activist in Seattle, told the World she is one of 1,000 who traveled to the march from the Pacific Northwest. “All Americans should be terrified by what this administration is doing,” she said.

“This election is going to be ugly, horribly negative.” The aim, she said, is to turn people off so they don’t vote. “A low voter turnout benefits the Republicans,” she said. “It’s up to the Kerry campaign to convince the people that a vote for Kerry will make a difference. They have not yet made the case for Kerry.”

Kevin Poole drove up with his girlfriend from Durham, N.C. “It just gives me chills to see how many people are here today,” he said. “I came to the rally against the war in Iraq last year, but this one is even bigger than that. This is a huge turning point. But the real turning point will come in November if we get George W. Bush out and get a pro-choice Democrat into office.” click here for Spanish text