Saturday’s Rally for Women’s Health in Foley Square served as a reminder that activism in America is alive and well, contrary to whatever the Internet might have been telling us. An estimated 6,000 people gathered at the event held by New York City’s Planned Parenthood in an attempt to tell Washington, “Women’s health care is a must, Planned Parenthood stands for us.”
Spectators cheered this sentiment periodically throughout the rally while waving signs like “No raging Boehner can stop me,” “Jesus was a planned pregnancy,” “Feminism is for lovers,” and “The most dangerous place for a woman is in the House of Representatives.”
The rally began just two weeks ago, starting with a Facebook page, after the House of Representatives approved the passage of the Pence Amendment. If made into law, the amendment would drastically cut funding for Title X, and Planned Parenthood health centers would be restricted from receiving federal funds. New York City Councilwoman Jessica Lapin spoke toward the beginning of the event as one of the nearly 40 advocates who spoke or performed:
“Everybody has to understand that in Washington, in capitals, and in cities across this country they want to take away our right to choose. And they want to take away Women’s access to health care. 97 percent of the women who go to Planned Parenthood are going for basic health services. So, we are not going to let them take away our birth control, our cancer screenings, our check ups, our basic health care and our rights,” she said.
In addition to other New York City council members and community activists, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney spoke, as did Kathleen Turner, Congressman Anthony Weiner, Congressman Eliot Engle, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl Movement. Musical performances by The Mountain Goats, Tobi Reagon, and Nellie McKay offered momentary breaths between speakers.
Kathleen Hanna, who was 15 when she had her first experience with Planned Parenthood, spoke to us before taking the podium:
“When I was a young woman who was touring and I would have health problems, I would go to Planned Parenthood…in a lot of different states, D.C. and Chicago and Seattle. They helped me stay on the road. Their support and the fact that I didn’t have to get sicker, and sicker, and sicker, and miss show after show and then get a full time job to pay for my emergency room visits, is part of the reason why I was able to be a musician.”
Hanna, who has had an active role in the women’s rights movement since the early 1990s, added, “It is about health care. It is about women could die, but it’s also about women having to sideline their dreams in order to fund health care, a lot of which would be unnecessary if they got early screening, or they got help right away.”
The organizers themselves were pleasantly surprised by the turn-out. Erica Sackin, the company’s press advisor, said:
“Honestly, I’m not sure what we expected. When we started organizing this whole thing two weeks ago (seriously), we didn’t have any idea if 300 people would show up. But once we put it out there and told people we wanted to hold a rally, it was amazing how many people came out and wanted to help however they could. That’s the thing about this legislation — Planned Parenthood has touched the lives of so many people. This legislation affects basic health care, care that women need. And I think as a result, people are furious.”