Tuesday, January 23, 2007

March for Life, 2007, Part III: When do we march?

Well, now I'm hoofing it back toward the rally that precedes the March. I've been to the March several times over the years, and one lesson I have learned is, avoid the rally! Or, at least, stay to the periphery.

I love the folks who put this together, overall their hearts are right, but the rally is such a weak spot. For one, I wouldn't let a single politician say word one. The organizers let various pols show up, or phone it in (the President); but you know what? Talk is cheap, and in Washington, talk-inflation makes it virtually worthless. You politicians want us to think you're prolife? Do something. Don't make us stand either on a miniature glacier (some years) or in a soup of mud while you echo one another in pledging undying loyalty to the cause. *Yawn*

Beyond the politicians, I wish the organizers would give more thought to who else gets up there. I didn't hear the name, but some yo-yo got up there and bellowed something about, "we want a holy land, not Homoland!" Well, that's clever but stupid.

First: it's mean. We don't need to call anyone names. If we have something to say about homosexuality, then just say it.

Second: why are we talking about homosexuality at a prolife march? Here's where a lot of my conservative friends, well intentioned, make a mistake. Instead of focus, they insist on a kind of comprehensive agenda. So a prolife rally also has to be a rally against homosexuality, and--what else? Higher taxes? Confiscating guns? Big Labor? Let's really draw up a good list, so that we can winnow down a crowd of 100,000-plus to the few thousand true believers we are willing to stand with!

So, for example, folks will show up at the March for Life with signs saying, "Democrats for Life" and "Gays for Life." What's the problem? The smart thing to do is to say, again and again: "We are people from all walks of life, all political parties, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist--if we talked politics or religion, we'd have a terrible fight on our hands; but we agree on one thing, and that's why we're here: to stop abortion!" Whatever you or I think about homosexual behavior, I am glad to have "Gays for Life" present. I think they sometimes get snarky comments, but in the main, I hope they're treated decently. Why not?

After all, there's little question that the March for Life is dominated by Catholics. Judging by appearances, you might think we represent 80-90% of the crowd, but that may be because we do a better job being visible--our Protestant brothers and sisters don't do so well, seems to me, on the outward regalia as we do. Now, I suppose, we could just take it over -- and shove Mary and saints and Eucharistic adoration and the Rosary down the throats of our separated brethren. Ah, that'll show 'em! (As it is, I do wonder if any Protestants attending the march do feel overwhelmed; for example, there's no way you can avoid the Rosary on the march--it gets prayed from front to back. I led the Lehman High School group in all 20 decades, which got us from the rally to the steps of the Supreme Court.)

So--message to the planners: maybe you could consider a different approach to the rally. I can see why you might need to have something while we gather--but maybe just music?

Another question I'd have for the planners: why did you change the location for the rally, and the route of the march? As it has been 3 years since I was at the march, I hadn't realized this had changed, and I would have walked all the way to the former site, the Ellipse in back of the White House, but that I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in about 12 years, who got me going in the right way. The problem with the new location is that it seemed more cramped than before. If this was to make the march shorter, I don't know that it worked.

Well, anyway, it took awhile actually to start marching, which is to be expected. An ambulance had to come through the crowd! and remarkably, it did so without incident, even though there were people inches from the rear-view mirrors!

One of the curious facts of life of something like this is all who show up. I am sure the pro-aborts were there, but I never heard or saw them. Of course, various other folks show up to promote their particular causes: someone handed me literature about the "true" Catholic Church--a bunch who had oddly worded signs about "Vatican II soul exterminators"--their purpose was to stress their own view of the ancient principle, "outside the Church there is no salvation." (Short answer on this headache-inducing topic: the Church teaches that people who are outside formal membership in the Catholic Church can be saved, but if they are saved, they are, for various reasons, deemed to be part of the Church, implicitly, even if not--on earth--explicitly. There's a lot more to be said about it, but not here, not now.)

There were also folks who set up huge copies of extremely graphic photographs of aborted children. There is disagreement about this--I tend to think these images, most of the time, are counterproductive. Notice I included the terms, "tend" and "most of the time." Others reach different opinions. I will concede that there probably is a time and place when people should be confronted with the stark reality of abortion, but that time and place is not "all the time," and everyplace.

These good folks made another mistake many prolifers and others make--they used the swastika in their imagery. Of course, what they want is to indentify abortion with the Nazis-- a valid point. That being said, there are two mistakes here.

First, you run the risk of getting into an argument with people who might otherwise be with you, but who don't agree with that linkage. If you push it too hard, your result is alienation, not alliance. What's important is opposing abortion--not agreeing on the arguments for that goal. I'm not saying we can't make the point about abortion and euthanasia and way Nazis thought and acted--but don't overdo it.

