It was the middle of the night
When two full-size buses pulled up to our dorm. The day was waning to darkness as hordes of students marched out to the buses, pillows, backpacks, jackets, & beanies in hand. The air was crisp, thanks to the nighttime in Florida blocking out the usual streaming sun. I was excited. I had my camera packed, ready to document, as I hugged my roommate goodbye and went to board the bus. I experienced the usual momentary feeling of chaos as I tried to figure out where to sit in the bus, a struggle I think we can relate to at any age, before settling next to a girl from my politics classes. We shared that twinkle of excitement that comes from leaving late in the night on some unknown adventure. The bus' engine started up, and I could feel the vehicle tremble with energy and anticipation. And we were off.
The drive extended upward of twenty hours, but they were hours filled with meeting other people on the bus, playing games such as paranoia, telling crazy travel stories, trying to sleep, and laughing over our insanity at driving through the night. Around 3:00 am the bus finally collapsed into silence - students sprawled on blankets across the floor or multiple chairs trying to get comfortable. I hunkered down using my backpack as a pillow, in my excitement I had forgotten to bring a pillow with me. I did have a sleeping back stowed for the gym floor that would be our place of rest for two nights, a last minute borrow from a friend. Already, the trip was shaping up to be an experience to remember, and I had trouble sleeping a wink.
Mass at the Basilica was packed
when our bus finally slid into a parking spot on the evening of the second day of travel. We had driven through the night and arrived just as mass was beginning in the D.C. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The evening mass was the first normal thing we had done in days -- it seemed -- so students excitedly bustled off the bus, ready to use their legs and stretch out. I locked arms with a new friend and we skipped down toward the Basilica. It was freezing! (Well, anything below 50 F is freezing to me since I'm from Florida), but it was definitely cold. The chilled air brushed my face and turned my nose pink as we dashed across the road and joined the swarms heading to the Basilica.
They stored us downstairs, below the mass since the normal building was packed. People of all ages knelt in bunches in corners and filled every crease in the wall, praising our Lord, giving thanks for our freedom, and offering up prayers for the unborn.
Then we all flooded back outside, taking a shuddery breath of the cold air and piled back onboard the bus to head to the Church where we would be crashing for the night on the gym floor, joined by a few other universities.
We woke up early
but at this point time was kind of flexible. So was sleep. We were all too excited. No showers, so we wiped down as best we could with baby wipes & bundled up in layers to combat the cold. Aboard the bus, we all stared out the windows at the whitewashed day that would mark what was supposed to be one of the largest marches in history. President Donald J Trump was supposed to speak at the event, the first president to speak at the March in history. We were all excited to be part of such a historic event, together with new friends and old.
Coach Mary Reed, one of the chaperones for the trip prayed with all of us and hyped us up using her former Basketball Coach charm before handing out hats marked with Ave colors so we could stick together during the March.
We walked up toward the National Mall
and at first I thought the crowd was thin. We breezed through security, everyone had been told to pack minimally. My camera was checked, but once we made it through, everyone pushed forward toward the front of the mall where the stage was set. We were hours early, and so we managed to wedge our way close to the front. Everyone was checking on everyone else, are you here? Can you see? How are you feeling? What do you think?
Restless feet tapped around on the plastic ground that had been laid down. Boots, tennis shoes, and the occasional brave candle preparing to March for those who might never have the chance to walk.
When it comes to crowds, I think we have all experienced being in one. There are noisy crowds, angry crowds, bustling crowds, excited crowds... whether you are at a concert or a city, the feeling is different. In D.C. on this day, the crowd was tingling with anticipation, young energy, people passionate about something and excited to have the chance to express themselves and stand by one another. I felt filled with confidence, as if those around me were propping me up. I suppose we all were in a way.
The diversity of people was a testament to the movement
There were priests and sisters, families and young children, young adults, grandparents, men and women, a testament to how abortion affects people of all ages. I wondered if the children understand the March; did their parents tell them what they are walking for? That their brother or sister is alive because of their parents choice? Or that their brother or sister could have died by their parents' choice?
The day started off with prayer and worship as a band came up to energize the crowd. We sang along as best we could, even if we did not know the words. Senators spoke, expressing the beauty of how different people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and political parties can come together in support of the same truth.
The first President to speak
I remember pointing out to my friend next to me as I saw the President's limo pull up. We watched as snipers stationed themselves on nearby roofs and guards escorted the President to a bulletproof tent. From there, he walked directly out onto the stage, not more than a hundred feet away.
The crowd's enthusiasm swelled as the President walked onto the stage, we were making history. Perched on a friend's shoulders, I shot a few photos as the President expressed his thoughts at being at the March for Life. Choosing to speak on the very day that the Democrats of the House were making their argument to remove him from office, his choice to speak on such a controversial topic was both brave and some might say foolish.
Nonetheless, his words encouraged the crowd:
"These Are Incredible People"
This is some great success. Young people are the heart of the March for Life and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation. The life movement is led by strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us who fought to raise the conscience of our nation and uphold the rights of our citizens. You embrace mothers with care and compassion. You are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love. You are grateful and we are so grateful. These are incredible people. - President Donald J Trump
"One Life Changes the World"
All of us here today understand an eternal truth, every child is a precious and sacred gift from God. Together we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life. When we see the image of a baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation. When we hold a newborn in our arms, we know the endless love that each child brings to a family. When we watch a child grow, we see the splendor that radiates from each human soul. One life changes the world. - President Donald J Trump
"We Cannot Know What our Citizens yet Unborn Will Achieve"
We cannot know what our citizens yet unborn will achieve, the dreams they will imagine, the masterpieces they will create, the discoveries they will make. But we know this, every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting. And above all, we know that every human soul is divine and every human life, born and unborn, is made in the holy image of Almighty God. - President Donald J Trump
As if we hadn't been standing for hours
the crowd surged forward following President Trump's speech. Pushing down the path that would soon be trampled by hundreds of feet. Walking along the path, we passed all kinds of people: passionate preachers with megaphones, groups singing, praying, dancing, talking, pro-choice protestors along the sidelines either silently holding signs or addressing members of the March, and more.
Our group began by singing the Salve Regina, then we all broke off into groups as we pushed forward. I would see the occasional green, black, and white pom above the crowd as I flitted back and forth, shooting various groups as they supported the pro-life or pro-choice movement in their own way.
At one point, I think I scared a police officer as I jumped out of the path for marchers because he caught me and pulled me back on the path. I was heading over toward a pro-choice group speaking over a megaphone to take a photo, and he probably thought I was acting aggressively, who knows, but it definitely flustered me as I tried to explain I just wanted a photo. "Stay on the path," He grunted at me, not unkindly. In fact, most of the police officers along the March for Life were kind, helping Marchers with directions and standing by.
There were groups of all kind: I have been astonished researching for this article with the amount of bias in the news sources I have read, which often describe pro-life marchers as "anti-abortion activists" or "activists against the right to abortion," both purposefully chosen for the negative connotation. Articles describe individuals on the March for Life as a "mob" or a chanting crowd of "religious school groups." Many attempt to frame the variety of people as one ignorant mob, not the American citizens and informed, intelligent individuals that they are. All I know is that I saw people of every background that day and you cannot in good conscience disregard a movement under blanket terms. Instead of attempting to describe what I saw to you and potentially using biased terms, keep scrolling for some photos from the March.