For those who have never traveled to our nation’s capital for the March for Life activities, you are in for a treat! Even if you have, you will enjoy these journal entries from Anne Carmichael, Vitae Foundation’s vice president. Last week she logged a few miles, traveling from Missouri to DC, to San Francisco and back home.
What she also logged were her experiences along the way, marching with over a half-million people in wind chills registering below zero, to walking the San Francisco streets that in some parts were lined with angry abortion supporters shouting and cursing.
The subzero weather caused one event to be cancelled. The District of Columbia’s Park Service called off the Nellie Gray 5K, scheduled for the morning of the March for Life. Those single-digit temps did not deter the 650,000 people from marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with a single shared voice that said, “Life is sacred!” Since this is the largest annual human rights event that is generally ignored by the secular national media, here’s your chance to peek into the journal of a pro-life woman dedicated to the cause for over 35 years…
Monday, January 20
Lambert International Airport – St. Louis
After going through airport security, and as I’m putting my shoes back on, a man came up to me and asked if I was going to the March (my LIFE Runners jacket may have tipped him off!). I told him I was, and he said, “That’s cool! Wish I was going.” I traveled out with Vitae’s Events Director, Kristina Davis.
We ended up sitting on the plane with Karen Nolkemper, director of St. Louis Archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate. Realizing the plane was full of people going to the March, the flight attendant got on the intercom and wished everyone well going to the event. That NEVER would have happened 31 years ago when I went to my first March for Life!
We arrived in DC, checked into our hotel and had some lunch. Again, I had my LIFE Runners jacket on with the “REMEMBER the Unborn” on the back and someone behind me in line said, “Hey, thanks for coming to DC!”
We went back to our hotel to get things prepared for a booth in the exhibit hall. The rest of the group arrived, and we visited with leaders from around the country. Masses of people were arriving and flooding the hotel lobby and exhibit area. The hotel began organizing an “on and off” process for elevators. You could hear people talking about where they were from, who they came with, and, of course, how excited they were.
Dr. Pat Castle (Vitae’s incoming president and Founder/President of LIFE Runners) arrived, and a group of us headed out to dinner. We were joined by Leslee Unruh, director of the Sioux Falls Alpha Pregnancy Center, Joe Baker, Director/Founder of Save the Storksmobile pregnancy centers, Alice Chapman, LIFE Runners’ chairperson for the Fall LIFE Runners race and banquet (Air Force Marathon, which Vitae Foundation is the official LIFE Runners national beneficiary of funds raised), and Sharon Weidelman, Public Policy Committee of the Missouri Catholic Conference and LIFE Runner. We used the time to plan for potential weather issues with the Nellie Gray 5K and LIFE Runners fall race AF Marathon.
After walking back to hotel, we toured the Save the Storks mobile unit.
Then we ran into Vitae friend, Abby Johnson. Abby has spoken for Vitae all across the country as a former Planned Parenthood director and is the Founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry helping abortion clinic workers leave this industry of death.
Tuesday, January 21
DC Law of Life Summit
The National Law of Life Summit is a prestigious event that’s hosted by Ave Maria School of Law and promoted by the March for Life. It is always an honor to be part of such a high-level forum with so many pro-life leaders from around the country. If the pro-life community were a country, this would be the group leading it to change the rest of the world!
The Summit was a who’s who of the pro-life movement beginning with the events emcee, Dr. Pat Castle.
There were 32 speakers that included David Bereit (40 Days for Life), Bobby Schindler (Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation), Rebecca Kiessling (Save the One), Allan Parker (Justice Foundation), Fr. Frank Pavone (Priests for Life), Rob Rysavy, (LIFE Runners - also Vitae Foundation board member)
Jeanne Monahan (March for Life), John-Henry Westen (Life Site News), Troy Newman, (Operation Outcry), Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Diocese of Springfield, Ill., and LIFE Runners’ Chaplain), Abby Johnson (And Then There Were None), Lila Rose (Live Action),
and many others. There were so many strong messages!
I was on the panel of speakers and shared how we use Right Brain Research as the foundation for our ads.
Where Vitae ads go up, abortions go down! I talked about the strategy of recent years with our Call-for-Help ads. I explained how in the 1860’s abortions were just as prominent per capita as today and what brought them down to an all-time low in 1910, remaining low until the 60’s cultural revolution (World Magazine, Dr. Marvin Olasky, Lessons from the Past, Jan 17, 2009). The support services that worked a hundred years ago were like those of today’s Pregnancy Help Centers. Vitae believes we can do this again by providing research-based media targeting abortion-minded, pregnant women and directing them to local centers.
