Anjelina Dushaj, 16, traveled over 14 hours from the Detroit suburbs to attend the March for Life in D.C. for the fifth time on Friday.
Even after a night of limited sleep on the bus, breakfast at the Ronald Reagan Center at 7 a.m., and early Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, she was excited to march with her group, joining thousands of others from across the country.
“I’m more pumped up than tired now, seeing all of the people lined up ready to go,” she said.
Like other marchers around her, Dushaj’s group had their own stand-out clothing item so they wouldn’t get separated in the sea of people. They wore red, white, and blue beanies and carried signs. Dushaj’s said: “Life counts,” under a black-and-white photo of a newborn.
The annual March for Life is predominantly made up of people like Dushaj: high school and college students bused in from as far away as Texas and North Dakota to demonstrate against abortion, mostly from Catholic schools or other religious organizations.
Dushaj, a junior at Oxford High School in Michigan, was brought up Catholic, she said, but her religious background isn’t what drew her to travel to the march with Right to Life-LIFESPAN, a nonprofit organization she traveled with because her school in Oxford doesn’t have an anti-abortion group.
Instead, her motive for marching along the National Mall on Friday was more personal. When her mother was pregnant with her sister, doctors said the baby would be mentally disabled. Dushaj said they told her mother that she should consider discontinuing the pregnancy, but she didn’t. Now, Dushaj’s sister is “perfectly normal, perfectly fine,” she said. She said she wants to show women that, contrary to what they may hear, abortion is not their only option.
She first came to the March for Life with her parents when she was 11 years old and plans to become a chaperone as soon as she’s old enough to lead the group. She is a member of Students for Life, a group that protests abortion but also holds fundraisers, such as bake sales, puts on baby showers for women in the Detroit suburbs, and writes cards for mothers on Mother’s Day. After spending time with her Right to Life group leader’s mother, who is in a nursing home, Dushaj decided she wanted to be a geriatric nurse and is taking classes at nearby Rochester University, a Christian college, to earn an associate’s degree.
Before the march began, Dushaj’s group walked past the Washington Monument to hear an address from President Trump, the first U.S. president to speak at the event live. The crowd roared with cheers as soon as he took the stage. The applause only got louder throughout his 30-minute speech.
The appearance of Trump, who in the past described himself as “very pro-choice” but now has won over many anti-abortion activists by pursuing their policies and appointing anti-abortion personnel to his administration, was the source of some apprehension among marchers. TreVon DeVoe, a senior at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, said before Trump’s appearance that he was curious about what the president would say and if he would be “more personal.”
“Hopefully, he’s not there for the wrong reasons,” DeVoe said. “Hopefully, he’s there for the real reason the march is happening and not for the campaign or election.”
“All of us here today understand an eternal truth — every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” Trump said in his speech. “Together, we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life.”
Hearing the president speak in person was exciting for Dushaj, but it wasn’t her motivation for attending the event. In fact, she said that politics has little to do with why she participates in Students for Life in her hometown of McComb, Michigan, and why she has traveled hundreds of miles for the march several times.
“I know for sure it’s going to be a political-type thing, that’s how it always works out, but I’m hoping we can just keep it to why we’re going,” she said as the crowd began the walk toward the Supreme Court steps.
One of her favorite parts of coming to the event, she said, is the connections she makes with other people. People in her group from Michigan become “like a family for a few days.” She said she also keeps up with friends she meets at the march and spotted some from previous years in the crowd. When she isn’t making friends with people along the route, she points out the most amusing signs and outfits, such as a young man dressed as Trump.
“I like them to be more original,” she said. “I think it makes a big difference to see people get creative with signs. It shows that they really do care.”
As she spoke, a sign with a drawing of the now-famous “Baby Yoda” from Disney show The Mandalorian passed by with the caption, “Baby Yoda is pro-life.” People held banners showing where they traveled from while walking, including the University of Notre Dame group’s bright green, “Fighting Irish for life,” sign that took three people to carry.
After the group made its way from the National Mall to the steps on the Supreme Court where, 47 years ago, the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide, it headed to a Baptist church in D.C. where the group stays every year in sleeping bags on the floor. Dushaj said they’ll probably eat pasta, but she hopes it’s Mexican food.
She said she hopes that movements such as the March for Life, and her presence year after year, will help educate women about their options, aside from abortion, in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.
“When I go, I want to show that, yeah, I’m young, and I want to be able to help them in that,” Dushaj said. “I want to help in situations like that where they don’t understand what to do or they need help if they’re struggling.”