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The Right to Choose Starts with the Walk for Choice

The Right to Choose Starts with the Walk for Choice

By Monica Kriete

Kenyon students participate in a wide variety of activities, including those that are typical of “the college experience” – attending fraternity parties and lectures by guest speakers – as well as those that are somewhat less common. (Raccoon dinner, anyone?)

While the ’60s embedded activism firmly in the heart of “the college experience,” it isn’t often that students in sleepy Gambier have the opportunity to take part in large-scale political protests. One such opportunity, however, presented itself last Saturday, Feb. 26: the Crozier Center for Women organized a trip to participate in a Walk for Choice in Columbus, and I was one of 14 Kenyon students to attend the event as part of that delegation. (We ran into five other Kenyon students while we were there, and for all I know, there might have been more.)

The Walk For Choice was a protest event comprised of a march from the campus of The Ohio State University to the Ohio Statehouse at the corner of High St. and Broad St. in Columbus, where a rally was held. The event was one of more than 40 similar events organized primarily via the Internet in response to the Title X funding cuts amended to the continuing budget resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. These cuts would prevent Planned Parenthood and affiliated organizations from receiving federal funding. Planned Parenthood uses this funding to provide essential non-abortion-related healthcare services, such as STI testing, cancer screening and infertility screening to both men and women at reduced cost.

As we walked to Wexner Plaza on Ohio State’s campus, where the march began, carrying poster board signs a handful of us had made in Crozier the night before, cars began honking at us as drivers gave us the thumbs-up.

That positive energy carried into the plaza, where a crowd of more than 100 women and men of all ages carrying signs and mostly wearing pink were milling around. Shortly after noon, things got rolling.

The event’s organizers spoke to us through a megaphone. They encouraged us to chant loudly as we walked, urged us to stay on the sidewalks and not block them for other people, and advised us not to engage with any anti-choice individuals we met.

And then the march began. We poured out from the plaza onto the sidewalk, with the Kenyon group close to the front of the crowd. A woman with a megaphone began leading us in chants; though many were classics from bygone years, directly referencing abortion (“1, 2, 3, 4, open up the clinic door; 5, 6, 7, 8, you can’t make us procreate”), others centered on Title X (“Like safe sex? Save Title ‘X’!”). My personal favorite was a call-and-response: “Tell me what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!” While we were hesitant at first, we grew more confident the longer we marched.

Every time I made eye contact with my friends, we grinned. The energy was incredible. Cars were honking. Pedestrians and patrons of stores with large windows smiled and waved, or took photos. My legs were cold but my upper half was sweating – none of it mattered. When a car full of men who disagreed with our message hung their heads out of their car and made faces, I smiled and waved. The woman with the megaphone called, “Peace signs only, everyone!” Police officers helped us cross the street when a portion of the sidewalk was closed, and officers were stationed along our route as we got closer to the statehouse.

I had thought that the nearly three-mile walk would seem endless, so I was surprised when we arrived at the Statehouse. There, the tail end of a protest against Ohio Senate Bill 5, which would limit the ability of unions to bargain collectively, joined us. We waited for a while, variously chanting or chatting amongst ourselves, until the rally began.

The rally opened with Stephanie Craddock Sherwood, a representative of Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio, who thanked us for attending and gave information about the numerous bills, pending in both the Ohio state legislature and in Congress, which aim to limit access to abortion or otherwise limit healthcare options for pregnant women. She was followed by Erin Upchurch, a LGBT and women’s rights activist, who read a poem expressing her anger regarding these attacks on women’s rights. Rev. Richard Venous, who serves on the board of the Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice, emphasized the impact the funding cuts would have on the poor who depend on the low-cost healthcare Planned Parenthood provides. Nancy Pitts explained the work she does with Women Have Options, which assists poor women in paying for abortions. A small segment of the Columbus Women’s Chorus led us in a pro-choice sing-along, strengthening the already incredible sense of community among the rally participants. Finally, Kelly Bell, an independent activist and journalist, encouraged us to continue working for the cause by calling our state and federal representatives.

After the rally, we found the bus that took us back north on High St. to the Ohio State campus. The storefronts I remembered walking past seemed to fly by. I was exhausted, my voice was gone and my muscles hurt, but I felt good.

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