Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Short But Eventful Trip to Washington, DC

I'm back. I spent Sunday and Monday as a chaperone for 130 high school students, and didn't have access to a computer -- or any extra energy -- for blogging. I'm glad to be back, but 24 hours later I'm still tired.

Before you read on, though, caveat lector. This post is about what I saw and did at the 2005 March for Life. Though I'm not going to write particularly about the ethics of abortion, if this sort of thing is likely to make you angry, please read Mr. Sun instead. Otherwise, vade mecum.

The bus ride to DC on Sunday was typically youth-group-y. The kids were busily going about their work: talking, joking, flirting, jostling for social standing, trying to figure out who they are. Most of them were polite, but not all. None of them caused any serious trouble. Whew.

When we arrived in DC, we unloaded our stuff into a gym at CUA and headed directly for a vigil mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We were 2 hours early for mass, but almost every square foot of both levels of the basilica was already occupied by people. We squeezed out a spot on the floor at the back and waited.

I talked with a number of people, most of whom were from states like Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, and Indiana. It struck me that the atmosphere here probably wasn't unlike what you'd find at a pilgrimage church in the middle ages. There were lots of families with teenagers, but not many with small children – a good thing, since the mass itself was another two hours long. Still, the sheer quiet during the contemplative parts of the liturgy, in a church filled with perhaps 5,000 worshippers, was astounding.

After mass, pizza was provided for us at CUA, and then we headed off to sleep on the gym floors of CUA's Dufour Center. The lights went off at one a.m., and in the darkness a seminarian recited the rosary over the intercom. This miraculously effected the calming of 1,200 rowdy students within a minute or two. I drifted off during the second decade.

Lights back on at 6 a.m. Ugh. But we were all up, packed, washed, breakfasted, dressed very warmly (the temperature outside was 18F), and out the door by 8. We made our way to the MCI Center for a youth rally and another mass. I would estimate, since the MCI Center was nearly full, that more than 15,000 people were there. Here's what it looked like:

A few things about the mass really surprised me. When the presiding bishop introduced the eight or so other bishops with him, the kids cheered for each of them enthusiastically, as if they were star athletes. "Now playing auxiliary Bishop for the diocese of Wilmington Delaware . . ." (Not really, but it kind of reminded me of that.) Later in the mass, when the bishop pointed out the large group of seminarians in attendance, the crowd really just let it rip. The affection toward them was palpable. That gave me a warm feeling, since those seminarians must really be struggling with their vocations, given the kind of press the clergy have been getting for the past few years. I think the students knew that, and let their gratitude show.

The bishop also asked young men and women who were considering a religious vocation to stand, and they too received loud cheers and whoops. I was suprised to see the girl right in front of me stand up at this point. She had been dancing earlier to the music at the rally like . . . well, not like a nun. More like a teen-aged girl, and one who didn't look like she'd have any trouble finding a boyfriend.

Finally, the real shocker: when one of the speakers made a plug for abstinence until marriage, he too got a very big ovation. Extraordinary. Especially since these kids didn't seem like a lot of goody two-shoes to me. It's a different world from the one I grew up in.

After the rally, we walked to the Ellipse to hear the politicos orate as the crowd gathered. Most of them were pretty dull, except for ex-congressman "tailgunner" Bob Dornan, who was invigorating, if also a bit irritating. We were told that the crowd was estimated at 100,000. That seemed optimistic at first, but when we hit Constitution Avenue, we were shoulder-to-shoulder and heel-to-toe in the slush from the Ellipse to the Supreme Court building.

I noticed an odd thing on the march. The vast majority of marchers seemed to be ordinary, white, Catholic, middle class families. They marched quietly, though a few groups were reciting rosaries. There were no confrontations with pro-choice activists. A number of anti-war activists were there, but I think most of them were pro-life, too. On the sidelines, however, were the kind of people I normally associate with anti-abortion protest – the ones with the hugh photos of aborted fetuses and handwritten signs that tell you you're going to Hell. It was weird because they were holding their photos and signs toward the marchers – as if people who had come thousands of miles to rally against abortion somehow needed to be convinced further of its evils. One of them, with a sign that read, "Abort the Bishops, Not Babies," seemed to want to argue with passers-by. He thought the Bishops were to lily-livered on the issue of abortion. But the Big Kahuna of offensive anti-abortion protesters, Operation Rescue, was not in evidence. I'm inclined to think that the march organizers invited them not to come.

The police were there, but they didn't have much to do but look impressive:

Amazingly, out of the tens of thousands of marchers in Washington, my bus's group leader Maryann Tyrer was interviewed by the Washington Post for their story, which was also printed on the front page of the News and Record. But the Post left out the part of her comments she most wanted to be printed, so I'll put it here.

Maryann said that supporting women who are in crisis pregnancies, along with their children, is as important as stopping abortion. I heard this point several times during the masses and rally, too, and I completely agree. But I told her I didn't think that part of her comments would make it into the Post, and it didn't.


Brian said...

Glad to hear it went well. Interesting juxtaposition of anti-war and pro-life: even more interesting are those who are militantly pro-life but also militantly pro-war.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Wharton,

Do your children go to public or parochial school?

John Rouse

David Wharton said...

John, they go to Catholic schools.

Billy Jones said...

You survived 130 kids? Wow, I'd go nuts.

Rustam Sheridan said...

The anti-war anti-abortion crowd doesn't surprise me a bit. Regardless of the way people like Rush Limbaugh will portray those against the war (anticapitalist antichristian statists), there are in fact many opposed to all sorts of killing. Unborn children and innocent Iraqis alike.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an anti-abortion protest in Greensboro that I joined (on the spur of the moment) a couple of years ago. They were assembling all along Battleground Avenue on a Sunday afternoon, though I had not been aware that this protest was to take place and don't know to this day who they were. Though I don't normally join something like this their signs were thoughtful and something made me park the car and pick up a sign and sing hymns and pray with the protesters (children, adults, most looking like they had just come from church somewhere). We were told not to respond to provocation, but what I remember most of the next couple of hours were the several cars of angry women who drove past and yelled things at us and provided a one-finger salute to all of us. Your description, Dave, reminded me of that afternoon, and leads to the thought that perhaps the battle is controlled, a bit less, by the fringes on both sides. Perhaps there is hope that this democracy can reach some position on abortion that both sides can live with.

Jim Rosenberg said...

Chimpanzees response to inequity depends on the strength of their social connection.

Maybe everyone should spend a little less time watching everyone else marching by.

Joe Guarino said...

David-- Thanks for braving the elements and providing leadership for these teens. Thanks also for being a part of this event.

You are likely familiar with the statistic that only approximately 7% of elective abortions are attributable to rape, incest, or health considerations in the mother or the fetus. The remaining 93% of these procedures involve taking human life as an auxiliary method of birth control, which is wholly inappropriate.

So we have a status quo in which nearly 45 million lives have been taken without ethical justification. This is arguably the greatest injustice in modern American history; and nothing else even remotely compares.

But technology continues to persuade and amaze. Just yesterday received a mass mailing from a pro-life organization which showed a photograph which is fairly well known within pro-life circles. A fetal surgery was being performed. Through a wide incision in the wall of the uterus, one of the hands of the fetus reached out and grasped or cradled the finger of the surgeon. This was a fetus that was apparently 17 weeks prior to term.

We are on the right side of the issue when we oppose injustice of this magnitude.