In January, there’s one event that dominates Catholic and other pro-life circles: the March for Life. Before becoming Catholic, I didn’t know about the annual march in D.C. marking the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision and protesting for an end to abortion. Every January for decades, thousands gather in the cold Washington weather for this march. And every year, I hear the same lines about how the crowd sizes are accurately reported and how the news never covers it.
And the complaining as worn thin.
The March for Life is no longer a protest. It’s an organized event featuring conferences, exhibit booths, and dinners. Groups, mainly high school and college-aged, organize trips to go together. It has its own organization to organize and oversee the event.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s good that young people learn about the tradition of protesting or standing up for one’s positions. I think it’s good to see other pro-lifers, especially if one’s coming from an area or culture where that’s a minority. I think it’s good that the organization provides conferences and speakers and other events. But it’s not really the same protest as when it started.
In 1974, organized by Nellie Gray and a few other activists, around 20,000 people showed up to protest the anniversary of Roe v Wade in hopes that the case would be overturned. It was planned as a one-time protest. The next year, the organization was formed to continue the march each year until Roe v Wade is overturned.
The complaints about crowd sizes each year is cumbersome, because each year the proposed number grows larger. The National Park Service hasn’t reported official estimates since 1995 (45,000). So the numbers now come from the organization, which has an interest to inflate those numbers each year. While I think it’s quite possible that the march now hits 100,000, some years have claimed to have 400,000-650,000. And of course, there are always individuals who claim there were a million. If you want to be taken seriously, the appearance of inflating numbers is not helping. And of course numbers are large when it’s an event with lots of rallies and conferences that people attend as groups. How many of the youth attending are so passionate about the cause that they would still attend without it being a youth group trip to D.C.? I don’t know, but I do know many are probably attending more for the field trip opportunity than the issue.
And after the event come the complaints about the news coverage, or rather, lack thereof. Why doesn’t the news cover such large protest every year? Because it happens every year. It’s basically the same format for 45 years; it’s grown and expanded, but the general story is the same. It’s not news. Lot of protests in Washington don’t get national coverage. Lots of conferences host tens of thousands of people every year without much coverage. In 2017, the Women’s March was covered extensively because it was new, grassroots led, and large. The next year, it was briefly mentioned. The past two years, I’ve personally not seen any memorable coverage. Because it’s no longer new and urgent. Because it’s become too organized/bureaucratic. Because an annual event isn’t really new.
So what if it's not heavily reported? Is that why you went? Or did you go to stand in solidarity with others who also want to see change? Are you doing it for likes or are you doing it because democracy demands its citizens be involved? Are you complaining online, or are you protesting in our nation's capital, challenging the seats of power?
I think too much is made from the March for Life. And maybe that’s not the march’s fault (who doesn’t want that kind of impact?), but the fault of those specific pro-lifers who don’t know that protesting is hard, who want attention and adulation for the bare minimum of effort. They are so used to the system being on their side they don’t understand what real fighting takes. The March for Life is not going to change any policy or court decision. It shouldn’t be the face of the pro-life movement. Personal interactions, compassion, and real zeal should be. All in all, it’s…fine. But I’m glad it’s 11 months away.