Nearly 70 Saint Vincent undergraduates traveled to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19 to attend the March for Life. The annual trip was organized by the Saint Vincent Pro-Life club.
The club chartered two buses to take students down to the March. The costs were covered by funding from the Student Government Association as well as a donation from local community member.
Benjamin Watt, junior mathematics major, is co-president of the pro-life club along with junior biochemistry major, Sam Whittaker.
Watt explained that the club had a surplus since the March was canceled two years due to weather conditions.
“The buses cost $3800, for the two of them,” Watt said. “Last year about this time, we received a $1500 donation from a local donor, and we requested the same amount from Student Government back in the fall. In the next year we’ll want to do some fundraising and connect to local donors.”
Participants were obliged to wake up early. The students, accompanied by St. Benedict Hall monk-in-residence Fr. Canice McMullen, boarded buses at the Carey Center 5:30 AM Friday morning.
They were scheduled to arrive at 10:15 a.m. for a pre-march mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the oldest parish in the city. Heavy traffic delayed arrival, and students were obliged to skip the event.
Watt mentioned that in order to arrive on time for the mass they will have to leave earlier next year.
“I had expected, with traffic, that it wouldn’t add more than a half-hour to our expected arrival. I thought we would be there early for mass. We’ll plan, for next year, to leave early if we want to go to mass,” Watt said.
But the group arrived in plenty of time for the pre-March rally on the
National Mall and managed to secure a good position to hear speakers. House Speaker Paul Ryan addressed the March in person, while Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump spoke to marchers via a satellite TV connection from the White House. It was the first time that a sitting president directly addressed the March.
Some students were dissatisfied with the speakers, characterizing them as insincere. Thomas Syphan, freshman biochemistry major, was attending the march for the first time.
“It sounded almost like. . . they were prefabricated. I felt there was a little bit too much show and not enough substance in what they were saying,” Syphan said.
After the rally, students had to endure an hour-long delay as marchers from several locations filtered onto the March route. Eventually, the slow train began to move, covering the distance from the rally point a few hundred feet from the Washington Monument along the National Mall to the Supreme Court.
Saint Vincent students carried a pro-life club banner, and Phil Tran, freshman philosophy and theology major, displayed a large American flag he had brought for the occasion.
“I thought it was appropriate given the cause of the event: to show that young Americans want to remind our fellow citizens that our nation’s government has a responsibility to protect the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he said, emphasizing “life.”
Students we spoke to generally had positive impressions of the experience. Several emphasized a feeling of solidarity among March participants.
Mary Anand is a freshman biochemistry major who attended the March.
“It was inspiring to see so many people who have taken time off work, who have taken time off school, to show their ongoing support to protect human life. And it is inspiring to see their perseverance and their continued effort,” Anand said.
“I felt like there was a lot of solidarity. Like everybody was going for the same reason. Everybody knew that everybody else was going for the same reason… I feel like there was a common bond,” he said.
Freshman Bertalan Papp is an exchange student from Hungary. The trip was a novel experience for him. The march seemed orderly affirming, he explained.
“Unfortunately, my experience is that protests can get out of hand quite easily, but I was really happy this was not the case. I liked the overall atmosphere,” Papp said. “I felt it wasn’t judgmental—people really just wanted to express their opinion. Some of the conversations I had will stay with me forever for sure.”
Despite the success of the trip, Watt, the pro-life club co-president, thinks that his club has a role to play on campus instead of merely spreading its message at events like the March.
“There is still opposition on campus to the pro-life movement,” Watt said. “I found posters for the March on the stairwell outside my dorm torn up, and someone had written on it, like, ‘That’ll show you.’ Someone had kept folding the poster up and writing things on it, and then someone else was fighting back and unfolding it. I just see it as preserving the political voice of the pro-life movement on campus. We believe these things, and we continue to believe that abortion is wrong and needs to stop.”
Photos: Jonathan Meilaender