Second--never, never, never, never use the image of the swastika! I don't care how insightful your point, or how clever you are depicting it. The swastika is so radioactive an image, the point you are making is lost--all people see is the swastika, or the Nazi banner. So when you're making your signs, the night before, and you think it would be clever to use the swastika--go ahead, make one, show it to your friends, everyone agrees how clever it was--then rip it up and don't use it.

Now, I should say a word to anyone who had never been to this march--or, for that matter, to any sort of demonstration like this.

For whatever reason, I never had any qualms about this sort of thing. Could be because, when I was a boy--I think the very year Roe v. Wade was handed down--my parents took us to a demonstration in Cincinnati. My upbringing imbued me with a very strong sense that, this both our right as Americans, and our duty as moral people, to demonstrate and to speak out.

But I think some folks have the sense that going to a demonstration is extreme, or perhaps on the edge of what is appropriate, whether morally or civilly. Also, I realize some people have images of demonstrations that are ugly, confrontational, and violent.

I have been to many demonstrations and protests over the years, for various causes--I've never been in one where anyone was arrested (not that that, per se, would be bad; sometimes getting arrested is accepted as a helpful part of the demonstration--such as sitting at a lunch counter). I've never been at one where the police had any reason to worry or react.

As it is, this is one of the most peaceful, most orderly, most prayer demonstrations you will see. Even outside the halls of Congress and the Supreme Court, all you hear is either chants like "hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!" or you hear prayers. Nothing ugly, nothing wrathful.

Is it kind of a circus? Of course! How could it not? But it a fun way.

Some people just really don't like big cities, and they don't like crowds. If so, this March is definitely not for you.

The sight of all those people is always inspiring; and it is very encouraging to see so many young people, from elementary school up. Of course, our Catholic school system deserves credit, and this is a major reason we show up in big numbers. I have to think the young people who come to this are themselves inspired to realize--they aren't alone, even though they may feel alone, in their prolife views.

One of the opportunities you have, after the March, is to visit your congressman or senators. I haven't done that for a few years for various reasons. It's a good thing to do, but please, don't let them snow you. They know where you stand, and they want you to think they are your best friend. Don't let some hot chocolate and nice talk fool you. It's action that counts--and not the easy, feel-good actions, but the hard work of really fighting the fight. Lots of congressmen will vote for largely meaningless bills such as non-binding resolutions, or extremely marginal bills like banning sex-selection (which sounds good, except I can't see how it would prevent even a single abortion--all it would do is say, you can kill the baby for any reason but this one). But how many will cosponsor, and seek roll-call votes, on the Life at Conception Act, which actually will overturn Roe v. Wade?

(Many do not realize that Roe did not declare abortion a constitutional right; rather, on the premise of a right of privacy, the Court said that it could not say if unborn children were persons under the 14th Amendment -- but that if they were, then the right to abortion would "collapse." I.e., in the absence of clarity on the personhood of the unborn, the claims of the woman--clearly a person--prevailed. So who can say unborn children are persons? The Roe Court said, not us. And it pointedly did not say the Constitution ruled it out. The Court left it an unanswered question. So who can answer the question?

(Well, the 14th Amendment says that Congress has authority to implement the Amendment. So the Life at Conception Act does what the Court said it cannot do: it declares unborn children persons under the 14th Amendment. On the terms of current abortion jurisprudence, this seems the most promising way legislatively to overturn Roe--at least until such time as we have enough justices, which we may never have.

(The Life at Conception Act has been introduced many times, drawing many cosponsors; and if the GOP leadership had not been phony about, well, all their claimed principles, then we'd have had a roll-call vote already. But it is still a useful bill to introduce, as a benchmark; and while House rules make a vote there very unlikely, it's very possible to do in the Senate. We'll see.)

Well, I reached the Supreme Court around 3 pm, so I started back to the hotel. I headed over to Union Station, which was mobbed, to get a bite to eat and wait for my train to the airport. Thankfully, I had the impulse to ask an attendant about using my ticket on an earlier train--and she pointed out my departure time was 5:25 am--I'd missed the train I'd booked! Not too long ago, you could simply step on the train, and either buy a ticket on board, or they'd accept a ticket for an earlier train. But not anymore. So at about 4:40 pm, I'm in a long line, wondering if they'll have a seat. They did, no problems.

As it happened, the group of seminarians and I were all on the same flight back. You may wonder why we flew; the answer is, it was cheaper. They got a fare of about $110, I, $160. They went up on Saturday, came back Monday, so renting the bus all that time isn't cheap. If I'd driven, the wear-and-tear on my car would be quite a lot more than that.

Except for the unpleasant security personnel, no problems coming back, and I was back home by 11 pm, whereupon I had a snack, surfed the 'net and had a nice night's sleep, and slept a little late today, and have given you this over-detailed report.

See you there next year?


the Joneses said...


