Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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March for Women's Lives

It would be wonderfully convenient if I were the kind of person who actually enjoys political rallies, like so many of you on LiveJournal who talk about feeling tremendously energized by the sight of so many people who care about the same issue as you. Unfortunately I'm not. What I feel energized by is reading LiveJournal, where I can surround myself with so many people who care about virtually all the same issues that I do, instead of just one or two or three. At an in-person gathering where you're limited to the people in your immediate geographical vicinity, you just can't narrow down the focus as far and still get anybody to show up.

But despite the fact that I could think of far more fun ways to spend my morning, I felt that it was important to drag myself downtown today to go to the Sacramento miniature version of the March for Women's Lives. So I did. It was an awfully short march, just from the corner of 12th and K to the California State Capitol at 10th and L, so . . . three blocks long. It was also short after we arrived at the Capitol: it had been scheduled for 10:00 a.m. to noon, yet everyone actually went home a little before 11:00 a.m.

It was a much smaller rally than the antiwar one I went to in the same location before, and it was much less well-equipped. At the antiwar one, there was music and booths with pamphlets and places to donate money and there were different people speaking all day long at a big loud microphone in front. At this one there was no music, no booths, no pamphlets, no donations, hardly any speakers, and a severely dysfunctional microphone that caused all the speakers to be interrupted by shouts from the back of the croud calling "Speak up! We can't hear you back here!" Halfway through, this dysfunctional microphone was replaced by a different only slightly less dysfunctional microphone, with a long awkward pause while the new slightly microphone was set up, and an awkward transition while the speaker who'd been interrupted in mid-sentence for the change of microphones tried to pick up where she'd been cut off. And still after that there were more shouts to "Speak up!"

I saw one local TV station there filming the crowd - it was KCRA Channel 3. If they use much of the footage on the news tonight I'll probably be visible, since I was near the camera, but I'm unlikely to ever actually know whether they showed me or not, since my barely-functional television is only set up to receive the UHF band (channels 14-69) instead of VHF (channels 2-13).

The rally's greatest spark of life showed when a woman in the crowd started chanting "Get Bush Out" and most of the crowd joined in. The official speakers, however, did not join in, and then one of them explained, "Certain people here are not allowed to join in with your chanting 'Get Bush Out' because of the positions they hold that require them to be nonpartisan. So they're counting on you to do that for them." The fact that the speakers were muzzled this way was quite inconvenient, because the crowd really expressed far more enthusiasm when Bush was named as a specific enemy than they ever did when the speakers persisted in advocating reproductive rights in nonpartisan terms without naming names.

I was a bit disturbed by what seemed to me to be an excessive emphasis on voting as the (supposedly) only source of political power. The continual chant incited by the woman who introduced each new speaker went like this: "What do we want?" "Choice!" "And how do we get it?" "Vote!" But voting doesn't necessarily succeed at winning, and to emphasize voting as the single answer and omit to even mention any of the other numerous strategies - letters to congresspeople, media campaigns, boycotting of anti-choice health care (non-)providers, civil disobedience, etc. - that, frankly, are rather more effective than a single person's vote is likely to be, seems to me the height of counterproductiveness. To be fair, one speaker did go out of her way to mention boycotts, and one audience member spontaneously yelled out a recommendation of civil disobedience that the speakers listened quietly to and let her speak without interruption . . . but the continual repetition of "And how do we get it?" "Vote!" rather outweighed this message.

The only personal moment - though it was a powerful one - came when one speaker divulged that when she was a graduate student at Stanford University in the 1960s, she'd had an unanaesthetized illegal abortion that left her in the intensive care ward for ten days while the university hospital brought in all the best experts in the country to save her life. If she hadn't been a member of the elite, moneyed class that gets to attend Stanford University, she would have died, and she knew it.

