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"The care of human life and happiness, not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate objective of good government..." - Thomas Jefferson.
Political education and political action are legitimate and important parts of pro-life work. Enduring and far reaching changes can be wrought through various types of direct political action and protests. Here are ideas about the types of political action your group can take and ways it can educate people on political issues (especially if your group is prohibited from some types of direct political action). Also included in this chapter are types of protests your group can become involved in.
The National March for Life. The premier piece of large-scale political protest in which the right-to-life movement is involved is the National March for Life. The March is held each year on or about January 22nd - the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision - in Washington, D.C. Every year thousands of people ride for hours on buses to the Capital to join in the March. People from all walks of life come to the March, and that helps make it an excellent learning experience, especially for those who are new to the movement. I've seen many new college pro-lifers go out on the March and come back brimming with enthusiasm for pro-life work. The March also provides an excellent opportunity for college students to meet with their representatives.
In 1984, because they wrote ahead for an appointment, the student delegations from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University were able to meet personally and privately with their federal Representative, William Coyne of the 14th Congressional District, Pennsylvania, and to express their opinions directly to him. After talking with him we presented him with our school pennants to remind him of our visit and the pro-life college students in his district. This meeting alone made the trip worthwhile.
Attending the March on your own requires a pretty piece of planning and must be coordinated with community right-to-life groups, but it is well worth the hassle. Buses must be reserved, money raised, banners and signs made, food prepared, press-releases sent out, folks signed up for the trip, notices sent to Congressmen about your impending visit. Our group usually starts planning in November. It is imperative that college groups encourage their school newspapers to send a reporter to cover their trip to Washington. (The Carnegie-Mellon University group got front-page coverage when it went in both 1983 and 1984 because a reporter from our campus newspaper was invited to accompany us.)
It would be to your advantage to use the time on your bus ride to Washington, D.C., in a constructive manner. You can lead discussions, brief your folks on the current political situation, or perhaps listen to the tape-recording of a pro-life talk. But do not forget to relax and enjoy the trip, too.
Other Rallies. Your group can also get involved in other types of political rallies, such as those held in your state capital. The right-to-life groups at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University, Carlow College, and Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, each year are among the co-sponsors of the Greater Pittsburgh March for Life, held on Mother's Day. Student groups have also participated in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Pittsburgh.
Writing Letters. Writing letters to the President and to Members of Congress is one the most effective forms of political action that an individual can take. It is noted that upon receiving ten or so letters on a single issue, a politician will be goaded into doing some research and dealing with the issue. In the back of his or her mind every politician knows that each letter which arrives with the morning mail represents so many hundreds (or thousands) of voters who are concerned with the same issues and will vote accordingly in the next elections even though they don't take time to write a letter.
Your group should encourage the writing of letters to political figures by providing your members with the names and addresses of their legislators. Letters are most effective when they deal with a piece of legislation that is pending. You group will have to keep its members informed of what is happening in Congress; you should provide brief evaluations of bills and sample letters for your members to follow. Information of this sort is usually available from your local pro-life organizations or the national ones. (The folks at National Right to Life News are good at providing up-to-date political information.)
Your group could also set up a letter-writing campaign to encourage other students to write to their representatives. You could set up a table to provide students with their Congressmen's addresses, sell stamps, provide writing paper and envelopes, and set out sample letters. Having students sit down a write a letter might also be a way to start one of your regular group meetings. Have a letter-writing party. This might actually be a good practice for every meeting - spend the first five or ten minutes having everyone write a letter - it will help people realize that they can take direct, positive action to advance the pro-life cause.
"Write your Congressman!" may sound a bit trite; it is, however, and effective way to influence public policy. Letter writing can be influential beyond Washington - you could also write to State legislators, local public officials, newspapers, and radio and television stations. They are more likely to listen to you if you follow a few common sense guidelines:
Lobbying Elected Officials. There are many ways your group can get involved in the political process. Send delegates to visit your city's mayor, the town council, your state legislators or governors, or your federal legislators. Believe it or not, it is even possible to set up private meetings with your U.S. Congressman if your are polite and patient in your correspondence with his office.
At any such meetings it should be kept in mind that your purpose is to persuade not to debate. The politician needs to be informed of the facts (which means that you must be well informed) in order to be persuaded of the correctness of your cause. Present your case in an orderly and professional manner and try to get him or her to draw the proper conclusions from the material you present. Draw analogies between your position and those positions that the politician has taken in the past. You want to persuade them that you are right.
Whether or not they receive you well and whether or not you succeed in persuading them, try to leave them with a positive impression of the pro-life movement. Dress nicely, listen politely and speak firmly. Make it clear that you are college students. Make clear your opposition to abortion, but also commend the official for any pro-life actions that he or she may have taken recently. Be attentive, cheerful, and optimistic.
