On Saturday, January 25, the 10th annual Walk for Life West Coast was held at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. The event, the second-largest pro-life event in the United States, was the biggest yet. Life News headlined its coverage “60,000 pro-lifers line the streets of San Francisco during West Coast Walk for Life.” Although organizers of the Walk did not give a estimate of attendance, co-chair Eva Muntean said, “We are so proud to have the largest number of people and the largest number of youth showing the pro-life face of the West Coast.” The Associated Press reported “San Francisco police did not immediately provide an official crowd estimate, but at one point marchers stretched across more than a mile of Market Street, the liberal city’s main thoroughfare.”
One photo of the Walk was taken from a high-rise building in the area of Civic Center Plaza and posted on the San Jose Mercury News “social media reaction” page. It showed two city blocks around the plaza still densely packed with those waiting to start, while the body of the Walk stretched beyond visual range down Market Street towards the Walk’s end at the Ferry Building.
The day began with 17 Catholic bishops joining San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore in concelebrating a special Mass at 9:30 AM at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The cathedral was filled to overflowing. At the pre-Walk rally, speakers included October Baby actress Shari Rigby, Lamb of God Maternity Home founder Grace Dulaney, and Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life. Snyder, introduced by Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, said “This is a debate about life and death. When you peel away the glossy wrappers, the pro-choice movement is about death.”
In an effort to pull and end-run around the media’s habitual failure to give the Walk the coverage its magnitude deserves, organizers decided this year to launch a twitter campaign in the week before the Walk to “end the media blackout.” The idea, tailored to the Walk’s youthful demographic, was the brainchild of a young employee at the archdiocese. Joanna Dasteel reported in LifeSiteNews: “So this year, when 50,000 smart-phone-toting pro-life activists descend upon the city, organizers will be asking them to tweet pictures of the events with the official event hashtag #WalkForLife and to include @CNN, @FoxNews, @USAToday, and local news outlets @sfchronicle, @abc7newsBayArea, @nbcbayarea, and @KTVU.”
The campaign may have worked. On the morning of the Walk, the Associated Press ran a wire service story about the event, and followed that with another from the Walk, quoted above. The wire service story was picked up by ABC News, NBC News, NPR, Yahoo News, the Washington Post, and scores of other outlets. From the story: “A massive and diverse crowd of protesters rallied in front of City Hall before marching down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza for the 10th annual ‘Walk for Life West Coast’…San Francisco police did not immediately provide an official crowd estimate, but at one point marchers stretched across more than a mile of Market Street, the liberal city’s main thoroughfare.” The San Francisco Chronicle picked up the AP story, but its own coverage of this major event in its own city consisted of a large photograph with a caption.
This year’s Walk was enlivened by the response of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to the Walk’s “Abortion Hurts Women” banners which lined Market Street in the month prior to the event. A pro-abortion group had labeled the banners “hate speech” and asked San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to have them removed. He declined, citing the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, on January 14, the Board introduced a resolution in opposition to the banners. But the Board may have bitten off more than they could chew. Their action gained national attention, and even the Chronicle expressed opposition to the resolution. The ensuing publicity did nothing to harm the Walk.
The weekend of the Walk has turned into one of the busiest Catholic weekends of the year in the Bay Area. Special masses in both the Novus Ordo and Extraordinary Form were celebrated, special adoration vigils observed. There was also a youth rally with the Sisters of Life, the Law of Life Legal Summit, a training session for sidewalk counselors, and the first ever West Coast Students for Life Conference held at the Cathedral.
The Walk began in 2005 with 7,500 participants. It seems to be growing at about 15-20% annually. A writer at the New Feminism blog commented “The air literally sizzled with joy, happiness and gratitude.” Walk co-chair Dolores Meehan had a similar take: “It’s great to see so many joyous people bringing love and peace to the streets of the city of St. Francis.”