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"`A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free." - Abraham Lincoln, June 16th, 1858.
Where do you go from here? Once an organizational skeleton has been laid out for your group, your concerns will turn to the day-to-day maintenance of your group. Use the initial enthusiasm which spawned your new organization to keep your group in motion.
Group meetings will be the prime mover of your organization from this point on. A general meeting is the meeting which is open to all members. Here your members will gather to learn about right-to-life issues, to plan activities, to volunteer for the work that must be done, and to get to know one another.
Every college group must have some regularly-scheduled general meetings. Apathy and slow death await the group which does not do so. Some groups only meet on a month-to-month basis, some meet bimonthly. To make the most of its potential, I would recommend that any college right-to-life group have short weekly meetings rather than long meetings once a month. It is only through meeting each week (or at least every other week) that a college group can accomplish much. Meeting monthly, you only have nine opportunities for meetings throughout the course of the school year, and if someone misses one meeting, there is an eight week stretch in which they have had no contact with your group. Weekly meetings, on the other hand, keep the group present in the minds of its members, and encourage them to set aside a hour every week for pro-life activities. After all, just about everything else a college student does is on a weekly schedule.
Even if only a handful of students show up for each weekly meeting you can keep the group alive and growing. I recommend that weekly meetings should be kept to an hour's duration. Too much longer and you begin to lose people's attention, too much shorter and folks begin to feel that the meeting isn't important. Meetings are to be looked upon as a tool for getting things done - they are not an end in themselves - they are a means for getting things done.
The utility of weekly meetings has been seen at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), where in the past members of the Newman Pro-Life Committee have taken a different life issue and reported to the group on it. With weekly meetings a group has the opportunity to cover many facets of the pro-life movement, and its membership continues to be well-informed.
Ongoing education is vital to college groups because of their high turn-over rates. Having a different group member prepare a brief presentation for each meeting not only helps to educate your members, but it also gives them an opportunity to hone their speaking skills. If your group adopted this approach, you could still, on occasion, bring in an outside speaker to address the group on topics which are difficult for your members to handle, but your members would develop into well-versed advocates of the right to life.
Deborah Dilliard of Pennsylvania State University points out that most new members drop out if they feel that they don't know the issues. An ongoing educational program at your group meetings may help to keep your novice pro-lifers interested.
If you feel that having weekly meetings would be too much of a burden on your members, there is a compromise you could try: have general meetings every other week, and officers' meetings weekly. This schedule is light on general members, but gives the officers time to plan group activities.
The group president or whoever will preside over the general meeting should devise an agenda. The agenda need be neither fancy nor detailed, but as it serves as an aid in rendering group meetings as painless as possible, the presiding officer would do well to stick to it closely.
The president must avoid dominating the general meetings. Meetings can quickly becoming deadly boring if he is the only one who ever speaks. He should run the meeting, yet entice everyone to talk. (One at a time!) An excellent way to encourage folks to contribute at meetings is to assign them a topic to report upon. This could be an educational topic as described above, or it could be just a briefing on a past activity (such as how last week's volunteer session at the local pro-life home for needy mothers-to-be went) for those who were unable to help out.
At each meeting, the group leader should also make a point of drawing new members into the flow of conversation. He can do this by addressing them directly, asking them specific questions, and listening to their opinions. Make them feel at home.
Toward the close of each meeting permit folks to bat around ideas for future group activities and see that these suggestions are fielded in the meetings of the group's officers. Be sure to appeal for volunteers to run these new activities and note who responds enthusiastically.
At each meeting, of course, you will want to have announcements about the current plans of your group. Officers and committee chairs should be given a chance to make any announcements which are of special concern to them. And the president should reserve his or her comments for the end of the meeting - the most important of which will be the time, place and date of the next meeting. (This is serves as a reminder: your group should have regularly scheduled meetings!)
Solicitation of volunteers for activities already in the works is a key element of general meetings. When you are describing the group's plans for upcoming events, be sure to ask for volunteers where you need them. Be specific. Say, "We still need someone to take our poster design to the printer tomorrow - can you help, Tom?" rather than just "We still need help, talk to me afterwards." An efficient leader keeps written records of who volunteers for what.
