Pro-life march a success, yet some business owners still caught off guard

By Amber James |
Photo by Amber James

About 2,000 people made a stand against abortion on Saturday, walking a mile through downtown for the March for Life St Augustine. But one woman marched in her own way.

Barbara Trost sat comfortably in her wheelchair, overlooking the countless children playing on the Mission de Nombre’s grounds and the crowd that had gathered to hear speakers talk about the pro-life movement. The 77-year old Christian faithfully held a sign in her lap that read, “Abortion kills 8,000 babies every year in Jacksonville.”

When asked if she was marching, she said, “Oh yes.”

Pushing her down San Marco and St. George Street were Gary and Mary Kennedy. The trio had driven three hours from Lake Wales to attend their first ever March for Life St Augustine.

The couple was inspired by the event and hoped to start their own in Lake Wales.

“We hope it will be as big as this someday,” Gary said.

Peaceful protesters held a variety of signs that read “Defend Life,” “Face It. Abortion Kills” and “Stop Abortion Now” in the shape of a stop sign.

All were present to support the ideas of Bishop Felipe J. Estevez, from the diocese of St Augustine. Estevez said in his opening speech, “We cannot have a society where the most vulnerable are excluded from the table of life.”

As the parade marched for 40 minutes through downtown, motorists were blocked from entering San Marco, business owners poked their heads out of their store doors and shoppers on St. George Street displayed mixed emotions as to how they felt about the procession.

One man smiled and shook his head in approval. Other comments could be heard like, “This is crazy.”

This is the sixth year the March for Life St Augustine has taken place.

“In past years we’ve gotten negative comments,” the March for Life Chair, May Oliver, said.

This year, she said there has been a better community response.

“It brought a lot of people into St. Augustine for the weekend. The city is very happy that it does that,” Oliver said.

But Martha Hird wondered about the march’s influence on local businesses, who thrive on weekend tourism.

“It really doesn’t help business unless they buy something,” Hird, a weekend vendor in the plaza, said when she saw the traffic congestion the March was causing.

Hird said she was stuck for over ten minutes on Cathedral Place, waiting for the procession to cross from St. George Street to the plaza. She said she exited her car for a better view, unsure of where to park.

“I’m not believing how big this is,” She said.

Hird said she had no idea that there was a March taking place.

“I was wondering why they had all these trashcans set up [in the plaza] yesterday,” she said.

Hird was not the only one who was unaware of the March for Life. A business owner on San Marco “was really upset” because they were given no warning from the city or church.

They also said that barricades to block off a connecting street were dropped off the day before and city workers had said they weren’t sure what they were for, possibly a marathon.

“We don’t have the manpower to go business to business. If we did, we’d love to go,” Oliver said. She said it is the city’s responsibility.

The city had been posting the event in its newsletter for three to four weeks before the march took place, according to Wanda Bray, who works for the city’s public affairs office.

She also said that bike police told merchants on St. George Street and San Marco about the event and that the City sent out press releases. These are standard protocols for all events “that disrupt traffic,” Bray said.

“I haven’t received any complaints to the office of public affairs. I haven’t heard if the City’s manager office has received any complaints,” Bray said. “Usually complaints come in the day of the event or Monday after the event.”

Bray said the city didn’t think the event would be an inconvenience because the procession moves fast and the event was well planned.

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