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Why a pro-choice woman joined a group of religious sisters for the ‘Walk for Life’

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Marci Velando eschewed the "Women's March" in order to join her religious friends, "to protect them" from past aggression, and for the sake of the first amendment

Marci Velando is a 40-year-old native Californian who worked at Lucasfilm for 13 years as an IT professional and graphic artist. Through work in that field, Velando met the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, with whom she has become very friendly over the past three years.
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Identifying herself as a “religious seeker” she considers herself to be “pro-choice,” but this past weekend, Marci Velando joined the Sisters as they participated in the West Coast Walk for Life — something she never, in a million years, anticipated doing. She has been kind enough to share that experience with Aleteia.
Q: Last weekend, you marched in your first protest march. Was it the Women’s March?

A: Nope. It was with the West Coast Walk for Life. I’m not a Christian – was never baptized –and even though I identify with some of the issues allied with the March for Women (and have friends who participated there) I joined other friends — the Dominican Sisters of Mary — in the annual Walk for Life.

How did that come about?

They’ve been trying to get me to walk with them for three years! As a pro-choice woman, I resisted because I knew I couldn’t participate without feeling that knot of conflict in my stomach. This year, they asked me to walk to protect and support them, but I think they really also meant constitutionally.

Do you know how unusual you sound, to claim friendship with both rather conservative religious sisters and progressive women?

It is sad that anyone should consider it unusual, but I know that many people do. For me, it’s about our country’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We all need to defend each other’s first amendment right to express our beliefs, or the nation will not last.

And that’s why you did the Walk for Life with the Sisters? 

Not at first. I initially joined my religious friends to protect them from past assailants, like the one who ran up, pulled off a Sister’s veil, and then fled during their peaceful protest. That was NOT okay in my book, nor should it be in anyone’s.

Were you nervous to take such a stand, and to make that Walk?

I’ll tell the truth, as the walk date drew closer my anxiety grew, but I told myself, “I am marching for freedom of speech.” Regardless of what I believe in, my religious friends — and all people — have the right to stand up for what they believe in, and I must support that.

What was it like for you?

While we were walking peacefully, someone from the opposing view passed me and said, “It must be hard being ignorant.” I couldn’t believe they were talking to me, and I wanted to tell them, “But I’m on your side!” and “Who’s ignorant now?” Obviously, there was no point to responding, but still. We also had Women’s marchers in pink hats on the sidelines yelling at us, several people flipping us off, and more.

Did that bother you?

It did, of course. Why is it okay for pink hats to march for their cause, but to harass others for doing peacefully, and respectfully, exercising their identical right to march? Those exchanges made me wish I had walked the Women’s March as well, in part because I’d like to have seen if pro-life people were yelling at them so disrespectfully, in the same way.

It seems pretty courageous of you to walk with the Sisters…

I’ll admit, I was anxious about being heckled from the sidelines, but I was even more scared to be seen by my friends who walked in the Women’s March. The Walk for Life turned out to be more peaceful than previous years (I’m told). There were some mean people, but it was mostly an uplifting peaceful protest. But when I got on Facebook later, I saw a post by one of my friends – who is soon to be a lawyer – that read, “There’s a f—–g pro-life parade on Market.”

I left a comment about free speech and another lawyer replied, “Having the right doesn’t make it appropriate or the correct forum.”

The “correct forum”? Really? 

Yes, and this frightened me. Lawyers are supposed to be upholding our constitutional rights. It made me aware of the deeper issue — whether our views are “correct” or challenging, or whatever, we have the right to express them freely, and in public.

Social media can be such an angry place. How did that conversation turn out? 

I’m happy to report that after some back and forth, this lawyer friend agreed that she does support freedom of speech, that standing up for your friends is good, and that women finding solidarity with other women, where they can, is never wrong. And she wants to meet in person this week to talk about it more.

The talking is important. Are you going to meet her?

Yes! Our country is hurt and adjusting right now — I feel it. But what I hope to see someday is a real commitment to the idea of really trying to understand each other instead of just yelling past each other: Understanding that we are all different, understanding that we are all free to express our views no matter how different they are, and most of all, a respect for this understanding. We seem to have forgotten that decent people can disagree and still be decent people. We need to remember it again.

Read More: Watching the March for Women from my vantage point in Rome: St. Agnes, St. Josephine, Dorothy Day

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