Pro-lifers admit that their campaign could use a makeover.
This weekend marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and anti-abortion activists will be marching on Washington (again), demanding that the landmark decision be overturned (again), handing out photocopies of the U.S. Capitol enveloped in a red rose (again).
As Nellie Gray, “March for Life” founder and organizer, told TBD’s Amanda Hess:
We’re not doing anything new this year. I just don’t have anything new to tell you about or describe or anything. … there’s not anything new about it.
Not exactly the kind of attitude that attracts new supporters.
As the March for Life approaches middle age, it threatens to alienate a group that’s always been central to the anti-abortion brand: Young people. Outside abortion clinics, kids look cute with LIFE-emblazoned duct tape pressed over their mouths; at high schools, teens look fetching while telling their peers to wait until marriage.
Each year, the March for Life manages to wheel plenty of youth down to the National Mall, whether by stroller or church group caravan. But the event has consistently failed to engage the youth of America on a meaningful level.
She goes on to describe that while the movement has managed to engage young people at the high school level (to some degree), it sees a significant drop off once college rolls around.
Which is where guys like Erik Whittington come in. As director of the “music based anti-abortion effort, Rock for Life,” Whittington hopes to entice college kids with good old fashioned rock n’ roll. And a little rebranding.
Now more now than ever, I’m trying to use a different terminology … Even the term “pro-life,” I use that less and less, because it has that “pro-choice” counterpart. Instead, I’ll use “life,” or “human rights for all.” I’ve been using a lot of social justice-y terms. …You don’t want for your messaging to be hijacked by other groups.
Granted, this isn’t a new idea. The Archdiocese of Washington has run a massive youth rally that includes a slew of Catholic rockers like Steve Angrisano and Ike Ndolo. But this is one of the first times the music has been the main event.
The youth rally is specifically a Catholic event—that’s awesome, that’s great—but we’re offering more of a non-denominational, ecumenical thing, something fun for everyone to do at the end of the march. Besides, it’s hard to rock out at 6 in the morning.
Is rock music really the way to win young supporters? Generally, college is a liberal time. And there aren’t too many pro-life liberals out there.
Even Whittington admits that he has doubts about this strategy, stating that the “anything goes attitude on college campuses” may be behind the sharp drop in participants after high school.
It’s a very black-and-white age. There’s not much of a gray area. How do we combat that? I just don’t know.
Regardless of your take on abortion rights, is this just a PR problem? Or does it speak to some larger social phenomenon? College may be a liberal time, but then, it can be a very militant, cause-oriented time, too. What do you think, readers?
(Check out Amanda Hess at TBD for smart analysis of sex- and gender-related news)