More than 20,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge from Cadman Plaza on August 28 and converged on City Hall Park in support of reproductive freedom, just two days before the opening of the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden.
The march was organized by Planned Parenthood of New York City, in conjunction with more than 40 other organizations, and marked the largest pro-choice march in the history of New York City. The protest also served to underscore the themes of the national March for Women’s Lives, held in Washington, D.C this past April, which drew a crowd of more than one million. Both protests were organized in response to the Bush administration’s ongoing attempts to roll back abortion rights and place restrictions on access to emergency contraceptives and information about birth control in public schools.
As the rally got under way in City Hall Park at one o’clock, there were still thousands of marchers making their way over the bridge, carrying signs such as “I Love Pro-Choice NY” and rainbow flags proclaiming “We the People Say No to the Bush Agenda.”
Many protestors also chanted slogans such as “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate!” Those speaking at the rally included leaders of the sponsor organizations, New York elected officials and several celebrities and musicians.
Criticizing policies such as Pres. George W. Bush’ s emphasis on “abstinence-only” sex education both in the United States and abroad, as well as his signing of a bill in November of 2003 which significantly restricts abortion rights, Elizabeth Cavendish, the interim president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, asserted that “the best way to value families is to make sure that women are able to make responsible decisions about when to start them.”
The president of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, Joanne Smith, said that the votes of more than 18,000,000 young women were missing at the polls in the 2000 general election and urged women to vote this November. Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” reiterated Smith’s message in an enthusiastic address to the crowd.
“Whether they’ve been invading Afghanistan, Iraq or our bodies, the time has come to stop the occupation,” exclaimed Ensler. “It’s time to get our vaginas to the polls!”
Chris Cormier, a community organizer for the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), New York’s statewide gay rights lobby, brought attention to “Causes in Common,” an initiative of the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center intended to build bridges between reproductive rights and LGBT organizations. Pointing to the correlation between the right to sexual autonomy and a woman’s right to choose, Cormier declared, “We cannot advance our movements in isolation.” He ended by urging the crowd to “defend our causes in common, to advance our fight for full equality, and to actualize a world where universal health care, economic justice and sexual and reproductive freedom are not just a vision but a reality.”