Public Resolutions. Associations such as your city council or your student or faculty government occasionally consider resolutions on public policy issues. If this is the case you can try to get them to entertain motions condemning abortion, infanticide or euthanasia. Do not be afraid of strong language if you can get it passed. If you do get a resolution passed, send out copies to the local media, including a press release with the name of your contact person for interviews. Mail copies of the resolution to your legislators.
If you don't think you can get a strongly worded statement passed, introduce a resolution that will have a broader base of support. Statements expressing support of adoption as the real solution to "unwanted" pregnancies or against federal funding for abortions are possible.
Political Parties. Encourage your members to register with a political party and to go to precinct meetings. You can have influence on the local level of party politics, and this is important because many national politicians start on the local level and are molded by the opinions of those they work with at that time.
Campus Speakers. Any political office-holder or candidate for political office who comes to speak at your campus should be carefully questioned as to their position on abortion. Some of your members should attend each political talk. Do not be afraid to take a candidate to task if they support abortion or are "pro-choice." You must, however, be armed with hard facts, such as their voting record or past comments, and you must be calm and polite. Getting overly emotional only spoils things; have the coolest and most lucid member of your group speak for you.
Political Campaigns. Campaigning for political candidates who are pro-life in viewpoint is another important contribution you can make. (Depending upon your group's status, this may have to be done on an individual basis - not officially sanctioned by your group.) Approach the business in a non-partisan manner: support any reasonable candidate who is pro-life and oppose all candidates who are not, regardless of their party. You can get information on the candidates positions by asking the local pro-life political action committee for their opinions, or by writing directly to the candidates themselves. Do not forget to pay attention to the local races, especially those for mayor, town council, and judgeships. Many of these offices serve as stepping stones to higher offices.
Voting. Does an individual's vote matter? In 1960, John F. Kennedy squeaked into the Presidency by a narrow margin - so narrow, in fact, that it averaged out to less than one vote per precinct across the nation. Even without endorsing specific candidate, your group can provide information on the candidate's stance on life issues for both its members and the campus community. Local and national pro-life political action committees can provide the information you need about voting records and public statements of each of the candidates. Before each election you can distribute informational brochures detailing each candidate's stance, and you can write letters to the campus paper urging people to vote for (or not to vote for) this or that candidate. In most areas, the League of Women Voters provides information about all the candidates for public office. Pro-lifers should be aware that the National League of Women Voters recently adopted a pro-abortion position - yes, the League does take political positions! This may or may not be reflected in your local council of the League, but beware.
One way to get out the pro-life vote is to distribute brochures or sample ballots which list the pro-life candidates for office. Target you audience and give as many brochures or ballots as possible to pro-life folks. Avoid giving them to pro-abortion people because you would only be telling them who to vote against. These materials should be multi-partisan - endorsing pro-life candidates regardless of party affiliation. In some cases, you may be targeting voters for just one candidate.
When involved in these efforts, work closely with the local right-to-life political action committee in order to avoid even the slightest transgression of federal or state election laws. Note that voters can take sample ballots and brochures with them to the polls and even into the voting booths.
Voter Registration. You can't vote if you're not registered to vote. And registration is quite easy, which makes it hard to understand why college students are so lackadaisical when it comes down to registering. At the very least you should make sure that everyone in your group is registered. Your group can run a voter registration drive on your campus. Check with your local Board of Elections for the proper forms, then set up a registration table in your student union during the lunch hour. Be sure to have your group's name prominently displayed. Registration for absentee ballots is also important, and many students vote that way. Remember that the deadline to get absentee ballots will be several weeks before the election.
Student Government. College right-to-life groups should pay some attention to what their student government does. Is it providing funds for student abortions? Some do. (Some were actually providing funds for abortions even before abortion-on-demand was legalized.) Is it funding pro-abortion groups on campus or pro-abortion speakers? You can have input into how your student activities funds are being spent. Does your student government belong to any national student groups that are pro-abortion? A radical Sixties leftover, the United States Student Association, for instance, advocates abortion-on-demand. You can maintain a list of student representatives. Do not be shy of asking them for their opinions on abortion, for instance, especially when they are running for a seat. This is useful information to have when your group applies for funding from your student government.
You might even check out the position of your State Educator's Association on abortion and related issues. Many of these teacher groups have pro-abortion stances and you might be able to persuade your school's faculty to withdraw their support from those that are.
Any form of protest must be non-violent. You must not threaten anyone, hurt anyone, or damage any property. The results of violence can only hurt your cause. Be firm but kind. Balance protests with positive action to prevent the perpetuation of the perception of the right-to-life movement as a "negative" movement. Be not only against things bad but for things good.