Vitae has raised over $71 million and based on our “average cost of lives saved” in recent campaigns, that would equate to over 100,000 lives saved.
After the Summit ended, there were people who sought us out to find out more about Vitae and bring our media to their area!
Meanwhile, the weather outside was getting increasingly worse as snow blanketed the area. Emails were coming in asking about the 5K. This race honors March for Life founder Nellie Gray, who passed away in 2012. It was initiated last year by the National LIFE Runners Team with the support of the March for Life and its board of directors, and sponsored by Vitae. We continued to say we weren’t cancelling. Then about 4 p.m.word came from Jeannne Monahan that the National Park Service cancelled the 5K. So things had to be done to insure others knew it was cancelled. In the mean time, Pat and the Glass family were asked to come on stage at the Youth Rally.
Pat introduced 6-year-old Keelan Glass as the LIFE Runner who set a World Record as the youngest person to run a half marathon. She did it because, like her mom, Tracy Glass, she wanted to run for the babies. LIFE Runners honored Keelan as the Female Student LIFE Runner of the Year.
Wednesday, January 22
In my lifetime, I have never worn so many layers of clothes!
Each of us helped carry banners for LIFE Runners and Save the Storks Mobile Pregnancy Centers to the EWTN area behind the stage. It was difficult with wind and snow/ice underfoot. We didn’t care though; adrenaline and excitement took over. You couldn’t look any direction without seeing other pro-life marchers. Pat was with EWTN folks getting last minute details as we waited for instructions. Keelan Glass’s family went in a warming tent while her dad, Greg, helped hold up the banner in the wind. Then Spanish EWTN came over and interviewed Jeff Pauls who did a beautiful job speaking fluent Spanish. He presented the host, Elena Rodriguez, with a LIFE Runner shirt (the first Spanish LIFE Runner shirt) and then after the interview was complete, LIFE Runners received their first member who joined from Mexico. Many others followed.
We moved over to the March for Life Rally stage (of the six Marches I’ve attended, last year was the first year I ever saw the stage and could actually hear speakers – I couldn’t believe we were just 20 feet from it!).
It was now time for the interview, and the camera crew was cuing the group with Pat while Jeff and Rob steadied the banner in the background. We moved in close, and Pat did an outstanding job getting everything in quickly, including the presentation to Keelan, talking about Vitae Foundation. It played out so well – very exciting! Later we received emails and messages from others around the country (including my husband and son) that said they, too, were joining in with the LIFE Runners cheer Pat ended the interview with – Pat shouts: “All in Christ!” The rest respond: “For Pro-Life!” After the interview, in just minutes, over 50 new LIFE Runners members signed up online.
While we were doing the EWTN interview, we saw Missouri priests from the Kansas City/St. Joseph Diocese, one of which was LIFE Runner Fr. Joseph Totton, who attends Vitae’s KC Event each year.
We then watched the Rally and listened to speakers from our close position at the side of the stage. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-4) and Vicky Hartzler, (MO-4) addressed the crowd.
Afterwards Pat and I were able to visit with them. Jeanne Monahan then asked pro-life leaders to come up on stage. Pat carried Keelan up, and I followed behind him. What an amazing experience!
After our stage time, we joined our larger group, which morphed into the sea of pro-lifers to begin the epic March. It is a like a slow river flowing as masses meld together.
So many banners and signs framed with PVC pipe to keep them high and taut. It’s about sacrifice for those strong enough to carry the banners that stood 20 feet high in gusting wind too. Rob Rysavy, Jeff Pauls, and Dr. Castle took turns carrying and occasionally would be relieved by others, like Vitae’s Tom Cronquist who joined the group at the beginning of the March. Only the guys could handle the extremely large banner that was created by LIFE Runner Sara Beaner. Sara’s banners are always the largest and most visible. This year it was also named one of the most inspiring, out of thousands! Also, it was in two of the official March for Life photo albums. There is always a blend of cheers, chants, singing and of course the LIFE Runners…All in Christ…For Pro-Life! This was Kristina’s first March and overwhelming was the term she used to describe it, too.
We concluded at the Supreme Court; then it’s time to find our way out of the crowd to walk back to the hotel. You see a lot of people at the end of the March.
Before we separated, we ran into Vitae friend and pro-life hero, Star Parker.
What a pleasant surprise. Star has spoken for Vitae many times.
