By Rob Hale
The following article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of the MCFL News magazine, a perk of membership mailed out quarterly to all members.
January 18. We board two Peter Pan buses at St. Stanislaus’ in Chicopee, at 10 p.m.
January 19. Around 1:30 a.m. we make a scheduled stop at a roadside restaurant in Cranberry, NJ. When we get back to our bus, we are told that a lady named Maria on the other bus had passed out and was being taken to the hospital. We wait for about an hour. Before we leave, we all say a prayer.
On the bus, I talk with Mike Butler, a buddy from previous bus rides to the March. His mother Monica helped organize trips like these and other western Mass. pro-life events. Mike is traveling with two of his five kids, who are now teenagers. He says that next year he is hoping on bringing his twelve year old son, who has Down Syndrome. Mike sells transportation services for an international trucking company.
When we disembark in front of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University, a little ways outside of Washington, D.C., I meet Laura Hicks and her daughter, Rebecca, a high school senior, who are traveling with us. Laura has five children, including Rebecca, all of whom are home schooled. She says this is her fifth March for Life. Laura and her husband own Eddie’s Furniture in Holyoke, which was started by her grandfather in an old horse barn, where the business still stands.
When I arrive in the city, it is still very early. I walk along the parade route toward the Capitol and the Supreme Court to attend the MCFL Caucus.
Along the nearly empty parade route, I see a group of people setting up a large display of ten-foot high panels and a public address system. I meet their leader, Kurt Linnemann regional director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Research. Kurt explains that the panels his group is erecting will show images and illustrations depicting the “satanic hand” of abortion. He says that some of the panels compare abortion to other forms of genocide.
I ask Kurt how he had become involved in the pro-life movement. He replies that he had been involved since 1980, when he attended an Evangelical Church while he was a student at the UNH. Kurt became a board member of the Seacoast Crisis Pregnancy Center in NH and Birthright of Maryland. When I ask him why he had made the transition to the kind of political work that he is doing with his current organization Kurt compared Birthright to the Underground, during Word War II. “You can save a few lives,” he says. “But the war is killing millions.”
At the MCFL Caucus, I meet my old friend, Dr. John Diggs and his wife Anju from Belchertown, Mass. John has been involved with the Pro-Life movement for years. While John has participated in several Marches for Life, Anju says that this will be her first March. Later we walk together down to the Mall, where thousands of people have already gathered to hear the speakers, including President Trump, who is being televised live from of the White House, via closed circuit television.
Standing amid the crowd on the Mall, I realize that I am among a group of young people who are all wearing red knit caps that say “Titans for Life.” I introduce myself to three girls who explain that Titans for Life is a pro-life club of students from Trinity High, a Catholic school in Dickinson, North Dakota, an area noted for farming and oil production.
The students say that pro-life activities are a “big deal” in their school and with their families. They stand along Highway 22 in Dickinson, holding pro-life banners and signs. When I ask what kind of response they receive from people in their community, the girls say they get “positive honks.” Katie Schank tells me, “Life is a great gift. You should appreciate every day, because some people don’t get that chance.”
It took the Titans four days by bus to get to the March for Life. They must leave Dickinson on Monday morning in order to arrive in Washington by Friday.
After the speeches on the Mall are over and the marchers start moving along the streets, I walk alongside Philip Sherman of Missouri Right to Life. He is holding one of three tall poles supporting a blue banner that stretches overhead from one side of the street to the other.
Philip says he is 37 years old, single, has no kids, and works three part-time jobs, including working for a security company, delivering pizza, and running his own Internet marketing company. He became involved in the pro-life movement in high school and later held a pro-life internship while working on his BA in Political Science at Union Central College. Philip says that he grew up in a Christian home and that his parents were supportive of his pro-life activities. “We need to work together to save the babies,” he says.
Further up the road, I am attracted to the spectacle of an all-black, all-male brass band made up of high school students wearing purple uniforms with yellow epaulets, golden capes proclaiming “Marching 100,” and gleaming golden helmets, and playing rousing, up-beat music with exquisite professional timing and musicianship. They are standing in formation, by the side of the parade route, across the green from the Smithsonian Museum.
I speak with Darius Lucien, a ninth grader and member of the color guard for the band, known as the Purple Knights of St. Augustine’s High School in New Orleans. He tells me that there are 170 students and band members on this tour, and that they come from New Orleans aboard four buses. The tour will play at concerts, parades and events in Canada, New York, and other states, before returning home. He says that all of the performances are pro-life and that all of the students in the band are committed to the pro-life cause.
