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Locals take a little time off to march for what's important

Andrew Scot Bolsinger —

Perhaps I am an eternal optimist, but I truly believe — that America, even in these bleak times of rising gas prices, huge corporate — layoffs and countless deaths fighting a "war" on foreign soil, is a united — nation.

But we aren't fooled into believing that unity means agreement. — We are a united, but deeply divided, nation. I welcome that distinction — rather than be alarmed by it. We have always been a deeply divided nation — - from the Articles of Confederation, to the 100-year battle with slavery, — to the current fissures on many things religious, political and moral.

These divisions keep us thinking, animated, growing, protesting — and, most of all, participating in the life of our country. Just as the — recent women's reproductive rights march in Washington, D.C., made perfectly — clear.

The cause

The march drew hundreds of thousands, even more than a — million by some counts, including some of Ashland's own. Passions run — deep enough that families built their vacations around the march, and — old college friends reunited to march again. Such is the level of commitment — to the cause.

"Families should not have to keep fighting for reproductive — freedom," said Susan McQueen, an Ashland resident who attended the march — along with her husband, Wade, daughter Myan and son Preston Backer. "We — have better technology now, our world has changed and we don't have to — continue to have unwanted pregnancies or use pregnancy as punishment."

The family built its vacation around the trip to D.C., — taking part in a pre-march rally and spending time at the Capital lobbying — Oregon Sens. Wyden and Smith.

"I wanted to teach my kids not to be apathetic and learn — how to participate in democracy," McQueen said.

Locals Shelley Elkovich and college friend Grady Boyd — also made the trek to D.C. for the march. The two marched in one of the — first of its kind more than a decade ago. They, along with old college — friends they marched with back then, reunited for this all-important event.

"We got to march with those same college friends and this — time with their babies," Elkovich said.

Each says it was a trip to remember, including Myan, age — 9.

"I'm going to remember it forever," Myan said. "I was — kind of scared when I thought about it, because there might be other people — there yelling at us. Then when we went, it was easy. They were yelling — out, 'pro-life' and stuff like that, but it was fine."

Knowing the nature of our country's deep divisions, and — heartfelt passions about this issue, Susan and Wade planned ahead, teaching — Myan and Preston how to deal with crowds, what they should do if something — bad happened and how to get back to safety together. Scary stuff to consider — for a family vacation, but an essential one considering the history surrounding — this issue.

"None of us had ever done anything like this before," — Susan said, "but we were very excited. We knew we were taking some risks, — because anytime you are protesting a hot issue, there are potential for — problems and violence."

It was a risk worth taking, said Wade. "What was important — to me is that Myan see that its OK to stand up for what you believe in." — And for Preston to put his views into action. "He's pro-choice in life," — Wade said, "not just reproductive beliefs."

Backer, 19, said the march was an extension of his involvement — here at home, where he is a member of Planned Parenthood's Teen Theatre.

"I think the cause is really important for not only [women], — but me and my future," he said. "It's important that we are able to make — decisions for ourselves."

Lessons learned

To each, the march was a motivational and memorable event — to be sure. But to each it was more as well.

"Being with that many people really brought it to my attention — that this was a cause worth fighting for," Backer said.

Elkovich, a veteran of activism, said this event was especially — moving.

"The main thing is that it was so much more inclusive — and so much more progressive," she said.

Reproductive rights has been oft-criticized as a movement — of "white, middle-class women," she said. The many women of all ages, — along with men, kids, people of different races and those who speak different — languages, left an indelible impression.

She was touched by "the cross section of people."

"The multi-generational stance. The amazing diversity — and wonderful sense of love and common purpose you don't always feel in — large demonstrations."

Wade McQueen felt it too.

"I was really impressed with the middle-American cross-section — of people who showed up for the march," he said. "A lot of religious groups, — a lot of men. It was like a cross-section of people like those we might — know."

The sheer size of the crowd affirmed for Wade his own — conviction that a majority of Americans were behind those that marched.

"I began to wonder," he said, "because I when I read the — polls its a very narrow margin, I begin to wonder how true that really — is. [I feel] so strongly that what appears to me is a vocal minority is — trying to create a theocracy and cramming their philosophy down my throat."

Which was more than enough reason to march. And for Elkovich, — more than enough reason to get more involved here in Ashland.

"One of the great things about this march," she said, — "is that everyone was focused on what we were going to do when we get — back home."

For Elkovich that means getting more people out to vote — to defeat President Bush.

"This is one area that is a very clean, clear victory," — she said. A Kerry win means the continuance of a Supreme Court that will — defend the now three-decade-old Roe v. Wade decision. A defeat will mean — a conservative court and the likely overturning of that decision.

Susan McQueen is equally motivated for the ongoing battle.

"This is something we gained 30 years ago," she said about — the Supreme Court's ruling. "And ever since then there has been a big — assault on it. It's time for everyone to move on. Under the pro-choice — view everyone's opinion is protected. Under anti-choice everyone is held — hostage to one view."

It's an unlikely hope in this great, divided, united nation — we call home. But for one day, even the unity was there.

"I was more than happy to be a part of just a huge, huge — crowd for this cause," Backer said.