At noon on Wednesday I marched to help carry the pro life message to the Democratic National Convention. The rally was organized by America, Defend Life! a Charlotte area pro life group. The marchers met at the Diocese of Charlotte Pastoral Center, which is separated from the heart of Charlotte's downtown -- locally known as Uptown -- by Interstate 277. Once across I-277 we were to march on the sidewalks about six blocks up Tryon Street to a small plaza on the southwest side of the intersection with Trade Street for an hour long rally.
In our vanguard one of our group carried an American Flag. Most marchers carried pro life signs and placards. Some carried rosaries and prayed as we marched. The ubiquitous police -- I spotted officers wearing uniforms from cities in neighboring states -- held up traffic at intersections so we could stay together as a group. Members of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Policed Department Bicycle Patrol accompanied us there and back. Within our group, members of The Knights of Columbus wearing safety yellow mesh vests also served as escorts. The Knights are a Catholic fraternal group and while they are best known today for their works of charity in earlier decades they did protect Catholics from forces of religious bigotry.
Charlotte's most prominent buildings have Tryon Street addresses and the intersection with Trade Street is both the highest point in the city, the meeting point of its first four political wards and the dividing line of its street system into north, south, east and west. As we marched past the corporate offices of the Charlotte Observer and Duke Energy, the Mint Museum and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, I saw a great many people with convention and media credentials hanging around their necks. In contrast, I saw few who looked like ordinary local officer workers out to grab a bite of lunch. Indeed the smaller sandwich shops that would ordinarily be busy at noon seemed mostly empty, nor were there customers for the two or three street vendors selling Obama themed goods. The extent to which local commerce seems to have been disrupted by the convention was driven home when I stopped by the Charlotte Ikea before driving home. Twice while I was in the store, the PA system announced that normal deliveries would begin again on September 6, after the convention.
Along the route, a few reporters, mostly younger ones from local outlets, asked marchers for comments. I got a double take from a local radio reporter. Instead of the customary religious reason I told her I was there in part because if we hadn't been aborting 3,300 children a day for the last 40 years my Social Security benefit would sure look a lot more secure today. Mostly we weren't just ignored; from most people connected with the convention we got that complete blank look reserved for those who in the mind of the observer simply do not exist.
When we reached our destination, we had to run a short gauntlet of about 12 to 15 pro abortion counter demonstrators. They shouted slogans and questions meant to show our lack of concern with humans after they are born. Most of all they shouted gratuitous obscenities. That several marchers had young children with them did not restrain their language. The general gist of the pro abotioner's questions seemed to be no one has the right to be concerned about unborn children until all children can be guaranteed of entry into a perfect world. This group positioned themselves between us and most of the foot traffic as they continued to shout and scream for the next forty five minutes or so. We countered by having those on the outside of our circle face away from the speakers and hold their signs up as high as possible to be visible to passers-by.
There were many police present at the rally site, but they seemed to function as much to limit the two protest groups' contact with passers-by, so as to keep the counter protestors from bothering the larger and licensed group. Indeed a couple of our older marchers had to argue with the police to be allowed to leave the security cordon around our rally to rest their feet at some benches twenty to thirty feet away. I heard one cop say "You chose to march, get back with your group." Those pro life marchers who were obviously old and showed some effects from the heat and humidity were allowed to sit down as long as they didn't take their signs with them,
During the testimonials from Silent No More, I saw a member of the Knights of Columbus get into a brief shoving match with a counter protestor. No police were involved and it seemed resolved when our Knight stood his ground. Shortly thereafter, the counter protestors moved off. I don't know what triggered the shoving, but earlier I had seen one of the women who carried an "I regret my abortion" sign talking to a counter demonstrator. The members of Silent No More can be incredibly brave about approaching those whom they sense may be feeling pain from a past abortion. It's a pretty good guess that someone wearing a button that they are proud of their abortion who also screams "F--k you" at a group of strangers probably has something eating at her soul. The heavily politicized group of modern day witchdoctors known as the American Psychological Association may like to pretend that abortion does no lasting psychological damage. The women of Silent No More know better.
Perhaps the most inspiring testimonial was that of Erika, a very pregnant black college student who walked away from an abortion clinic and chose life for her son. On the bus back from the rally, I learned more of Erika's story from one of the Charlotte area's sidewalk counselors. She and her friend had seen this young black woman leave the abortion clinic. The woman seemed to pause as she walked past them, like she wanted to talk. So talk they did. Erika's boyfriend and her family both wanted her to have an abortion and were threatening to cut off support. Erika had left the clinic because she wasn't ready to chose abortion. It took more than one meeting to convince Erika there were other choices that could be made. When the women found out Erika's baby was due in October, they took her to see the movie October Baby. They also found her a place not only would she and her child find support but where she could also continue her college education -- the Charlotte based Room at the Inn. Those of us who had purchased T Shirts and bumper sticker before boarding our bus were told that money had gone to a worthy cause that day. Erika had tried to march with us, but due to the advanced state of her pregnancy, those with her had decide to use the bumper sticker proceeds to pay for a cab after they had walked the first two blocks.
For most of the rally I stood facing Tryon street. Among the vehicles allowed in the area were several political billboard trucks. Since I saw each truck several times during the hour long rally they seemed to be running a constant loop east up Tyron, north over to Church Street, west back to I-77 and then back to Tyron. I couldn't see all the slogans on the trucks from where I stood but it is hard not to guess the message of a 15 foot long high definition image of an aborted fetus. Created Equal was not part of our rally. Indeed many voices in the pro life movement do not like such tactics. I didn't either until I read The Race Beat.
The older leaders of the post World War II civil rights movement were also worried about offending supporters by being too aggressive. The young Freedom Riders ignored the warnings to be cautious and broke the civil rights movement wide open. The college age members of Created Equal intentionally pattern themselves as 21st century freedom riders. That the Democrats feel bold enough to make expanding the availability of abortion a highlight of their agenda almost forty years after Roe v Wade began the struggle suggest that maybe it is time to let the young radicals take the message to the streets. The convention in Charlotte is just one stop on Created Equal's plan to impact the swing states in 2012. One of the women on our bus was giving the Created Equal drivers a place to sleep for the convention and sought volunteers who could do the same in Raleigh Durham. She assured people the graphic photos are not displayed while Created Equal's truck is parked in a volunteer's driveway overnight.
At the end of our hour long rally the police informed us a group of counter protestors had formed along our route on Tyron and took us one block north to Church Street for our march back to the Pastoral Center. Church street was all but deserted as we walked backed to our staging area. How many of us were there? The story at the Catholic News Herald says 250 but that seems too a bit too high. The Charlotte Observer reported 200. My estimate is a bit less, perhaps 150 to 175 people. There were three buses from remote locations to the Diocese of Charlotte Pastoral Center, with about 30 to 35 people each. Some other small groups came in their own cars. We were joined by a handful who worked at the diocese center where we had gathered, while a small group who didn't march joined us at the rally location. Even at 150 people I was impressed. It was the middle of a work day during the school year. There was a traffic lock down that promised hassles getting to the area. Most of all, we all knew we would have no visible support whatsoever once we got there.