Kensington Welfare Rights Union march

PHILADELPHIA–Members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, in denims and T-shirts, conceded nothing Monday and marched without the permit denied them. The city had apparently promised the Republicans that traffic to the Convention Center would not be disrupted and refused to officially allow the demonstrators to walk down the main thoroughfare leading to the First Union Center.

However, promptly at noon, just as they said they would, seven mothers led off the 3,000-strong march in the blazing sun, accompanied by an equal number of police and closely watched by observers from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The mothers led a parade of mostly young members of the Poor People’s Economic Human Right Campaign that included a large contingent of persons clearly disabled yet guiding wheelchairs, sometimes with only a single finger that had to the strength to do so, while perspiration poured from their brows. A large group of deaf persons also marched, carrying signs that 75 percent of those who cannot hear live in poverty.

All of them covered the 10 miles from City Hall, chanting demands for housing, health care and living-wage jobs.

Christine Orland, 30, from Cleveland, energized the crowd with her husky rendition of a spiritual:

"I went down to the rich man’s house and took back what he stole from me. Now I took back my dignity; now I took back my humanity."

It was the third march in last two days here led by women.

On Sunday, hundreds of pro-choice supporters took to the streets of Philadelphia in the Unity 2000 March for freedom and democracy.

"We have to keep bringing up the gender issue," said Barbara DiTullio, president of Pennsylvania NOW, instrumental in bringing 200 to 300 pro-choice supporters to the front of the march. "Everything today is about ‘family.’ They’ve taken the word "women" out of the public debate."

Women, men and children wearing yellow pro-choice armbands marched behind a "Stand Up for Choice" banner, chanting, "Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide." One tiny participant rode in a stroller and wore the yellow armband around his waist. Marchers represented a wide range if ideologies, from "Republicans for Choice" to the "Radical Women"–from the women who want their party to respond to their beliefs to the women who believe that the political parties are irrelevant.

After Sunday’s march, many of the protesters gathered at the First Presbyterian Church for a religious service emphasizing that women are sufficiently moral to make their own decisions about whether to terminate pregnancy. After the service, worshippers marched to City Hall to again demonstrate their concerns.

Several blocks away, the pro-choice Republicans conceded defeat in their efforts to change the party’s anti-abortion platform plank. More than 1,000 supporters jammed a Rittenhouse Square hotel ballroom, declaring that they would try again in the year 2004 to change their party’s mind or at least convince its leaders to remain neutral in this most divisive issue.

Apparently disconnected from the issues raised at the marches and the ballroom, a gathering billing itself as the Shadow Convention on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania hosted former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

With popular columnist Arianna Huffington heading the billing and footing much of the bill, the Shadow Convention focused on three issues: campaign finance reform, the growing gap between rich and poor and the devastating consequences of the nation’s war on drugs.

Yet the convention’s speakers did not address these issues as women’s rights concerns, nor did they reflect concern about women’s reproductive freedom as essential to their economic freedom and advancement.

"If this was a real shadow convention," DiTullio added, "wouldn’t you address the issues that are in the platform?"

In fact, that marches and the other efforts on behalf of choice and poverty went ignored by both the Republican and shadow conventions, despite the best efforts of marching women in sneakers drinking from water bottles and those pro-choice Republican advocates in pumps drinking chilled Perrier.

In fact, some say the official inflexibility and rebuff to pro-choice Republicans are not only unchanged, but also worse than in 1996.

This year’s Republican platform, like previous ones, calls for a constitutional amendment banning all abortions, regardless of circumstances, and for all judicial appointments to be pro-life. However, the platform now also insists that federal funding to teen-age reproductive health be limited to abstinence-only education.