The reason they are so good, he says, is because they practice for three hours every day, seven days a week. I ask Darius why he had chosen to attend an all-black, all-male school. He answers that several of his family members had attended St. Augustine’s, and that the school offers a superior education.
When I ask Darius if he has anything special to say to our readers, he responds, with obvious pride, “St. Augustine’s is the best band in the nation!”
A little way beyond, I hail a bearded man in a jaunty Indiana Jones style felt hat who appears to be about my age. (That is to say, he had a little gray in his beard.) Frank Vance from Ohio is with a group from St. John Neumann parish. He tells me his wife, Lorraine, organizes the bus trip for the group, which consists of 41 people. Lorraine says this is her 18th March for Life. “Not eighteen in a row,” she says. “I had to take a couple of years off.”
She says she had first organized the bus trips as part of a youth ministry at her church, but it has grown or evolved into more of a family project. “The movement needs to involve family,” she says. “With families involved you get more continuity. It becomes a way of life, a tradition.”
Lorraine tells me that her son, who is 22 years old, works full-time in the pro-life movement. “He is here today,” she says, “with a group called Created Equal.” She says we will see her son up the road at the “turbotron” which is displaying graphic photographs of abortion victims. I express some discomfort at the idea of viewing images of mutilated pre-born babies. Lorraine says she understands. “But,” she says, “last year, there was a woman with a group of pro-abortion counter-protestors, who, when she saw the pictures of the victims, said to herself, ‘I couldn’t do this to my child,’ and then laid down her sign and joined the March.”
Lorraine shares openly about her family and personal life. She says her oldest daughter, Marie, who is now 41 years old, had been conceived and born out of wedlock. After marrying, Lorraine and Frank went on to have four other children, and Frank adopted Marie as his own. Lorraine introduces me to Marie, who is marching alongside us, pushing a baby stroller.
The marchers slow down as we turn a corner and the broad streets seem to become narrower and the crowd becomes more closely packed. We must detour around a police cruiser which is parked across the middle of the road between two large yellow snow removal trucks. Being careful not to use the word “terrorist,” Steven E. Kinzer, of the Metropolitan Police, says it is to prevent or deter someone from intentionally driving a vehicle into the crowd, as had happened in Nice, France and other places in the US recently. I thank him for his service, and for keeping us safe. “This is the Nation’s capital,” he says. Our attitude is to protect everyone’s First Amendment rights.”
Officer Kinzer points out that there is no yellow police tape anywhere along the route, and no police barriers, except for this one obstruction, which is on a cross street. He says this is the seventh year he has worked at the March for Life.
After I say goodbye to Officer Kinzer, I walk up alongside Kim Benz of St. Louis and Amanda Bridegroom, of Florissant, Missouri. Amanda is walking with Kim, who is propelling herself in a wheelchair. They explain that they are two adults traveling with the youth group from St. Rose Church. When I ask how she had become involved, Amanda replies that she has a sister with Down Syndrome. She says, “If anyone ever gets a chance to come here, they really ought to experience it. You see all of the young people and it’s really inspiring.” When I ask whether the youth involvement was really the kids’ idea or the idea of the adult organizers, Amanda responds, “No, they’re into it.”
As we start to climb Capitol Hill and turn toward the Supreme Court building, I notice a particularly animated and frolicsome group of students. Among them is a girl riding on a boy’s shoulders with her arms raised high in a jubilant expression. Their yellow knit caps bear the inscription, “MN4LIFE.” One of their members tells me the group numbers 200 in all.
I soon catch up with Sandra Herrin and Madonna Barbato, from Epiphany Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Madonna is 18 years old and attending college in a program that provides a bridge after high school to help students with special needs prepare for life. I ask Madonna about the nature of her specific disability. She tells me that she was born without a corpus callosum, which is the part of the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres.
“I was a little scared to come on the trip because of my disability,” she admits. “I was afraid I’d be teased or bullied.” When I ask her whether she had actually been teased or bullied, Madonna replies, “Not yet.” She later confides that she has, in fact, made friends on the trip.
We reach the Supreme Court building and I speak briefly with Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, who gives me a smile and a thumbs up. I rejoin our MCFL group a few blocks away at St. Peter’s Church. From there, we board our buses and ride home to Chicopee, stopping briefly in New Jersey, so the other bus can pick up Maria and her husband. We arrive back at St. Stanislaus at 2 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20.