10 Years Ago Today, We Marched in Numbers Too Big to Ignore!

Marchers rally on the National Mall

Ten years ago today, I marched through Washington, D.C., past the White House, with my sister (and Ms. Blogger) Melissa and my 8-year-old nephew Isaac. OK, young Isaac didn’t make it the whole way, but my sister was determined that her son’s first experience supporting women’s rights and social justice be a big one. And it was huge: 1.15 million people, arguably the largest demonstration in U.S. history.

The Feminist Majority (FM) was one of the organizers of the March for Women’s Lives, along with the National Organization for Women, Black Women’s Health Imperative, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL, Planned Parenthood and more than 1,000 cosponsoring organizations. Alice Cohan, the FM political director, codirected the march along with Loretta Ross, founder of SisterSong. As Cohan remembers,

March codirector Alice Cohan (left) and Katherine Spillar, vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms.
March codirector Alice Cohan (left) and Katherine Spillar,  executive editor of Ms.

My favorite moment … was when it was decided by several of the leaders that I should get up onstage and announce the size of the crowd.  I got up on stage and looked out at a sea of supporters, which reached back as far as the eye could see, and said that we were there in numbers too big to ignore!

I can still almost feel the crowd shake the ground of the National Mall with cheers for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton when she spoke. It was thrilling to be among so many women and men, girls and boys, who had travelled to D.C. from around the nation (and the world!) to insist on reproductive choice. Said Eleanor Smeal, president of the FM,

The reason for this march is really to sound the alarm that [U.S.] policies both globally and domestically are hurting women.

Unfortunately, Republican-dominated state legislators and governors, and regressive forces in the U.S. Congress, are still trying to hurt women and put our health and lives at risk. But as Smeal pointed out in a press release today,

We have never rested on our laurels. Ten years ago, FM staff and supporters carried signs demanding that legislators ‘Stop the War on Women.’ Although we’ve certainly come far since 2004, that war has continued to threaten many of our victories. Today, we are not only looking back, but marching forward.

Farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta speaks at the March.
Farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta seen speaking on the big screen at the March.

Let’s not forget the victories, which include:

  • The Affordable Care Act’s birth-control benefit, which has improved access to contraception, while the ACA’s Medicaid expansion has helped low-income people access vital reproductive health services.
  • The FDA’s rulings that have expanded over-the-counter access to emergency contraception, with no age restriction.
  • Defeating ballot measures that restrict abortion access, most recently, in California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, North Dakota and Albuquerque, N.M.–the latter being a city where more voters turned out to vote no on an abortion ban than had come out in the mayoral election.
  • The repeal of the Global Gag Rule.
  • Federal and state court decisions blocking attempts to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services.
  • Passing proactive legislation that protects access to reproductive healthcare in several states, including New York’s recent Women’s Equality Act.
FM president Eleanor Smeal (second from left) and volunteers at the march.
FM president Eleanor Smeal (second from left) and volunteers at the march.

If you read Ms. magazine and the Ms. Blog, you know that the March for Women’s Lives continues to virtually take place every day. And those of us who actually put boots on the ground that April day are still inspired by the sight of so many feminists all headed in the same direction: toward a nation and world that values and serves women’s needs, rights, bodily integrity and health.

As Smeal put it today,

Although there is still much to do to achieve reproductive justice, we are as confident today as were on April 25, 2004 that women’s quest for reproductive justice and equality will ultimately prevail. 

Were you at the March for Women’s Lives? What do you remember about that day?And how have you continued your activism for reproductive rights in the past 10 years?




Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.