On June 20th as I walked up to the statehouse in Trenton, I could hear the crowd before I even saw it. As I got closer a sea of women in pink shirts filled my field of vision. The more I looked around though, I realized the chanting was not coming from this group of women. Instead, further down the street a much larger, more rambunctious crowd had gathered to protest proposed cuts to health care benefits and pensions for the state’s public employees. As I looked around at the crowd gathered in support of women’s health, I wondered, “Is this it? Where are all the signs? Where is all the chanting?” Cuts to the state’s family planning budget have the potential to affect half of states adult population, not counting their families. So where was everyone?
Maybe my expectations were too high. Never having been to a political rally before the only visuals I had to go on were of what I had seen on TV or had read about in history books: The March on Washington, the Million Mom March or the National Equality March. Knowing that this was a state versus federal rally meant that my expectations were lowered, but not by much. I expected to see hundreds of women wearing various organizations’ t-shirts, carrying signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Stop the War on Women” and “Women’s Health=Family Health,” chanting for women’s rights and listening to leaders of the movement expounding on its progress and what we must do to continue the fight.
In reality, the rally was much smaller and tamer than I anticipated. Yes there were t-shirts: bright pink with “I stand with Planned Parenthood” written on the front. Yes, many of the movement’s leaders gave excellent speeches and promised to continue the fight to restore the family planning budget. And yes there were a few signs and some chanting. However, I think what disappointed me the most was the somewhat small turnout. Don’t get me wrong, everyone who turned up was amazing for doing so and I applaud the organizers of the rally for all of the support garnered for the cause. But seriously, New Jerseyans, where were you? These cuts will directly affect your health and the health of those that you care about. I am especially disappointed in college age women, my peers, many of whom rely on Planned Parenthood and other family planning centers for the most basic healthcare. If we do not care enough about our own health to fight these budget cuts why should we expect anyone else to care?
However, maybe I am being too hard on this rally in particular and instead am making a comment on women’s rallies in general. In this society, when women gather they are expected to be calm and collected. As evidenced by only the two State Police officers stationed outside the statehouse, no one expected a group of women to get out of hand. Along with this assumption another can be deduced: no one expected men to even attend. Why is it that men are not expected to rally for a “women’s” cause? Men do not exist in a women-less bubble; they are surrounded by their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends, etc whom they care about and whose well-being is at stake. A woman would be expected to support her husband in a rally against pension cuts, so why shouldn’t he be expected to support his wife in a rally against threats to her health? Because of the relatively “calm” nature of women’s rallies and the lack of male presence these rallies are often missing another crucial component: press coverage. Without press coverage how will the legislators know that anyone cares? How will other women and men know that they can join in the cause? Women’s rallies need to continue to be taken seriously if they are ever to affect the change necessary ensure our rights.
Nevertheless, my first political rally was a positive experience. It was exciting to see other people gathered for a cause that I feel so strongly about. Hearing all of the speeches made me realize that other people truly care about my health and will continue to fight for my well-being. My only wish is that in the future more young women like myself will be able to experience what I did yesterday and will join in the fight for women’s health and in essence, women’s rights.