The Rose Dinner was that evening. Pat visited with Dr. Charles Kenny (the man behind The Right Brain People and Vitae’s valuable research) and Dr. James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family),
among others. Afterwards it was time to pack and prepare for our 4:30 a.m. departure. Every morning started early, but this was going to be the earliest yet! Kristina was not going to make the west coast trip, so we said our goodbyes.
Thursday, January 23
DC to San Francisco
As we made our way to DC’s Dulles Airport, with five others, Pat read out loud the LIFE Runners’ Devotion, “Light of the Living.,”that Jeff Pauls had written. It was very appropriate as we rode along in the dark.
Our plane had some mechanical problems, so we were delayed by about an hour, then we were off on our 5.5 hour flight to San Francisco for the West Coast Law of Life Summit and Walk for Life (second largest pro-life event in the country). Pat in his usual form became a helper to the 95-year-old traveler next to him that needed assistance with a variety of things including her bag after we landed and getting her to a connecting flight. San Francisco was a balmy 70 degrees. Later we met up with Rob (Vitae Foundation board member) and wearing our shirts “REMEMBER the Unborn” we walked through Chinatown and surrounding area of San Francisco.
Friday, January 24
Youth Rally Mass-West Coast Law of Life Summit
We walked to the Youth Rally Mass and then met with the San Francisco Archdiocese Respect Life Program Coordinator, Vicki Evans.
While we were with her she shared how the West Coast Walk for Life started and what it was like back then. Vicki said while pro-lifers had their rally before the walk, pro abortion forces there rallied in an adjacent area that was close by.
When the abortion supporters rally ended, they turned and faced the smaller pro-life group and came at them as one large mass in a very threatening way. Vicki said you could almost hear a hissing sound that emanated from them among the shouts and screams. That moment of the first Walk for Life was described later in the day by Dolores Meehan, one of the Law of Life speakers and co-founder of the Walk for Life. She said, “They [the pro abortion groups] sounded like the orcs at Helm’s Deep.”
In that first Walk for Life, abortion supporters filled condoms with simulated blood and other such things then threw them at the pro-life group (7,500) as they passed. Nonetheless, pro-life walkers stood firm in their faith, commitment and prayerfully moved forward through the gauntlet of pro-abortion forces that lined the streets. Further along the route a barricade was created by abortion proponents, with locked arms refusing to allow them to pass. While the police faced off with them, pro-life walkers changed their course and went around the area. Here are some dramatic pictures of abortion supporters at the 2006 West Coast Walk for Life (2nd one).
City officials supported pro-abortion efforts while the police supported the pro-life walkers and valiantly gave them a shield of protection in full riot gear. I read Vicki’s blog before coming to San Francisco. She wrote about the first walk for life. Here’s an excerpt:
I used to think I might be a martyr someday. I actually wanted to be one. I believed this might occur during San Francisco’s Walk for Life West Coast, when in 2005, for the first time, we challenged the City’s militant pro-abortion culture at our peril. But something happened on the way to the Coliseum. The secular culture went too far in its unconditional embrace of abortion and our side started to win. Not only were we Walkers not martyred, but polls started turning against those favoring unrestricted abortion. Young people came to San Francisco in droves championing the Walk’s message that abortion hurts women, men, children, families, society; and women deserve better than abortion. We glimpsed the future of the pro-life movement and it was not what the prevailing culture was predicting.
The Walk for Life confronts the worst of San Francisco, a City that prides itself on being unreservedly pro-abortion…Maybe we’re getting harder to ignore. Maybe the Walk for Life will be our gift to the West Coast in the 21st century and we won’t be martyrs after all.
We also visited about the Pregnancy Help Centers in the area. She said all offer ultrasound and need constant support and prayers. I think that is our cue.
Vicki is one of the many wonderful pro-life leaders we met in the couple of days we were there. She is very accomplished and has a fiery commitment to her faith and the cause for life.
Afterwards we quickly made our way back to the hotel to get ready for the West Coast Law of Life Summit.
The group that gathered at the Law of Life Summit was some of the most interesting people – speakers and attendees.
Dr. Pat Castle, the event emcee, again did an excellent job facilitating the forum. It was an honor to be presenting along side so many pro life leaders like, David Bereit, Father Frank Pavone, Father Terry Gensemer, Reggie Littlejohn, Rob Rysavy, and
Dolores Meehan (one of the founders of the West Coast Walk for Life). After my presentation finished, there were a lot of great questions and comments that I was able to address…even some cheers for our life-saving statistics! Life Legal Defense Fund hosted a reception afterwards which gave us more time to visit with everyone. There were requests for Vitae media in not only San Francisco, but also, Sacramento and other areas of California. There was so much excitement among the group that they didn’t want it to end.
