By Dave Andrusko
“We’ve seen lots of markers that would show that,” Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, tells NBC Washington. “Our hotel block sold out a month in advance of what it’s ever sold out, and we’ve had more media requests than ever before, so we expect really record-breaking crowds.” — From a story in “Human Events” about the new head of the March for Life and why she believed this year’s March would be even larger than 2012’s.
This is just one of many quotes that reveal the confidence that the successor to the legendary Nellie Gray felt that the turnout on the National Mall today would be huge. I had no reason to question those assertions and every reason to hope Monahan’s prediction would be proven correct. What did I see?
Short of being in a helicopter (and even then), making crowd estimates is tricky business. While I don’t claim what follows is scientific, having just come from my 31st March for Life, I would to explain why I firmly believe this year’s turnout could easily have been the largest ever.
- This year the March organizers installed two giant Jumbotrons so that attendees could clearly see who was speaking no matter how far from the stage they were. In the early going, I noticed there was a gap between the audience watching the Jumbotron closest to the stage and the second one located further away. It was as if the audience anticipated a huge influx joining in between ll:30 and l:15 and left space. Good idea: all that space was soon occupied.
- The rally takes place on the National Mall between 7th and 9th streets SE. Independence Ave runs along one side of it. In all the years I’ve been reporting on the March I’ve never seen this many people who were parallel, so to speak, to the March.
- Likewise on 7th Street (which is where the walk to the Supreme Court begins), there were massive numbers of pro-lifers who cheered and laughed and competed for the prize that goes to whomever produces the loudest chant.
- Before the rally ends and the March begins there is always a steady increase in the number of people standing on Constitution Avenue who will join the March as it goes by. I couldn’t believe how many men and women, young people and adults, were there on the sidewalks, primed to jump in and commemorate.
- While it is true that there are late arrivals every year, I was stunned by the size of the surges that were arriving even as the Marchers were well into their walk down Constitution Avenue. On my way back from the Supreme Court I got caught in a wave of youngsters. There are many other indices that the turnout was enormous but let me end with this.
- I always get the top of the hill—to 1st Street SE and Constitution—so I can look down to get a feel for the size of the crowd. As large as previous marches have been, there would be spots where the numbers would be less thick than others. Today there were none of those sparser patches and, in fact, the March had to slow down more than once to accommodate newcomers joining in from off the sidewalks.
Of course, numbers are only one way, and a very inexact way, to measure what takes place at any rally, including this one, and what it means for the future. Watching the day’s glorious events, there were two more important conclusions that were as inescapable to me as they were welcomed.
First, we have written dozens and dozens of stories about the influx of massive numbers of young people into the Movement as a whole, and to the March for Life, in particular. As you listened to speakers from the podium, including one 19-year-old, you couldn’t help but smile. It was clear that they saw themselves not as part of the Movement but as the Movement!
We old geezers may protest that we have a thing or two yet to contribute, but the youths’ sense of confidence—that “We are the Pro-Life Generation”—is both refreshing and reassuring.
Second, all pro-lifers are aware of (and make use of ) modern technology to spread the gospel of the common humanity of the unborn. It was deeply symbolic at many levels that Pope Benedict XVI, tweeting in nine languages, wrote, “I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.”
Finally, I would like to join all those hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers in attendance in praising the memory of Nellie Gray. In a Movement filled with unique and strong personalities, she was one of a kind.
We miss her.
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