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MIT Students March in Washington for Choice

By Deborah A. Levinson
Contributing Editor

Washington

How many giant public gatherings can a city host in one weekend?

In the case of Washington this past weekend, there were five: the Hands Around the Capitol rally for D.C. statehood, the Cherry Blossom Festival and celebratory 10K run, exhibition baseball between the Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies at RFK Stadium, and, of course, the 1992 March for Women's Lives and accompanying pro-life protest.

Early estimates of attendance at the March for Women's Lives ranged from 500,000 to 800,000, with the National Organization for Women claiming as many as 1 million. The U.S. Park Police estimate eventually settled at 500,000, qualifying the gathering one of the largest in D.C. history.

When I told The Tech's editor in chief that I would be attending the march, he made me promise not to write about the uplifting spirit of camaraderie one gets from marching in support of a common cause. Now, after having marched, I can say that yes, that spirit exists; but more than anything, marching with 499,999 other people is a surreal experience.

By the time my roommate and I arrived at the Ellipse at 10 on Sunday morning, there were already thousands of people milling around on the grass, loosely clustered under banners like "Catholics for Choice" or "Nerds for Choice" (MIT's contingent). When we left the Ellipse to begin the march, there were so many people that it took us an hour to move the 50 yards to 17th Street, where the march began.

Marchers came in costume, like the Vikings holding spears with oversized, impaled papier-mch sperm, or the woman dressed as a cow carrying the sign "My Womb is Udderly My Own." On the MIT front, Eva D. Regnier '92 held an uplifted coat hanger sporting "Nerds [square root of 16] Choice" and "Nerds 2<+>2<+> Choice." (Our neighbors, liberal arts majors from the University of Pennsylvania, were not amused.) Sherri A. Lee '93 lofted "MIT Witches for Choice," complete with pentagram symbol.

People chanted "Two, four, six, eight. What do you do when Barbara's late?" as we passed the White House. There were Grandmas for Choice, Former Fetuses for Choice, and Combinatorialists for Choice mingling with members of the more conventional Planned Parenthood, NOW, and the National Abortion Rights Action League. If all of that doesn't add up to something surreal, I don't know what does.

The pro-life forces had their share of strangeness, too. While only about 2,000 people showed up to protest abortion, those who did managed to incorporate bullhorns, life-size paintings of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, and protesters dressed as Death, wearing white makeup and holding scythes with skewered plastic babies.

For whatever reasons, religious or personal, the abortion issue seems to draw out the most zealous protesters from both sides. Pro-lifers delivered sermons on fornication and knelt along 14th Street to pray for the pro-choicers. On the pro-choice side, I heard a woman behind me screaming unprintable insults at the Death figures stationed in Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House.

I can't say what went on at the pro-life demonstration near the Capitol, but I can attest to the fact that there were police stationed around the small pockets of pro-lifers along the march route, ostensibly to protect them from the pro-choicers.

I don't like thinking that any group with which I affiliate myself should force others to seek police protection. By the same token, I don't like the idea that if I were a pro-choice advocate attending a pro-life march, I would need those same police to guard me.

I can understand why the police were necessary, though. Tempers are running very high in pro-choice camps. Fueled by the Mike Tyson, William Kennedy Smith, and Clarence Thomas controversies, women are angry. It's not that women haven't previously been aware of our second-class status; it's that the point has been driven home so forcefully in the past year. Women at the march were furious with a political administration that would condone a U.S. Senate composed almost exclusively of males to callously dismiss a woman who dared to charge a Supreme Court nominee with sexual harassment, and they were fed up with a society that would suggest that a young woman was partially responsible for her rape because she should have known that Mike Tyson was not a nice guy.

At the pre-march rally, Dianne Feinstein, Geraldine Ferraro, and other politicians spoke vehemently in favor of the pending Freedom of Choice Act, which would take the abortion decision out of the hands of states, and the need for women to take political action, especially in a election year.

Given that, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, 47 percent of the marchers were between the ages of 18-29 -- many of whom probably will be first-time voters this election -- this demonstration of political action at work is the most important element of the march. And in the end, political awareness is all that really counts.