Thank you very much for your report here. This was my second year attending, and my reactions were almost identical to yours: let's get rid of the speakers and do a longer march; let's make sure we don't entangle messages (I saw one sign that declared the main cause of abortion was receiving Communion in the hand. Please. I agree that on the tongue is better, but I think this smacks of legalism); and pictures of dismembered babies make me want to cover the eyes of anyone under 15 in the march. (Actually, I wanted to cover my own eyes; they're rather nausea-inducing.)
Wish I had known you were going to be there - I would have liked to look you up!

Anonymous said...

I think they had to change the route of the march because they couldn't get a permit to start it at the same place this year (for no well-defined reason).

Thanks for your nice clear reporting--the local press certainly didn't have much to say about the March (and little of that good).

Anonymous said...

Excellent points Father. The idea can apply to many other rallies where folks can get a bit off point.

Ellen said...

Wow, your hands must be cramped from all the typing!

Thanks for the detailed report of your trip. It sounds like a wonderful experience. But not being one for crowded places (I am very claustrophobic), I doubt if I will ever go. But I am there in prayer and spirit.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for a wonderful report. I Tivo's the coverage on EWTN and watched it when I got home Monday night. I agree with you - many of the speakers I hit "fast forward" on, wanting to hear more from people on the march while it was going on.

I hope one year to go, which will be easier after this year when my family and I relocate from Pacific Standard Time to Eastern Standard Time.

God bless!

Anonymous said...

Father, I will definitely plan on attending next year. I've tried to avoid protests for several years now, but this is one I could make an exception for.

See you there! :-)

Anonymous said...

Father; I could not agree more with your comment on the politicos. Less talk, more action-amen to that.

You make some really good observations.

I'm glad our non-Catholic friends were exposed to the Rosary and Catholic prayers. Maybe Our Blessed Mother will reach them and inspire some conversions.

Anonymous said...

Good report, Father. I agree with many of your observations, especially the long political speeches and the graphic signs. This was my 6th year to attend. I also heard that the location was changed because we were not permitted to meet where we used to. One complaint was that we trampled the grass every year.
Our group decided to tour the Supreme Court building on the morning of the March. It took the security people 20 minutes to decide if they would allow us in. They came out and looked at our clothing. One young lady had a teeshirt on that said "Abortion is homicide". One of the women in our group had a sweatshirt on that had a scripture passage on the back. Both were told that they had to cover up these items of clothing or remove them. They told us these messages were inflammatory. Scripture is inflammatory? So much for free speech.
I'm glad you had a safe trip...God bless!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father, for your great reporting. I watched on EWTN this year, but I am planning on attending next year. My daughter lived in D.C. for about a year and a half so I believe it will make it easier to make the trip. I have participated in the "Race for the Cure" at a friend's request for the past several years...but believe the March for Life merits my (and family members)attendance even more.

Anonymous said...

Before we start feeling all singled out about where the rally is... We are not the only event that has been moved to the mid-mall location. I have been to two other events in the past year and it is the same stage in the same location.

I was behind the dias and the funny thing was that even the speakers gathered there were complaining about the legnth of the rally.

The reason the color is purple for the Verizon Center Mass is because we are doing penance for the holocaust of abortion. The first two years they did a better job about getting the message out about what stole to bring. It was funny to see all the liturgical colors represented. I did see more than a couple of reds. The one I didn't get was the guy in the turquoise-colored stole.

The boys wearing hats at the Mass drove me BONKERS. If they can make lost child announcements then they can make take-off-your-cap announcements.

The idea with this Mass was to capture the spirit of World Youth Day. Hence the pop genre. The token Latin was courtesy of the Schola cantorum of Mt. Saint Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD (hail Alma Mater). They thought, I am sure, that everyone knows the chant mode V of Adoro Te Devote by heart. This is an improvement over last year when the only Latin was one of the petitions. You are right, can't we bring out some of the old standards that everyone knows? Fortunately, there is the va-va-va voom Mass at the Basilica the night before with incense and all the trimmings.
God bless

Fidei Defensor said...

Great bunch of posts Father!

As for your question though, "why are we talking about homosexuality at a prolife march?"

You will find some of the strongest supporters of abortion in that community. I have even seen flyers put out by gay groups on the need to not only support gay marriage but to be pro-choice. The Femminist Gloria Steinem mad thes ame points when I heard her speak. The people in the pro-gay marriage camp and the pro-abortion camp have 99% overlap, they are as thick as theives in this. I see no harm is taking both these factions to task in a pro-life rally, they are just diffrent sides of the same coin.

Anonymous said...

"why are we talking about homosexuality at a prolife march?"

You will find some of the strongest supporters of abortion in that community.

I would certainly not deny that the contemporary construction of homosexuality is rather heavy on the libertine side (though 99 percent is a bit much). And that once one has accepted libertinism as both the highest good and defining of personhood, then "the need for abortion" is created and much of the pro-choice case follows.