Other domains to touch upon during your weekly meetings include news reports and general interest announcements. Keep your members well informed not only of what your group is planning, but keep them posted of the plans of other groups, too, both pro-life and pro-abortion. News of how right-to-life legislation fares in Congress and your state legislature should be of interest to your group, as well as news of incidents of infanticide, releases of abortion statistics, and any other tidbits of pro-life news.
One final note on general meetings: if your members are comfortable with the idea, I would recommend that you either start or finish your meetings with prayer. You do not have to incorporate the prayers of a single denomination, in fact, it would be proper to let your members take turns, if they will, at saying the prayer. In this way all of your members would have a chance to express themselves and would feel free to do so from within their own religious heritage. This means that Jews should feel free to lead the group in Jewish prayers, Catholics in Catholic prayers, Protestants in Protestant prayers, and so on. Cooperation and understanding are essential. The important thing is to remind your members that it is not solely through human efforts that the pro-life movement will succeed in its endeavors, but that success depends upon the grace and assistance of God. One will, of course, have to be considerate of the feelings of those who might be atheists and agnostics.
In addition to weekly general meetings, the officers of your group must get together at least twice a month, preferably even more often. Officers shoulder the responsibility of keeping the group on the march, and they must assemble to oversee the planning and coordination of events; this requires officers' meetings. Here too the president of your group should take charge and call the meetings.
At the officers' meeting, reports should be made by each officer concerning what they have been doing since the previous meeting. "Old Business" should be handled first. How effective was last month's speaker? How well was your group's information table managed? How much money does your group have? Committee chairmen should make reports on the activities of their committees next, followed by "New Business" reports. How well are plans for the Dance-A-Thon being handled? Has everyone done the tasks they volunteered for? Does any committee need extra help? What progress is being made in getting pro-life books placed in the school library?
New ideas, especially those suggested by non-officers, should be given a fair hearing in your officers' meetings. Though discussion of long-range plans for the group are often suggested in the closing minutes of meetings, do not short-change them. Assign an officer to look into their possibilities and make a report on them at the next meeting.
Records of any meeting are important. The secretary should keep minutes, including attendance, for reporting in the group's newsletter. This keeps those who were absent informed on what the group is doing. The presiding officer should keep his own records of who volunteered to do what tasks and what date they are to be completed by, and he has the responsibility to follow up on these commitments. Does Frank remember that he agreed to provide hotdogs for the end-of-the-year picnic? Has Deb finished phoning members about next week's meeting? Will the newsletter be on time?
Committee meetings are important if your group has committees, though these meetings may be less frequent than the general meetings, mainly because some committee business can usually be handled during or after the general meetings. Your publicity committee may want to have a special work session before every group activity which requires publicity. Posters can be put up, banners painted, table tents constructed (for a description of these neat little contraptions see the chapter on publicity), or leaflets passed out for distribution at these sessions. The communications committee may want to get together every second week to work on the newsletter. Special committees may have to meet as often as two or three times a week if they are planning a really grand event like a Dance-A-Thon. In each case the committee chairman is responsible for calling and running the meetings.
It is often quite difficult to get students to come to your weekly meetings and to devote extra time to also attending committee meetings. One way to reduce this extra, time burden and yet still have committee meetings was suggested by Pitter Harper of Grove City College. Her group scheduled their committee meetings into their general meetings. At some point in the general meeting ten to twenty minutes was set aside in which the participants in the general meeting would break up into their respective committees, go to separate rooms, and conduct committee business. After the brief committee meetings, the general meeting would continue.
Weekly meetings allow you to plan activities for each month of the school year. If, for instance, your group plans to bring a speaker to campus at the end of the month of October, publicity for the event might be handled as follows.
First Week: Details of the talk (who, what, where, when, etc.) are finalized. (The speaker has been contacted, and room reservations were confirmed beforehand.) The task of designing posters is assigned to a volunteer at that same meeting. Volunteers are also solicited for writing press releases, placing ads in the campus paper, and designing table tents.
