This is what democracy looks like.
If I hadn?t seen it with my own two eyes I never would have guessed this ferocious, bolstering voice leading the chants was coming from a seven-year-old girl.
?This is what democracy looks like,? she belted out again as the crowd waited a beat before repeating. This call and response continued on for the next two miles. When her voice weakened, another would pick up her speech and continue. On and on and on it went, one voice flowing into another.
She was right, what I was witnessing was democracy in action. I had seen it on Nov. 8, as voters walked to the polls and I was seeing it again as 20,000 people ? women, men, girls and boys, black, white, Hispanic and Asian ? marched down Market Street toward Luther Ely Smith Square and the Gateway Arch.
I had worried about missing the whole thing. My friends and I arrived at the metro station at a quarter to eight, long before the Women?s March was set to start. The first train came and the doors opened to reveal hundreds of people, crammed in like sardines. I took a step back from the yellow line, unsure how even one more person could fit, but they did. All of a sudden the car shifted as those inside shuffled to the left, allowing a dozen or so to squeeze inside. The door struggled to close, much like trying to fasten a belt after a hearty Thanksgiving meal, but they did and whoosh the train zoomed off, leaving a crowd on the platform with dozens more spilling onto the concrete slab.
Two trains and an hour and a half later we finally arrived at Union Station, a sea of people greeted us in the street, cheering and singing. There were signs everywhere. One elderly woman?s sign stated, ?I can?t believe I still have to protest this (expletive)!? A more humorous one read, ?I?m not usually a sign guy, but GEEZE!?
Geeze indeed. As the week following the march unraveled, I couldn?t believe some of the things I was seeing or hearing. Whether it was labeling a reputable news industry as ?fake news? or peddling falsehoods as ?alternative facts.? But what frustrated me the most is the plan to defund Planned Parenthood. There were many at the march who cited women?s reproductive rights as their catalyst for attending. It?s why I drove 200 miles. Sure, I wanted to be a part of history, but more than that I wanted to take a stand for something I believe in.
One in five women visit Planned Parenthood; that?s 2.5 million patients a year. I remember in high school, driving over to Keokuk with my friend so she could get her birth control. Neither one of us was sexually active at the time, but besides helping to regulate her menstrual cycle, she wanted to be prepared. My mom wishes she had been prepared. She was 16 when she became pregnant. My siblings and I know how much she loves us, but we are also very aware how much being a teenage mother changed her life and made it more difficult.
The reason for defunding Planned Parenthood, representatives say, is because they don?t believe in abortion, let alone government funded abortion.
According to Planned Parenthood, and verified by FactCheck.org (a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center) only 3 percent of the organization?s services are abortions. Most of their services (80 percent) is preventing unintended pregnancy. Other services are breast exams (360,000 a year) and pap tests (270,000), which helps detect cervical cancer. And although Planned Parenthood receives federal funding, or rather reimbursement for services rendered through Medicaid, due to federal laws (the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976), those monies cannot be used for abortion services.
Now, an abortion is either a complicated conversation or black and white decision. For me, it?s a discussion I?ve had ad nauseam with my parents, sister and friends, all who have varying opinions. But shouldn?t that be a decision between a woman and her health provider? Shouldn?t a woman?s body and her reproductive health be a conversation between her and her health provider and not, as I tell my father during election season, ?some old white guy in D.C.?? As Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, recently said on the Daily Show, ?If there were more members of Congress that could get pregnant, we wouldn?t be arguing about birth control.?
But here we are, still having this conversation; or attempting to. On Jan. 6, Teen Vogue reported six security guards blocked Planned Parenthood volunteers from delivering 87,000 petitions in support of Planned Parenthood to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
If you asked any one of the 3.3 million people who took to the streets in the United States (global marches spanned across all seven continents ? yes, even scientists in Antarctica took part in the women?s march) they would have different reasons for participating. But they would all agree, they were marching for a better future.
In the days since the march, I?ve seen a backlash on social media from women who find the march ridiculous. ?Last time I checked, women have a lot of rights and privileges compared to other women around the world,? one friend on Facebook wrote.
And she?s correct. As a woman in the United States, I?m incredibly privileged. But I don?t think that?s justification to just sit back and say ok. I still only make 80 percent of a man?s salary. African American women make 62 cents to the dollar, while Hispanic and Latina women made a staggering 54 percent of a guy?s salary, according to the AAUW. Notoriously, women are blamed and slut shamed for sexual assaults committed against them.
So to those women, who don?t see the point of the march, I say, I marched for you.
I marched because I didn?t have the right to vote until Susan B. Anthony and the suffragettes paved the way. I marched because my employers could openly discriminate against me because of my gender until the second wave of the Women?s Rights Movement in the 1960s. I marched because I don?t want my nieces to only be seen as an object. I marched because I believe in challenging the status quo.