Rounding out my coverage of the 2012 March for Life, I’ve added photos (taken by my companion at the March, Rob, father of Ben and Theo in the photo to the right). Rob has a good eye and captured some nice images; enjoy them. (Also, shout-out to my home-office blogging assistant Suz for managing my texts from the field, doing some necessary clean-up and fact-checking, and handling the actual posting.)
In a strange echo of John Boehner’s comments about the defense of life and the defense of liberty, Rep. Rand Paul was prevented from speaking at the rally—when he was detained by TSA agents after refusing an enhanced pat-down and missed his flight as a result. While TSA security-theater invasion of privacy is small beer in comparison with abortion, there is a connection: The right to life is the foundation of all other rights, and a government that denies the dignity of human life at any stage need not scruple at the dignity of travelers in airports. In the pragmatism of the culture of death, citizens are property of our ruling classes, and they will do with us as they wish. Naturally, the White House is supporting the TSA.
Meanwhile, how did the media do this year reporting on the march? Michelle Malkin wrote before the March about the media’s routine downplaying of the event, and Mary Chastain of Big Journalism says that televised coverage was limited to EWTN and CSPAN-2. I saw a FOX News van, but saw nothing of the big networks, CNN and so forth.
Both the New York Times and the Washington Post completely ignored the March in their print editions—the Times for the fifth year in a row. The WaPo did online coverage, including offering the strange metric “more than 17,000 youths” participated in March for Life events. NYTimes.com has not covered the 2012 March that I can find, except incidentally.
Perhaps surprisingly, the best mainstream media coverage I could find was MSNBC.com, which did not one but two remarkable pieces before and after the March. The earlier piece notes that “more than 100,000” were expected to attend, and calls the March “the largest and longest-running peaceful human rights demonstration for the unborn.” Get that: MSNBC acknowledges the March for Life as a “human rights demonstration.”
The latter piece acknowledges “tens of thousands” present, even adding that the March for Life is “consistently one of the largest protests of the year in Washington, although weather likely kept this year’s numbers down a bit.” Though not without some editorial slanting, the overall coverage is pretty good.
The Washington Times, which in the past has acknowledged that the event consistently draws 250,000 or more, referred vaguely to “thousands” in its lede, though it also acknowledged that National Park Service officials stated that the event historically draws crowds exceeding the event’s permit for 50,000 participants.
Oh, and the L.A. Times took the easy way out, declining to suggest any order of magnitude to the crowd: “Protesters converged under chilly gray skies for the annual march on the National Mall, which coincides with the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion.” Can’t argue with that, can you?
Finally, hat tip to the blog Wynkin, Blynken and Nod for noticing a despicable photo gallery from CBS has actually surpasses that CNN.com coverage from two years ago for the most horrendous misreportage of the March for Life: Not only does the caption deploy the “Activists on both sides of the abortion issue” dodge, but all the photos are of the pro-choice counter-demonstrators. Not one photo of the March for Life or any pro-life demonstrators or signs.
Monday morning, 5:30am. 39 years after Roe v. Wade, the 39th annual March for Life is slated to make its way up Constitution Avenue later today. This will be my fifth year attending the March, and my third year live-blogging via iPhone. I’m about to get in my van with my father and my older kids and hit the road, picking up friends along the way.
Each year, always on a weekday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators (of various faiths, and of none) converge on Washington, DC to protest the gravest moral evil of our times, a horror that ranks with the Holocaust and slavery in the annals of man’s inhumanity to man.
The March for Life is much more than a one-day event. It’s a multi-day rally that includes rallies, discussion panels, film screenings, Masses, and a reception and dinner after the March. Many demonstrators make a point of stopping at Capitol Hill to see their representatives.
Each year, the mainstream media ignores, downplays and spins the event. In particular, media reports seem to take pains to hide the sheer numbers of the participants.
Granted, crowd estimates are always contentious and subject to spin in both directions, but the 2009 Washington Times report that the March for Life consistently draws crowds of 250,000 is credible, and attendance for more recent rallies has been estimated even higher—as high as 400,000 for 2011.
Even for skeptics doubting these numbers, the media deflation of the rally numbers is staggering. Vague media references to mere “thousands” of demonstrators—not even “tens of thousands,” let alone “hundreds of thousands”—have appeared in numerous outlets over the years, including New York Times (2007, 2004), the Washington Post, USA Today and CNN.com’s Religion Blog. That’s when they report on the March at all.
Occasionally, a slightly franker order of magnitude slips through: “tens of thousands” was allowed by the Washington Post in 2010, USA Today in 2008 and the New York Times in 2006. Other times, no order of magnitude is mentioned at all, leaving readers unclear whether the event drew participants in double digits, three or more, etc. (e.g., AP).
