The Day I Was an Inadvertent Participant in the March for Life (and what it taught me)

Feeling the frustration of cabin fever, I woke that morning resolved to spend the day doing whatever made me happy and got me out of the house. I am currently jobless after a relocation to Washington, D.C., so one could argue that I already have too much time to myself. However, being stuck in the house all day has never suited me, and I need a certain amount of activity in a day to be able to sleep well at night. So, my plan was to take myself to the National Museum of Natural History, then to walk to the Lincoln Memorial to say hey to mah boi, and then to walk to Dupont Circle to visit my favorite second-hand book store Second Story Books. Not in the plan was my becoming the unwitting participant of a national movement.

Metro card clutched in hand, I headed out into the warm-ish late January morning, mission in mind, crisp air in my lungs.

Living in a city where one has access to public transportation–one that is so commuter friendly in general–is such a freeing thing. Spending 20 years in the metro-Atlanta area (nothing but love, ATL!) conditioned me to sitting in a car to reach most every destination. So, learning to navigate the Metro system on my own has been a liberating achievement for this girl who was raised in suburbia.

Feeling empowered as I arrived at the Federal Triangle metro stop, I opened Google Maps on my mobile to plot my course to the museum. As I ascended the escalator into the sunlight, my mobile seemed confused about my actual location (we know how that happens, just when we need technology the most!). So, I resorted to a usual tactic of mine when searching for a tourist destination: just follow the crowd of other people who seem like tourists. It works every time!

My immediate thought following that decision, though, was, “Wow, there are a lot of D.C. tourists today!” I mean, I’ve been to the Federal Triangle metro stop before on other days and at various times of day, but I had never seen this many tourists in the courtyard near the Ronald Reagan building.

Thinking back on it now, most of the people I saw seemed intent on a destination: like they knew where they were supposed to go and how to get there. Not at all like usual tourists who meander this way, then that way, consult each other, and consult their mobile device for directional assistance. No, these people were funneling between federal government office buildings to Constitution Avenue. My sense of direction told me this was the way I needed to go, too. So, I joined the flow.

As I walked in the shadows of the office buildings, I saw red MAGA hats displayed along the stone half-walls that formed raised flowerbeds. Street vendors in shiny red bomber jackets standing next to the displays waived their arms overhead–hats clutched in hand–calling out, “MAGA hats! Ten dollars!”

“Why are they selling souvenirs here?” I wondered. And then a slow, “Ohhhhhh.” My mind flashed back to two days prior when my husband and I visited the National Mall for an afternoon stroll and we had seen the beginning stages of the set up for March for Life 2020.

“Ohhhhh,” my internal monologue repeated as I stepped foot onto Constitution Avenue and was immediately at the edge of a river of people coming toward me, driven by a common purpose. My eyes went wide at intimidation.

Upon assessing my route to the Museum of Natural History, I quickly noticed that the usual ways were barricaded in order to corral the hoard down Constitution and to the main rally point for the March. “Damn it,” I thought, eyes darting and scanning, seeking out any other way to my destination that didn’t involve me joining the March. No other alternative. The event planners did a bloody fantastic job. “Damn it,” I sighed and mumbled under my breath. Then I crossed the street to join the flow of bodies moving in the direction of the National Mall.

As an introvert, the scene was overwhelming for me. The seemingly endless moving crowd; masses of people gathered around a speaker advocating for the cause; pamphlets, placards, and signs being thrust toward me by enthusiastic volunteers. “Here, take a sign!” they call out to passers-by. I feel like a jerk when I brush past them with a dismissive, “No thank you.” I’m not there to march. I just want to get to the museum.

As I dodge the huddles and signage, I feel my body being moved along by the momentum of the crowd as they make their way down the sidewalk. I settle into the flow, resigned to the situation, and my eyes begin to focus on people’s faces, the sounds of their conversation, and the phrases on their signs. I start to notice details. People’s faces wore expressions of happiness, pride, and determination. Friends spoke to each other about social situations happening at school; families strategized about meet up points before they separated to explore the event; and children accompanied their parents on this Friday, January 24th (which means they were allowed to miss a day of school to attend).

Advocates for special interest groups called out slogans with all the enthusiasm and persuasion their bodies could muster. “We are the pro-life generation,” some called out as they held up their Students for Life of America signs. Participants from the Feminist Majority Foundation held up signs proclaiming that “Family Planning Saves Lives Worldwide” and that “Safe Abortion is a Human Right.” Then there was the lone individual advocating for animal rights asking all those in earshot to “Save the Chicks and the Children! Eat Vegan!”

It was at this intersection that I realized that the museums were probably closed because the March had taken over the National Mall. So, I gave up on my original plan. I followed Madison Drive, crossed 15th Street, and walked along the pathway passed the Washington Memorial. My steps moved to the beat of the live contemporary Christian song that was blasting on the loud speakers and could be heard to all corners of the Mall. It was one of those songs that makes one feel at ease–instruments playing a soothing melody that sounds dreamy and serene. “It’s OK to not feel OK.” the performer spoke the words softly between notes.

“Yeah,” I thought to myself in agreement, “We all have struggles, and that’s life.” I tuned out the words after this because it was enough to make me feel mindful and at peace in the moment.

As I continued to walk, I instead tuned into to the conversations of people who passed–most everyone in a group of at least three or four. They laughed together, talked of past Marches for Life, commented on the size of the crowd, and remarked on the monuments around them. This is when I had the thought that has since helped me get through the culture shock of being a full-time resident of the States again during what The Atlantic writer Peter Wehner termed “The Era of Rage.”

My thought was: “How great it is to be in a country where so many people can gather to voice their opinions on such a polarizing topic. I don’t agree with the mission of March for Life, but I one hundred percent agree with their freedom to march in support of their beliefs. And aren’t we all just doing what we think is best? What we think is right? Aren’t these people just like me in how they interact with their friends, want to love their family and whomever else they may choose, dislike anything that clashes with their ideals, and feel uncomfortable around those who do not share the same opinions?”

Then, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I gazed up at former President Lincoln–regally and knowingly watching over the country he helped shape with great expectations. And I felt grateful that, despite my own views, I could feel truly happy for and supportive of everyone participating in the March for Life. The experience made me remember that, although we may be experiencing the “Era of Rage” in this country, and although there are those rare individuals who allow anger and disrespect to permeate their actions, I still come back to one of my favorite quotes and deepest beliefs:

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” — Anne Frank

It was a big enough feeling that day that I have come back to it frequently as I read headlines and articles and overhear conversations. The negativity of the current socio-political climate can be toxic and truly debilitating. So, I guess I’m just trying to find ways to continue believing in humanity instead of feeling the weight of hatred.

It’s OK to not feel OK. But there’s only so long one can bear it before something needs to change.

8 thoughts on “The Day I Was an Inadvertent Participant in the March for Life (and what it taught me)”

  1. I had not seen a blog in a long time (shame on me, I have done worse and my poor blog is getting dusty, too many drafts, too little time). That must have felt very strange to be part of a march you did not believe in. With my curious mind, I would have done like you, stay and observe. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the people-watching made it worth it, for sure! I hope you get back to blogging, soon. I took a break for a few months. Sometimes, that’s just necessary–even from the activities we enjoy most. πŸ™‚

      Like

    1. Ha! No, I haven’t. Luckily, the Smithsonian museums are all free of charge, so I’ll go as soon as we have some nice weather again! πŸ™‚ Thank you for reading, friend!

      Like

  2. πŸ‘πŸ½ Thought-provoking, as always. I find that intersection between Pro-Life and veganism strangely clever on that one dude’s part. Get in where you fit in, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

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