There were probably around 200-250 people there, at least 98% of whom were women, and also about 98% of whom were white (so much for the racial diversity of the national march - it wasn't reflected in the Sacramento one). There was no counter-protest. There were signs indicating people there from at least three counties: Sacramento County, Nevada County, and Yolo County. (Someone from the city of Davis arrived carrying a sign proclaiming Davis to be "the first pro-choice city," but although I do not doubt that as a college town they are pretty pro-choice, the sign did not provide any specific justification for declaring themselves absolute #1, and the implication that Sacramento isn't a pro-choice city seemed a little counterproductive to me.) About 75% of the people at the march were women past childbearing age, women old enough to have needed abortions back before Roe v. Wade, women who won't be needing abortions anymore now. In other words, the younger women whose own personal reproductive rights were at stake mostly didn't show up. A few did - I did - but not a comparable number to the number of older women. At one point, one of the older women speaking remarked upon this, complaining that the younger generation of women just takes these rights for granted and can't be bothered to show up - which I didn't feel was a terribly nice remark to make in front of the 1/4 of the audience who were younger women who cared enough to show up, and thankfully the speaker let the complaint drop after one sentence, but she did kind of have a point.

I had a rare experience of life as a disabled person, because standing still in one position and sitting on a stool with nothing to lean against are the two activities that provoke my scoliosis (8 degree spinal curvature - it's actually quite mild as scoliosis goes, and certainly not a legal disability) to cause me actual pain. For some reason if I'm actually walking around and moving, my back is fine, but after only fifteen minutes of standing still on the steps of the state capitol building I was in extreme pain. I started looking around for places to sit down, and feeling rather pathetically outdone by all the seventy-year-old women on all sides of me who didn't seem to be feeling any need to sit down - but really there just wasn't anyplace to sit that had a back to lean against, and sitting down with nothing to lean against is usually even worse for my back than standing still, so I just gritted my teeth and through a combined effort of will and shifting position or walking a few steps now and then, remained standing for the entire 50 minutes that the rally lasted. And then I was very relieved that it hadn't lasted longer. My back did recover, though not until after I got home.

I was wearing my rainbow skirt, and when I walked back to the light rail station from the rally (I took the train instead of my car because I hate trying to find a place to park in midtown - or actually I drove to the Butterfield light rail station, parked there and then took the train from there to midtown), a woman sitting on a bench playing bongo drums stopped me to compliment me on my skirt and attempt to engage me in conversation. I do not think she had been at the march, both because I hadn't seen her there and because she had the look of someone who's been sitting on this same bench playing bongo drums the entire day long and intends to go right on doing it for the entire rest of the day, whereas if she'd been at the march she couldn't very well have gotten to that bench more than a few minutes sooner than I did, and would have just finished sitting down there. But anyway, she was very interested in asking me where I got my skirt, how I made the rainbows on it, what kinds of other clothes did I like to sew, etc., and it was only about three seconds after I had pried myself away from her and started walking away that I realized she had quite probably been trying to pick me up. (She had a spiky short haircut that should have set off my gaydar immediately, but she had bleached it unnaturally blonde, which I didn't much care for and which I associated with heterosexuality, so that momentarily threw me. Also I just wasn't really thinking of rainbows as being an obvious queer symbol, yet really no one who lives in midtown could fail to instantly recognize them as being one.) Oh well, I don't really have any faith in my compatibility with random people on the street no matter what gender or sexual preference they are. So I just continued walking away. I guess you can tell why I'm single.

The most striking piece of information I heard at the march was that members of the U.S. military are not only not given health care coverage for abortions, but are actually forbidden to get abortions even with their own money. The power of this piece of information was multiplied by the fact that on the way back from midtown to Butterfield, I picked up a copy of the Sacramento News & Review (free alternative weekly newspaper) and read there that "Veterans-administration statistics . . . show that 90 percent of women are harassed and a third are raped" while serving in the U.S. military (full SN&R article available online). So let's see - the U.S. military's own statistics indicate that one third of the women serving in the U.S. military are raped during their time there, yet every one of those women is forbidden to get an abortion even with their own money?? Exactly how sadistic can the U.S. government be????

But of course, it's just naïve of me to even have to ask that anymore. Anyway, I am back home, and there shall be no more marching in Sacramento today, and there was a lot more marching in Washington, D.C. than in Sacramento anyway, and let's just hope that it all actually accomplishes something.
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