Photo coverage is equally selective. Carefully chosen camera angles are used to depict only a few demonstrators at a time—or even, in the case of that CNN.com Religion Blog story, a single protester praying in front of the Supreme Court building. Seldom does a major media outlet offer a shot depicting the vast throng of marchers flooding Constitution Avenue.
The story began with the almost Orwellian sentence “Abortion rights supporters and opponents hit the streets of the nation’s capital Friday…”—not only suggesting a picture of two roughly comparable, opposed rallies, as opposed to one massive event with a handful of counter-demonstrators, but actually citing the pro-choice demonstrators first.
Accompanying the story was a two-photo slideshow leading with a photo of a few pro-choice demonstrators with “Keep Abortion Legal” signs. Only if you click to the second photo do you see a number of pro-life demonstrators (photographed, of course, from an angle that gives no hint of the size of the rally).
As an idea of the magnitude of the March, here’s a time-lapse video compressing over 90 minutes to about 1 minute:
Updates from the March to come.
* * *
8:30am. We’re on I-95 with about an hour to go. There’s snow on the ground, but it’s a balmy 36 degrees outside—much warmer than in recent years. It’s also raining. We’ve had a lot of mist and fog on the trip. At times visibility has been low.
I’m in an 8-seat van with two of my older kids and some friends from church. An hour ago or so we were praying a rosary and talked to Brian Patrick on the Son Rise Morning Show (Sacred Heart Radio), on which I do a weekly Friday spot.
9:15am. Spotted a VA “Choose Life” license plate. The car we’re driving has NJ “Choose Life” tags.
9:35. Greenbelt Metro Station. The station is packed—fuller than I remember it from previous years, even though we’re earlier than usual.
On the Metro. We arrived just ahead of an enormous busload of students wearing Maine gear—they came a lot further than we did! We’re already getting compliments on our signs from random passers-by—not people going to the March.
I’ll report back from the March once we arrive.
* * *
10:20am. At Gallery Place Metro station. The train has just been invaded by an enormous group with yellow balloons reading “LIFE.” The group is singing the chorus of “Amen,” like Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. When I ask where they’re from, the answer is a bit confusing: Apparently the balloon idea is from Chicago, but this particular group is from Connecticut. “We’ll be joining the rest of the group from Chicago,” he sort of explains.
11am. At the rally. So far a small crowd—the rally this year is scheduled to begin at noon, so presumably throngs are arriving later than usual.
The crowd is small—but raucous. An enthusiastic group with guitars, drums and a sort of windwood keyboard are singing “Pro-life!” at the top of their lungs. They’re the Neocatechumenal Way, and they couldn’t be more effusive.
It’s raining, and the rain is picking up. The grounds are a muddy, slick mess—and it’s only going to get worse as the crowd grows. I can see the Washington Monument, but its top is hidden in mist.
Are they playing “Car Wash” over the loudspeakers? Is that meant to be ironic? Okay, now there’s a pop group from Liberty University: Sounds of Liberty. That’s more appropriate.
I follow the signs for EWTN, where I know my friend Damon Owens is covering the march. Every year I look for Damon, but this year for the first time I find him—or rather his four oldest girls, who greet me with surprised smiles. Damon himself, I’m told, is in the midst of an interview. I tell them I’ll bring Sarah by to see them.
Some big banners in evidence: “Mercer County Right to Life” from Ohio. “Ave Maria University Students For Life.” “Overturn Roe v. Wade: Pass a Life at Conception Act.” Lots of smaller signs too, of course—including a bunch of signs from Maine. Understandably, they’re not scared of the weather.
Okay, we met up with Damon. He tells me that the rally schedule has been thrown into flux with the planned appearance of John Boehner.
* * *
The rain has let up for the moment, at least. The crowd is growing, but still quite small so far compared to previous years—Rob and estimate low thousands. Still, the rally itself hasn’t begun.
Al-Jazeera English is here doing interviews. My friend Rob and I both talk to them. Rob tells them that the right to life is the first and foundational human right, upon which all other rights depend.
Once again, our homemade signs are getting a lot of admiration and attention. We’ve been asked for lots of pictures.
11:55. Sounds of Liberty sings the National Anthem.
The opening prayer is an ecumenical venture, offered by Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America in union with other Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops present on the stage, including Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “We are of one heart and one purpose,” Metropolitan Jonah says.
Offering a beautiful opening prayer, Met. Jonah leads us in a sort of responsive litany in which the crowd responds, “Lord, have mercy” as he weaves together biblical and theological references. Citing Jeremiah, he affirms that God knows each of us from our mother’s womb: he goes on to invoke the lament of Rachel weeping for her children and Jesus telling the disciples that they must accept the kingdom like little children.