Thanks to Ave Maria Law School, Royce Hood, Dana Cody and our incoming president, Dr. Pat Castle, for providing such a wonderful forum that will go forward as part of the West Coast Walk for Life activities.
Saturday, January 25
West Coast Rally – Walk for Life – Mass
The next day we started out on foot again. We left the hotel at 8 a.m. with “the box” that Pat and Rob carried up the hill to St. Mary’s Cathedral. We joked as we went because it was so long and all watched curiously as we passed. Arrived at the church – Pat and Rob immediately assembled and set up the banner in front of the church. People began to gather around it as a photo op. This was a special Mass with 17 bishops from the area. Church was packed standing room only.
We met up with LIFE Runners from Oregon. They helped carry the banner and the flag to the gathering place for the Walk for Life Rally. What a contrast in weather – it is now sunny and temp climbing into 80’s! The LIFE Runners banner was one of the largest at the 60,000-person rally. We spoke with folks that were passing by and then EWTN did another interview with Pat – where again he told about Vitae Foundation being the oldest and largest public information campaign.
(Go to the 17:10 minute mark in the video.) Our banner was used as the backdrop for the EWTN set where they were broadcasting live from the rally.
There were many speakers at the rally, and they focused on how “Abortion Hurts Women.” After about an hour we began to assemble in the street. The crowd was larger than I had imagined. The sights and sounds were overwhelming. I couldn’t believe I was in San Francisco walking in a pro-life march. Not the place you’d expect it. Then when I stopped to get a picture of the banner making a turn on the very wide Market St. and hearing this group of musicians that were playing and singing as they passed with several instruments, I teared up. I’m not sure what came over me. But seeing the size of the crowd and then our banner coming around the corner just stirred my soul. I was so proud of my team, of Pat, Rob, and others including Sara Beaner, who made the awesome banner, the marchers who were praying and singing…standing up for life in one of the more hostile places in the country and so many, many pro-life people. I still am not sure what it is about this Walk for Life, but I really felt deep in my soul that we were blessed to be a part of something so profoundly huge.
…And the Walk takes a turn
As we moved down the street, you could begin to hear bullhorns and loud shouting (watch this clip at the start – then forward to 24:40 minutes and you’ll see our team and our huge banner. I was on the far side of our banner right behind the flag. Rob Rysavy and Scot Stewart are shown carrying the banner). I heard someone say, “Everyone move to the center of the street!” The police formed a line along the street, so I knew pro-abortion protesters were up ahead.
Then we were right in front of them. It appeared for a moment that they were all around us.
There were a variety of areas where these groups were along the way, but definitely not one large group as it was in years past. A woman that had participated for several years in the Walk said that 2 years earlier, the area we were approaching, was blocked by the pro-abortion women who linked arms. Another time they stretched an orange net across the street that caught several of the motorcycle police that were protecting the pro-life group, throwing them from their vehicles. Fortunately there was nothing like that this year. We continued to the waterfront which is where it concluded with music. There were more EWTN interviews. We encountered some onlookers that had questions, and visited with other pro-life folks about our organizations.
As the crowd began to fade, we made our way to church. We headed down The Embarcadero, and it was a parade-like image. We were no longer in the very large crowd – now it was just our small band of LIFE Runners (six) with a billboard-like sign that said “REMEMBER the Unborn” on one side and “Go LIFE Runners” on the other. There were some honks, cheers, and jeers along the way to church.
Mass was beautifully said in the oldest language of the church, Latin. It was very solemn and a very appropriate way to end our day. Afterwards, we walked the banner back to our hotel and enjoyed one last meal together.
The next day came quickly and we all headed in different directions making our way home. There was so much to think about, follow up on and explore from the past week. I made some notes on the plane and then kind of laughed to myself about some of our minor mishaps through out the trip. Most of all though, I was so pleased as it was once again demonstrated through the numbers at the Walk, the enthusiasm at the Summit and the excitement at the rally…that the tide was turning. So many things to point to that demonstrate the cultural change occurring. Now I have more to add to the list I keep that illustrates the fact that together we are winning!
But we can never give in or give up. So as Dr. Castle, Vitae’s next president who is currently serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force likes to tell us, “Forward, forward always forward!”