Victor Jauquet was one of the younger representatives of Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus at the 2016 March for Life. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)
Every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of people from around the country descend on Washington D.C. to petition for the end of abortion and showcase the strength and youthfulness of the pro-life movement. And every year, the weather is horrible. Without fail, it’s either freezing cold or snowing, and this past Friday was no exception.
After attending the march, one feels re-energized about the pro-life cause, and confident the tide has turned on this important moral struggle. That positive energy is dampened, however, when you see the complete secular media blackout of the event or the blatant dishonesty. That is, the national news rarely covers it, and if they do, they give equal time to the handful of pro-abortion protestors and drastically underreport the number of marchers.
Pro-life organizations have documented the lopsided media coverage, and the March for Life organization, under new and younger leadership, have made a point to increase media coverage.
A radical proposal
I do not intend to duplicate their critique of the media blackout, but propose a radical shift in the way the march is organized. That is, the march should be moved to another date. The traditional date – January 22 – is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, and many schools and organizations have made plans to attend the event on the January date.
It is always difficult to change, but the March for Life should be moved to an early fall date, for example on the last Saturday of September.
Peggy Nichols traveled from Dallas to walk in the March for Life, on crutches, with Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)
No organization would intentionally plan for a major rally in January due to possibility of horrible weather. Some years, it was dangerously cold, and marchers sought out shelter in nearby museums and restaurants. I recall seeing parents desperately trying to warm their children near heaters after spending hours in the cold. The potential for cold weather makes it irresponsible to venture out with small children and attend the march as a family, which seems odd for a pro-life event.
This past Friday, numerous organizers cancelled their buses due to snow storm. Many that went were stuck in bad weather as they tried to return home. I followed the story online as buses from my alma mater, Franciscan University, were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Go for a million
During a warmer time of year and on a weekend, the March for Life should aim for one million participants. The media can only ignore crowds below a certain number. They can only diminish the numbers to a degree, and their favorite phrase is thousands of people. The more accurate estimates are: “Around 250,000 people attended the march until 2010. Estimates put the 2011 and 2012 attendances at 400,000 each, and the 2013 March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 people.”
Few rallies generate enough interest for a million participants, but the March for Life is nearly there. With a million marchers, the media would be hard pressed to ignore its historical significance.
Parish and family model
The goal of a million participants is reachable. The final push could be accomplished by a strategic plan to involve families. Marching in cold weather and on weekdays has prevented many pro-life families, both young and old, from attending. The move to a weekend in late September could provide a huge boost with that demographic. It could be easily facilitated by working with church leaders to ensure that every parish in the mid-Atlantic region has at least one bus attending the march (many already do).
If you have attended the march recently, you know the crowd is mostly composed of high school and college students, the only age groups crazy enough to brave the harsh conditions. Relying on schools as a means to bring young marchers makes a summer date impossible. The September date ensures that it is early enough in the school year that they could miss a Friday, as a travel day, without major repercussions. One individual from Baltimore informed me that the January date conflicts with midterms and preparations for Catholic Schools Week, making it difficult for local school children to attend the march.
One of the advantages of scheduling the march on a weekday in January was the presence of lawmakers, and undoubtedly, fewer members of Congress will be present on a weekend in the fall. I doubt any politician was swayed by the presence of pro-lifers, but a massive million-person march a little more than a month before elections would provide far more political pressure. In other words, there is more to be gained than lost.
Think outside the box
Strangely, the march may have gotten more coverage this year than in any past years. It was not the events that played out in the nation’s capital. When several buses were stranded in Pennsylvania, the passengers got out of the bus, built an altar of snow, and several priests concelebrated Mass on the edge of the snowy highway. Pictures of the Mass went viral, and the story was covered by numerous news programs across the country.
Involve individuals with huge social media followings. Matt Walsh, for example, is a local pro-life advocate, and he had the most-commentated Facebook post of 2015 (620,111 comments on one post)! He and others could generate attention for the march without the traditional networks.
Install a station of 20 to 30 buttons across Constitution Avenue, and have every marcher hit one as they pass, generating a running total of the exact number of participants. Something unusual, like a Mass on the side of a highway, might create more attention than hundreds of thousands of of marchers alone.
It is time
A few years back, I was caught in a snow storm driving back to Steubenville after attending the march. It was a stressful drive back, and fortunately, we make it back to campus safely. One car that left right after us got into an accident, but no one was badly injured. Parents are going to be more reluctant to let their children go to the march in inclement weather, especially with the thousands of students stuck in this year’s storm. It might be a sign that it’s time to move the march to another date, and the nation’s most important pro-life event will be stronger for it.