Nellie Gray, founder of the March, is now speaking. Calling abortion a crime against humanity, she denounces Roe v Wade as not the law of the land, but an immoral precept promoted as law. Enunciating her chosen theme for the march, she urges pro-lifers to reject incremental strategies and accept no compromises. Personally, I think incremental progress is better than no progress at all, but I agree we can be satisfied with nothing less than full protection of law for all human beings from conception to natural death.
Suddenly there is a large crowd. We are surrounded on all sides, and the signs go back as far as I can see. I can no longer make a stab at estimating the size of the crowd.
* * *
Now John Boehner is here.
He thanks us for braving the elements, and says that he represents a bipartisan pro-life majority that recognizes that the majority of Americans are against funding abortion with tax dollars.
Boehner tells us that he’s from a big family—that he has 11 brothers and sisters! “I’m sure it wasn’t easy for our mother to have 12 of us,” he says, “but I’m glad we’re all here.” He explains that he learned his pro-life convictions early, citing Jesus teaching regarding “the least of these.” Being pro-life, he says, isn’t just a belief: “It’s who I am.”
“When we affirm our commitment to life,” Boehner continues, “we affirm our commitment to liberty and freedom. When our commitment to life is diminished freedom is diminished.” Wrapping up his comments, he says, “God go with all of you today, and God bless America.”
Next up is Rep. Chris Smith of my state of New Jersey and co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Smith touts the House’s overwhelming support for to defunding Planned Parenthood. “Now we need to retake the Senate.”
Rhetorically taking on President Obama, Smith shouts, “Mr. president, killing babies is not an American value! Mr. president, stop violating conscience rights! Mr. president, stop exporting abortion!”
Smith also warns that a second Obama term would be far worse than the first, and emphasizes the importance of uniting behind a candidate to defeat Obama.
Now speaking is Eric Cantor, House Majority leader and currently, I learn, the only Jewish Republican currently in congress. Like others, Cantor affirms the House’s commitment to conscience rights.
Currently speaking is Tom Price of Georgia, a physician. “Life is so very very basic, so very very precious. And it’s also so very very threatened.” Price goes on to indict popular culture and education for diminishing the value of life.
Steve king of Iowa tells us, “You fill this mall as far as the eye can see”—and on that stage he can see further than I can. He also touts the 40-something states that have passed incremental restrictions on abortion.
Todd Akin of Missouri says this is his 12th annual pro-life march, but will be his last march as a Senator—because he hopes to oust Missouri’s pro choice governor and join the March next year as a governor.
Raining hard again.
* * *
Along with the senators and representatives are speakers representing abortion alternatives and healing groups. The co-founders of Silent No More are here, along with Chris Bell of Good Counsel Homes and others representing groups in Arizona, St Louis and Ohio, among others.
There are more representatives, from more states than I can keep track of: Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Iowa, Virginia, and Louisiana—the latter of which is the most pro-life state in the union, we’re told by a Louisiana representative who challenges the other states to “take us down.”
They continue to speak about threats to conscience rights under the Obama administration as well as the war against abortion itself. We are thanked for coming out in spite of the cold and the rain. “I wish Roe v Wade had been on May 22 instead of January 22,” cracks a Texas rep who strangely introduces himself as “95 percent pro-life.”
Apparently there is a huge contingent here from Kansas; a pair of Kansas representatives gets a huge cheer of welcome.
A lone protestor is carrying a very tall sign attacking the Catholic Church for not speaking out against contraception. He’s being obnoxious and disruptive. I try to talk to him—tell him that I’m Catholic and that I agree with him about contraception. “No you don’t!” he shouts angrily at me. The conversation goes downhill from there. I try to argue that this isn’t the time and place for that discussion, but he just keeps shouting. I let him go his way.
* * *
Luke Robertson, a fiery African-American pastor, is giving closing remarks before the March. He blasts President Obama for neglecting the devastation of the black community from abortion, calling it a genocide. “Where is the voice of President Obama?” he thunders. “Where is the voice of Jesse Jackson? Where is the voice of the NAACP? Where’s the voice of the Black Congressional Caucus?” Recalling Jackson’s former pro-life stance, he asks pointedly if he was corrupted by planned parenthood dollars, calling it “blood money”.
I don’t think Rabbis for Life spoke this year. Nor was there a roll call of Catholic bishops, as I remember from two years ago. (Last year I arrived late, so I might have missed it.) There was a roll call of the bishops at the mass that was held at the armory.
