What did I learn from the March for Life?
“Who loves babies?” “We love babies!” This was one of the many chants I heard one month ago when in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. Along with about 20 of my fellow students from Bethlehem Catholic, I had gotten on a bus the morning of Jan. 18 prepared to walk, to pray, and to have (hopefully) a good time.
We got to D.C. after the March had begun, racing to take a photo with Notre Dame and Central Catholic students before finding a spot to blend into the stream of protesters. To someone who had never attended a march before, it seemed like the whole nation had turned out to lobby for the unborn’s right to life. This obviously wasn’t the case, but a thousands-strong crowd impressed me in a way I doubt anything has.
We walked. We shouted. We debated whether there were more or less people than 2018. We got signs (“I am a Member of the Pro-Life Generation”) from passing Knights of Columbus and prayed the Rosary with nearby marchers. Despite warnings about counter-protests or conflict, BeCa’s afternoon was nearly seamless. A few friends and I joked with a teacher who wouldn’t carry a sign; we talked with high schoolers from across the country; I was scolded by a security guard for stepping into the Supreme Court garden…
It was seemingly a day of solidarity and faith, an introduction to protests and greater ideals. I realized how many people support the right to life, and how varied they are. I felt the aura of hope all marchers must have felt – that the world would change, that we were gathered to send a message that would finally come through. Of course it didn’t last.
By the next day, my image of a unified protest had dissolved. “Covington Catholic” and a “Native American Elder” overtook the national stage. What had happened to the March I attended? Why was the experience now marred with controversy and animosity? For about a week, I wondered whether my idea of the March was worth holding onto. I watched as a boy my age and an Omaha elder faced off on YouTube, over and over again. Another article. Another video.
I heard that many of the headlines had been exaggerated, but the confrontation was still a major news point. My AP Government class didn’t wrap up the discussion for days. I decided to forget about the incident, until I realized that I couldn’t. So instead I thought about it. I read news articles and watched the videos as closely as I could. I took out the signs I’d gathered. And I remembered how it felt to be part of a group that had a common goal. How it felt to be united.
I learned a lot from the March this year. Not only did I gain experience in a form of protest, but I uncovered an aspect of pro-life that went beyond weekly meetings and Bible quotes. I discovered the bitter side to a good trip. I learned that we can’t assume one part of a crowd is the same as another. That if we’re quick to make assumptions, everybody suffers. And if anyone ever tries to tell me that all pro-life supporters are the same, or that the 2019 March was spoiled by politics, I’ll be the living proof that neither opinion is true.
Mary Frances Scheidel is the Bethlehem Press student reporter at Bethlehem Catholic HS.