A heterogeneous mass of marchers espousing support for women’s rights paid little mind to the blustery conditions muffling their chants of, “Women! United! Will never be divided!” Hovering nearby, however, were women threatening unity with ideas out of step with traditional feminism — they oppose abortion.
Wind did not prevent thousands from trekking the milelong route along Routh Street at Saturday’s Dallas Women’s March, where the breeze failed to blow off perky pink caps from marchers' heads. Those knitted vagina-shaped beanies made history, and the cover of The New Yorker, after the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.
The throng included retired teachers who had championed Roe v. Wade, stroller-steering moms, bigger kids on dads’ shoulders and millennials of varying races and skin colors.
Carol Stum, 70, marched for women’s equality in the 1960s. “She was even arrested once,” says her sidekick, former fellow teacher Sarah Scott, also 70.
“But we became complacent. We lost our fire," Stum says. “A lot of people our age, we are the problem. We voted for [Donald] Trump,” she spits, looking like she swallowed a cockroach.
Trump's election drove Stum and Scott to attend the 2017 Women’s March in Austin; it was each woman's first undertaking of political activism in more than 40 years.
“The one good thing that Trump has done is reignite that fire,” Stum says. “He’s let us know that if we are not getting involved, someone else will be involved, and if good people aren’t involved, bad things are going to happen.”
The marchers’ aim? “To harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” according to organizers.
The central theme, “power to the polls,” was about educating young voters, encouraging participation and selecting strong women for important government positions in this election year. Equal pay and opportunity, and reproductive rights and safety also were on marchers' minds.
A handful of them also want to end abortion.
Political-rally regulars aren’t shocked by the baby in a vagina-shaped beanie or the elderly woman holding a sign reading, “Trump is not a cunt because he has neither the depth nor the warmth.”
Controversy arrived discreetly, smiling sweetly, wearing the same pink and black colors as the marching majority.
The slogan "pro-life feminist" on one woman’s sign drew agitated cries of, “My body, my choice!” A handful or women participated in the morning’s Women’s March as well as the highly religious, anti-abortion March for Life, which began a couple of hours later on the other side of downtown.
Rachel Lamb leans to the political left on most social issues, but she is against abortion.
“I identified as pro-choice as recently as 2010,” she says, because she was uncomfortable with other beliefs associated with many who call themselves pro-life.
But she found camaraderie she was seeking in the New Wave Feminists, an organization aiming to stop abortion, war, the death penalty, torture and all manner of violence. They work not to make abortion illegal but to get to the root of the need for it, they say.
Founded by Dallas resident Destiny Herndon-de la Rosa, New Wave Feminists is one of a few groups voicing the long-controversial notion that “pro-life and feminism are not diametrically opposed,” as Lamb puts it. “I mean, we literally have to march in opposite directions. And why does it have to be that way?”
“No woman wants to have an abortion … so let's work toward a culture that supports a woman so well that she never needs one,” the New Wave Feminists' website reads.
Lamb and others who identify as pro-life feminists believe that by changing the language, softening stereotypes and having civilized conversations about abortion, they can make the procedure “unacceptable and unnecessary.”
Feminists, in large part, are not prepared for such a discussion.
Stum and Scott balk at the idea before it’s entirely pitched, as if they’ve heard it all before.
“They are probably listening to their husbands,” Scott quips.
“We are pro-life,” Stum interrupts. “We also are pro-choice.”
Last year, New Wave Feminists were ousted as partners in the Women’s March on Washington, reportedly because their anti-abortion stance was not part of the feminist march’s agenda. But they keep marching, smiling, devoid of any apparent vitriol.
Lamb says a few women whispered or pulled her aside to let her know they, too, were anti-abortion feminists. “So many women said they were thankful I was holding that sign. They’d say, ‘I was just too scared to let anyone know,’ and then they’d run away, make sure no one thought they were associated with me, and that’s fine.”
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The March for Life featured prayer, church hymns, Jesus look-alikes dragging crucifixes and nuns reciting the rosary.
Lamb and other New Wave Feminists fit in even less with this crowd.
She glanced around and smiled. She says she and her friends are willing to overlook opposition on other issues if it means a chance to talk about abortion in a way that will leave women less divided.
“It doesn’t have to be a political or religious issue … and we can be friendly, have a civil conversation. We are Texans, dang it. Even if we disagree on something, we will be friendly,” she says.