Now Robertson is giving the closing prayer—but from here it looks as if the march may be sort of starting unofficially. At least, there’s a huge surge of marchers and banners in the direction of the march route.
Somewhere at the front of the line, I think, is Christendom College, which is leading the march this year. Every year they cancel classes and bus students to the march. My oldest daughter Sarah is going to Christendom in the fall, so I expect I’ll be meeting her here next year.
The march is underway. We’re at Madison Drive & 7th, moving very slowly if at all. Directly in front of me are a half dozen or so papal flags flying alongside flags for the Diocese of Trenton. Far ahead I see a familiar banner: “Lutherans for Life”.
To my left is a big banner for the Diocese of Salina, Kansas. A number of people are carrying a powerful sign I haven’t seen before: a fetus with a crown of thorns bearing the words “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And there’s something I’ve never seen at a pro-life march: a giant American flag with an equally huge Marine Corp flag beneath it.
We’ve reached Constitution. We were strategically positioned to get moving pretty quickly. Even so, a policeman tells me the crowd has been going steadily by for about an hour—and to my left I hear a priest on a cellphone talking to marchers who are still stuck back on the Mall. When I ask police officers how the crowd compare to last year, the universal answer is “More than last year.”
To my right is a raucous Hispanic group from the diocese of Raleigh, alternately chanting in Spanish and shouting “We are pro-life!”
The rain has let up, and now that we’re moving it’s not too cold.
We’re now in the best place on constitution to evaluate the whole crowd. I can see it thronging up the hill ahead of me as far as I can see behind me it’s the same thing.
I see young women and young men, children of all ages, priests young and old. I see blacks and whites, Latinos. To my right is an older Asian man wearing a headband I would have killed for in college. There was even a woman on crutches.
Next to me are a group of young girls spontaneously singing a song about praising God “right where we are.” They shift to “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” but one of them ad libs “that babies will be born.” Then I hear a quartet of young men singing their high school anthem in strong four-part harmony. Now there’s a raucous chant behind me with young men and young women are alternating lines: “We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how ‘bout you?”
You just can’t believe the size and the good spirits of the crowd that comes out here every January, in spite of snow and rain and cold.
I see the diocese of Grand Rapids, MI—a Protestant Mecca for my Dutch Reformed family. It’s nice to see Grand Rapids Catholics here today.
2:45pm. Hey, there’s my alma mater, St Charles Borreomeo Seminary from Wynnewood, Pa! They tell me it’s their first year here representing the religious studies program (“Of course all the seminarians are here”).
The Catholic Medical Association has a nice banner that says “Respecting Human Life in the Science & Practice of Medicine.”
Turning the corner to pass in front of the Supreme Court and complete the march. It’s raining again, but the crowd’s spirits are undampened. Our homemade signs, alas, have been pretty ravaged by the rain—yet people are still smiling, pointing and taking pictures when they see them. The moral of the story, I guess, is that if you put out a little effort to make a homemade sign you’ll get a lot more attention.
Now we’re marching next to a group singing and praying in Polish. They’re from New Jersey, not far from where we live.
Hey, a shofar ... that’s got to be the Rabbis for Life. Still haven’t seen the big Orthodox banners of previous years, although there’s clearly an Orthodox presence here.
We’re about to pass in front of the Supreme Court building. To my left I can hear a woman with Silent No More, a Canadian, talking about her abortion and all the information the doctor didn’t give her, and how it affected her physically and emotionally for years. The young women passing by are much more somber now. “Oh my God, I’m going to cry,” one whispers.
Although I’m now right in front of the courthouse, I don’t see any counter-demonstrators. Oh yes, there must be a few. I don’t see them, but it looks like they have a banner this year: “Trust Women.” We don’t stop to talk to them this year. We don’t hear anyone else talking to them. In a moment I can no longer see them. I’m surrounded by Loyola students chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v Wade has got to go!”
And here, finally, are students from Christendom College. They’re glad to meet Sarah and say they’re looking forward to coming back next year with her—those who aren’t graduating anyway. Of course, I’m sure many Christendom graduates are among us too, if not marching with the current students.
Deacon Steven D. Greydanus is film critic for the National Catholic Register, creator of Decent Films, and a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Newark.
With David DiCerto, he co-hosts the Gabriel Award–winning cable TV show “Reel Faith” for New Evangelization Television. Steven has degrees in media arts and religious studies, and has contributed several entries to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, including “The Church and Film” and a number of filmmaker biographies. He has also written about film for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy.
He has a BFA in Media Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York, an MA in Religious Studies from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, PA, and an MA in Theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall in South Orange, NJ. Steven and his wife Suzanne have seven children.