But, as Father pointed out, the point of an abortion march (as opposed to an anti-gay-"marriage" march) is to bring everybody who's against abortion together, even though some of the reasons for abortion might be incompatible with one another. In fact, atheist Nat Hentoff once said that he's pro-life because he's an atheist -- this life is all there is, and so the protection of life is the greatest good. Should you, Father or myself turn up our noses because we believe in the Resurrection of the body?

If homosexuals could even be persuaded to listen (the biggest block ... and this is why signs like "Gays for Life" are important) I think the pro-life movement could make some significant inroads among gays. After all, if a "gay gene" is ever found, within a year, mark my words, there will be a prenatal test for it. And the abortion rates will -- adjust accordingly. Just as there is a test for Down's syndrome and cleft palates. Just as there is a test for girls in China and India. And the abortion rates have -- adjusted accordingly.

Keep in mind three further things:

(1) the existence of this gene is an article of faith among homosexuals;
(2) its existence would merely be of the "disposing toward" genre, like the ones that have already been found for alcoholism/depression and other psychological-behavioral conditions, not of the "determining" genre like eye color (we already know there is no "gay gene" in that sense from the mix of sexual preferences among identical twins). Thus its existence would neither contradict Church teaching nor clinch the "civil rights" argument;
(3) research into prenatal biochemistry -- hormone levels, mother's health, etc. -- is growing by leaps and bounds. So even if there is no "gay gene" per se, a battery of tests of these sorts of things that could predict "gayness" with way-more-than-random success is quite conceptually possible.

In other words, the pro-life movement, if it is inclusive of homosexual persons, could appeal to their self-interest as a community.

Anonymous said...

some dolt wrote:

the point of an abortion march ... is to bring everybody who's against abortion together, even though some of the reasons for abortion might be incompatible with one another.

Ahem ...

That should obviously have read "... the reasons for opposing abortion ..."

Anonymous said...

Following up on Courageman's comments, I'd like to add that 'disposing toward' and 'determining' are two ends (or middles) of a continuum, and that even if homosexuality is fully determined genetically, it makes no difference to Church teaching. We are born with all sorts of things, many of which are not good at all!

Unfortunately, and I think this is a sad part of the human condition, many of us don't want to face certain truths, like the sanctity of life, till they cut close to home. Disabled against euthanasia, feminists against sex-selection, maybe gays against orientation-selection...

But, I suppose the important thing is that we end up recognizing these truths, no matter what path we take to get there.

eulogos said...

I was there. I was upset by the "homoland" remark from the stage, and commented about it to the people I was with.

In general I agree with all of your remarks except with the ones about the graphic pictures. There may be some places where these pictures are inappropriate, but surely at the prolife March, we want reality? I think they are there in the hopes that TV cameras will catch them, as the people marching most likely do not need to be convinced. Myself, the one with the dime never ceases to make me feel pain almost to the point of fainting. That is because that tiny one is at the stage of development at which I had my two abortions. Years and years ago, before I was a Christian, before I was baptized. Before Roe V Wade, even; I went to Japan in 1967 for one and had the other at John's Hopkin's in 1970 under Maryland's "Life and Health" law. There was no threat to my life, or health, by the way; it only took paying $50 bucks to a shrink, who admitted to me that he would certify anyone who asked; they didn't even have to pretend to mental problems.

I don't see why the reality of what abortion does ought to be hidden. I don't see why "anyone under 15" should be shielded from that reality. Children all over the world see painful death right in front of their eyes; why should American children be shielded from what America is doing, as if somehow the psyches of American children are just too weak to handle it. Frankly I wish I had seen these pictures...or even pictures of fetal development...before I had my abortions. I didn't want to have them, I was looking for excuses not to have them, and no one offered me any way out, any reason I could possibly object. Such pictures, I think, might have made it impossible for me to go through with it.

I also think the comment some politician said about "uniting under the Pope" to oppose abortion (was that the same as the one who said 'homoland'?) was somewhat insensitive to the other Christians there. I rode in on the metro with some Evangelicals, and I marched with some Orthodox Christians; neither group is too enamored of the Pope. The Orthodox women with me quickly assured me that they have very much admired our last two popes, and some evangelicals feel the same, but they don't acknowledge him as their leader.

What about the black minister who gave a civil rights speech about Martin Luther King and then said...and what if MLK had been aborted???? Well, yes, it is an argument, but.... sort of an odd one.

But I think, after warning them about divisive comments, that you can't keep the pols away. We need to cultivate them; the law can't be changed without them.

Thanks for your report.
Susan Peterson

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed your reporting Father.

Fidei Defensor said...

I suppose I was being a tad glib, and with further considerating and reading the comments here I do now agree with Fr. Fox. 100%.