As I approached the library downtown, there was a small crowd gathered. I was one of the counters at the Million Man March, evidently, so I am the last person to ask on numbers. I figured about 400- four times the amount that showed up to the Ghaza protest a few weeks ago. I'm told it was actually closer to 1,500.
We were protesting the consideration by UW Madison to open up a 2nd-Trimester abortion center at their hospital facilities. They currently do plenty of 1st-Trimester abortions there; they're looking to expand. The crowd was filled with eager participants and signs, some more tasteful and others the typical gory dead child- including giant pictures on a roving truck that went back and forth on the street.
It never ceases to amaze me how those who support the Pro-Life agenda often insist on showing such vivid pictures of death. I avoid computer games, TV shows, and movies that show vivid gore, because I find it disgusting. I feel compassion for those who are going through it, even if they're fictional. Many people I know have been turned off to the Pro-Life agenda because of the gore and the antagonistic approach- and yet it continues, as they shoot themselves in the foot. When I see those pictures, to my mind the person holding it supports whatever is on their sign. My emotional response is that it would make much more sense for the Pro-Choice protesters to be holding those signs. It would certainly be more honest.
We began with a short intro at the rally, and a couple short speeches. They were supposed to be short, and only a couple. They became much longer, and manifold. I appreciated the introduction, admonishing us to be respectful and loving towards those who disagreed with us.
I found myself in an odd situation. When I protest in favor of Ghaza and at peace marches, I tend to agree with most of the political views of those around me, but only a minority are Christians, of my faith. Here, everyone was a Christian, and I agreed with them on basically only one issue. This too, is something that does not make sense to me. It seems natural to me that we should have a seamless tapestry of belief. Life is good, or else choice. Either abortion and capitol punishment are wrong, war is always not an option, and the environment and poverty need to be alleviated to save lives- or else everyone can make whatever choice they want no matter how much it might kill others. I can respect the logical consistency of the latter belief, much as I might find it morally repugnant. And yet, most in our nation, and in particular our political parties, are divided. One is pro-choice, and tends towards being anti-war and is the only place where you can find anti-capitol punishment politicians; the other supports the death penalty, is much more eager to go to war, and defends the rights of the unborn.
And so I found myself surrounded by those whose views were antithetical to mine, except for the reason we came together. And this in itself is understandable, and a lesson in tolerance. Yet, there were difficulties. The American flag waiving behind the pulpit as we were preached to that this is a Christian nation, or once was. The brief references to Obama being our President being a bold new step for our nation in being willing to elect a person of colour, a justice issue just as is the issue of abortion- gathering a smattering of applause from maybe twenty people out of 1,500. No reference, of course, to Obama's plans to dramatically reduce the abortion rate, despite him being pro-choice. So I was most struck with the continuing of the culture wars here in front of me.
And logically, the way to continue that was to speak only to your side. In the gathering of 1,500 Pro-Life Christians, with the media watching, speech after speech (for about an hour in the windy cold) dwelt on the Christian perspective of why abortion is wrong. Needless to say, it was not an effective protest. It convinced those who needed no convincing. It was not multi-religious, or areligious, for the primary focus was on Christianity, and not the purported issue at hand. Anyone watching the news, or driving by, who was Pro-Choice, or not a Christian, would have seen the stereotype they already have of Pro-Lifers, and would not have been swayed in the slightest. Indeed, I would guess those watching the news this evening would have their suspicions confirmed, and be more adamant in their belief in a woman's right to choose.
There was one significant exception to the speeches today. Not in terms of the Christian focus, which it was filled with, but rather in the attempt to cross the cultural divide. An African-American pastor from Texas gave a rather excellent, moving sermon, if you are predisposed towards the Christian line of thinking, with numerous references to Obama and building on his call for change. It was even a call of love and hope for Obama. Though at times the volume dips considerably, I'd encourage you to listen to it below, divided into two parts for upload purposes. I certainly enjoyed it.
As with the Ghaza protest, this protest lacked a certain solemnity for the occasion. I believe the best protest I've ever witnessed was the historical fiction one in Malcolm X, with the Brothers of the Nation of Islam lined up in black, silently, standing, waiting for a doctor to come out to confirm that their brother was okay. That had impact. Marching silently, single-file, without a word, all in black- that would have impact. But the group, though large, and more organized in street-crossings than those protesting the Ghazan slaugher, was too rambunctious to be fully effective, in my opinion.
By the time we got to the clinic, we stretched all around the block and back again. It was only there that we met up with a small group of socialists, supporting the Pro-Choice position. They were more organized than us, having the call and response of the 60s down. But it was an odd mixing, with jumbled signs and slogans, with the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life merging into one amorphous disunified mass.
In truth, I don't know if any rally or protest changes minds. It lets those in authority know that there is a small group of people committed enough to stand in the cold, and logically this small group represents a larger group. I am pessimistic about the authorities listening to us, even in the Age of Obama. I don't know if any lives were saved today, any more than Ghazan lives were on January 6th. But all of us felt better about ourselves, as if we'd done something to advance the cause and save lives. And in the end, in post-modern America, isn't that what it's all about?