More than 1,000 people packed GW’s Lisner Auditorium Saturday night for a pro-choice benefit concert that included Blues Traveler’s John Popper and folk singer Ani DiFranco among others. The sold-out “Evening of Music for Reproductive Freedom,” benefiting the Voters For Choice Action Fund and the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, donated half of all proceeds to aid women and children in Afghanistan.
“We also honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest freedom fighters ever,” said Maureen Britell, executive director of Voters For Choice.
The benefit also featured Joe Henry and Bruce Hornsby. All four artists, who volunteered their talents for the evening, ended the concert with a collaborative effort and a reading by DiFranco of her own poetry.
The concert, which was postponed after Sept. 11, marked the 29-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The anniversary falls on Tuesday.
Tables featuring free contraceptives and staffed by volunteers from the Feminist Majority Foundation welcomed the mostly adult crowd. Swatches of mesh “Burqa,” meant to symbolize the head covering which Afghan women were required to wear under the Taliban, were handed out as concert goers entered.
“We see Afghan women as victims, and we need to see them as strong survivors,” said Gloria Steinem, founder and president of Voters For Choice.
Organizers also welcomed “pro-life supporters” to the event, urging everyone in the audience to remain peaceful.
“By protecting a woman’s right to choose, we are also protecting your right to not have an abortion,” Steinem said.
Henry started off the evening with a dark, blues-inflected set. David Palmer accompanied Henry’s guitar on piano.
“It is my duty to be here and your duty as well,” he said to the audience.
A slimmed-down Popper brought his unmistakable voice and a guitar to the stage, drawing cheers and heavy applause from the audience. As his voice ranged from a barely audible rasp to a jagged cry, silence covered the auditorium. His lyrics elicited sympathetic cries from audience members, producing tears and a standing ovation before Popper exited the stage.
Hornsby followed, pausing only once while playing piano to take in gulpfuls of water before completing his set. Extended improvisation and energetic playing drew cheers from fans.
Hornsby, who has played with the Grateful Dead and also with his own band, has performed for Voters For Choice more times than any other artist, Steinem said.
Steinem also said that male performers are especially important at a pro-choice event, thanking all males in attendance for their support of a woman’s right to choose.
DiFranco ended the evening with an outburst of guitar and voice, thanking the audience “as a performer and a woman.”
“It scares the shit out of me how many young women take their rights for granted and are afraid of the word ‘feminist,'” she said.
Steinem called DiFranco her “hero” and “a true poet.”
DiFranco’s self-described “feminist folk music” and breathy, edgy voice brought on yet another standing ovation from the audience.
Steinem called it an “historic show” and urged audience members to get to know one another after the performances were over.
“Based on our shared beliefs, we could all make new friends or lovers tonight,” she said.
Steinem ended the show by urging women to continue to fight “gender apartheid.”
“If we had listened to (the women of Afghanistan) a long time ago, we might not have had Sept. 11,” she said.
All funds raised which were not donated to women and children in Afghanistan will go toward supporting the future efforts of the Voters For Choice Action Fund.