Rallies. If you are able to get a several hundred students together, consider staging your own rally. (Do not, however, attempt to stage a rally unless you have a clear purpose in mind and have communicated that purpose clearly to those who will be attending.) Rallies take lots of planning and even then they are a risky business. Pick a time and location that are likely to get a lot of attention for both the media and the community. Advertise ahead of the time. Send out plenty of press releases and make the necessary follow-up telephone calls. By all means, have something to say at the rally, get a couple of students to prepare speeches (you may need a megaphone, by the way), and make sure your spokespersons get to talk to any reporters who show up. It is also sensible to get a parade permit if your local laws require one. If you are denied one, contact a pro-life lawyer to find out what your rights to peaceful assembly are.
Don't try to stage a rally unless you are sure of a large turn-out. Poor attendance will have a negative effect. You must evaluate the seriousness of the student apathy problem on your campus: it may be that the days of large student rallies are over.
Leafleting. Leafleting can be combined with picketing or done independently. In addition to anti-abortion tracts, you should be sure also to hand out information about crisis pregnancy help. Basically all you have to do is stand at any place where lots of people pass by and hand out your materials to anyone who will take them. This can be done outside of your student union, your chapel, dormitories, cafeterias, abortion clinics, hospitals, etc.
Pro-Abortion Talks. If your group gets wind of a pro-abortion talk in your neighborhood, arrange for two or three of your members to attend. At a pro-abortion talk your members can serve notice to the opposition that there are those who vehemently disagree with them. Be polite and level-headed, but make your presence known.
Go to meetings of pro-abortion organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and listen to what they say. But be careful. I was once thrown out of a supposedly "open" NOW meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, because I was pro-life. I had gone to the downtown YWCA for the meeting with seven ladies, all of whom were members of several "notorious" local right-to-life groups. We were interested because the evening's speaker was from one of the local abortion clinics. About twenty minutes into the meeting, five of the ladies and I were told to leave or we would be hauled off to jail - in spite of the fact that the meeting had been advertised as "open." It is interesting to speculate on how they "knew" we were pro-life. Does it show? Not one of us had said anything other than to give our names, and they missed two of the ladies who had come with us! It was not much fun but it was very revealing. You should "know your enemy."
Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to attend pro-abortion functions. Several members of our group once went to an open house at an abortion clinic, Women's Health Services, in downtown Pittsburgh. The clinic had advertised free "reproductive health" packets in our campus newspaper. Being more than a little curious, several of our group's members sent in for the packets. They turned out to be very underwhelming - nothing more than a few leaflets of pro-abortion propaganda. But a week or so later, invitations to an open house at the clinic were sent to us. The open house was not otherwise advertised. It seems that the clinic was hoping to get some college students accustomed to their facility - this herald of their "freedom" to abortion - but didn't want it too well known.
Of course, we just had to attend. I went down to the clinic with several other students from Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. We went into the clinic separately - I didn't want the rest of our members thrown out if someone should recognize me. The first part of the open house was a tour of the facilities. It was rather shocking to see how calmly our guide talked about the abortion procedures; one of our members was on the verge of fainting. The second half was a round-table discussion of the wonders of our abortion rights. Or at least it was supposed to be. It turned out that only seven people showed up for the open house - and they were all pro-lifers!
The operators of the clinic had invited two members of a local NOW chapter to come in and talk. So it turned out that there were two clinic personnel, two NOW members, and seven pro-lifers present. (Actually, we had eight - one of our pro-lifers was pregnant at the time.) The discussion was quite amusing. As it proceeded, the clinic personnel began to realize that they were out-numbered on their own territory. We were quite calm and polite to them, but we firmly pointed out the errors in their presentations. As I left it was clear that they were retreating into emotionalism and moral relativism. The last of our folks to leave heard them exclaim, "Oh my God! A whole room full of them!"
I do not think we budged them one iota from their pro-abortion positions, but I do think we accomplished two things. We got to see the inside of a clinic. And we may very well have discouraged them from ever holding such an open house again. (To the best of my knowledge, they have not done so since.)
Boycotts. Another, less effective method of political protest is the boycott. You really cannot run a boycott from a college campus too effectively, but you can make your fellow students aware of the fact that some drug companies, such as the Upjohn Company, manufacture chemical abortifacients and that some brands of shampoo may contain fetal or placental collagens. One could also boycott campus fund-raisers that support organizations such as the March of Dimes or the YWCA; these groups are at least passive advocates of abortion.
The United Way might also be boycotted because in many areas it provides funds for Planned Parenthood, though there are perhaps better ways of dealing with this problem. One more positive and imaginative approach would be to speak to those who decide which organizations get United Way funds, expressing your opposition to the use of charity to fund abortions. Another way would be to publicize the fact that the donor has the option to ear-mark his contribution for a specific charity (preferably a pro-life charity), even if it is not funded by the United Way. As there are United Way fund raising drives among the faculty and staff of many schools you group may do well consider one of these courses of action. In any political protest against any specific organization or person, however, you must be sure to carefully examine the facts.
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© Copyright Andrew A. Siicree, 1985, 1997.
Permission is granted to any pro-life group or pro-life individual to copy this handbook provided that proper attribution is given.