Monday, January 24, 2011

The trouble with "Anti-"

Today, Monday, January 24, there is the annual "March for Life". Here at William Penn House, we are hosting some groups that are participating in the March and the events surrounding the march. We are glad to have this group for these few days, and hope there is a way the time here affords an opportunity for dialog.

But, as I was riding my bike in this afternoon, I rode past the gathering of folks participating in the march, and the varied signs ("De-fund Planned Parenthood", "Defend Life", "Women regret abortions", "Abortion denies men fatherhood"). What I have been thinking about is this: Where does a movement "for" something end and become an "anti" movement? What happens when we join forces under an 'anti-' movement, without giving a whole lot of thought about what we stand for. In the case of this march, for example, I did not see one sign denouncing the death penalty, unnecessary death caused by war, or legislation that calls for equal rights of all those who are born (such as for education, healthcare and marriage rights).

The lack of these kinds of questions I think is less a reflection of the people participants than the success of "movement" leaders. Often, these leaders succeed by giving people scripts (in the form of banners, slogans, bumper stickers), but not too much that they might actually think. Consider that the keynote speaker for the March for Life Dinner is Rep. Michele Bachmann, hardly a spokesperson of compassion for all of humanity, as she, in general, denounces the majority of her fellow Americans every day, calling on her constituents to take up arms ("metaphorically", she claims, but still without compassion). It really seems to me that this event is more about "anti-abortion" than "for life".

For those of us who generally reside in the "left" of things, I don't think we should sit too smugly, either. Do we reach out to others to have conversations about this? Are we grounded enough in our own beliefs and philosophies that we can have deep conversations with people with whom we disagree on abortion but perhaps do agree on "for life" issues? Just as the "anti-slavery" group in the run-up to the Civil War was made up of a broad coalition ranging from those who viewed blacks as equals to those who denounced slavery but did not believe in equality, our coalition of "anti-war" peers is a broad spectrum of people, not all of whom are also pacifists. In fact, "anti-war" people would actually include many in the military, but because we denounce the military, aren't we also being divisive by staking a claim in "anti-war".

I'm not sure where to go with all of this. I do know that movement leaders do great things by labeling things are "for" or "anti", or sometimes labeling something as "for" when it really is an "anti" (or vice-versa). I don't know that we are all served when we follow as lemmings with our placards, bumper stickers and yard signs rather than holding conversations that allow for deeper thought and introspection.

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