Second Week: Your posters are designed and ready to be taken to the printers. Publicity about your event has begun to appear in the school paper, and you can set a date for a special publicity work session, while your group secretary should also have made sure that the entire group has been informed of the upcoming event through the group's newsletter.
Third Week: Posters are ready for distribution to volunteers for dissemination. The table tents were prepared at the publicity work session for which members were asked to sign-up, and are ready to be distributed. Because things are going smoothly you can begin preliminary plans for your bake sale in November to raise money to go to the National March for Life. Final details are handled in the week before the talk.
Fourth Week: A host of people come to the talk!
Some groups are project-oriented. They don't rely on regularly scheduled meetings, but rather work from month to month on one project at a time. One of the advantages of this strategy is the fact that those who can't make regular meetings don't feel that they are missing out on what the group is doing. Disadvantages include the fact that members can easily lose track of when meetings are, and that you must have a very strong communication network to avoid having all the work fall upon the shoulders of one or two members.
Though others might disagree I do not recommend that groups schedule meetings only when they have a definite project planned. Groups that do so find that their projects begin to fall farther and farther apart, and their members begin to dwindle away. This is not to say that groups should not plan monthly projects, on the contrary, they should. But they shouldn't make those projects the limit of their activities. Regular meetings provide a time-frame in which members must work - a sort of weekly deadline. In the end, the knowledge that you have a meeting coming up each Monday evening is a wonderful incentive to get things done by Sunday night.
Toward the end of each semester, your group's officers should give some thought to the goals of the group. Sitting down together they should honestly look at the strengths and faults of the group and ponder where they want it to head. This is a time of group evaluation. Where is the group going? Is it just marking time? Is it missing any opportunities? Is it accomplishing the goals we have set in the past? What are its limitations? What has worked well this past semester? What hasn't? Are there any new areas to try to break into? These are the types of questions to ask.
By reflecting upon the desires of your membership for certain activities and your group's past experiences, your officers ought to be able to choose goals for your group which, when accomplished, will amount to a positive contribution to the pro-life cause. While long-range goals are often general in nature, short-range goals should be more specific. The key to short-range planning is to specify a task and to set a definite time for the task's completion.
For instance, your group might set itself the goal of attracting five new members in the next five weeks. Or perhaps your group will set the goal of picketing a local abortion clinic until the newspapers wake up and take notice of the fact that it is college students who are objecting to abortion. (The moon will probably turn green first, so maybe this one should be a long-range goal.) Other short-range goals might include: taking your entire group to visit the local office of your United States Congressman before November's elections, running a voter registration drive on your campus and registering a hundred new pro-life voters by the registration deadline, getting thirty letters written to your state's Senators before an upcoming vote on federal funding of abortions, or raising two hundred dollars for Birthright or your local Crisis Pregnancy Center over the next two months. The possibilities abound.
Rigorously scheduling an entire semester's activities is not always possible, but your officers should at least attempt to set dates and times for activities in the months to come. If you can produce a calendar of events for each semester - giving dates and times for
meetings, speakers, and the like - at the end of the previous semester, your members will know to reserve those days for pro-life activities. Remember that events can always be rescheduled.
If your group should find itself in the position where all of its officers are graduating at the end of the school year and the number of members has been declining, it is imperative that you give some thought to recruiting freshmen to run for offices. Chapter Six lists ideas for the recruitment of new members and for building enthusiasm among those already in the group. If it looks as though nobody will run for group offices at the end of the year, out-going officers should approach some of the newer members personally and ask them to run for office. Group continuity is an important goal for all groups.
As each new semester begins, you will find that your members are renewed in spirit and enthusiastic about the prospects for the group. Your problem is to keep this spirit burning even in the dark, gloomy weeks of midterms and finals. In this task you will find that an occasional social activity helps immensely. Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity, is a natural time for pro-lifers to celebrate together. (Even non-Christians can join in the celebration of the birth of a baby.) Halloween is an excellent time for a wild costume party. The beginning and end of each semester are fine opportunities for college pro-lifers to relax and enjoy each other's company. Make any parties you have a festive event. Why not have folks bring their guitars and flutes or even bongo drums. Music gives life, remember, and that's what you want your group to have!
Social events help to build esprit de corps, it is true, but they don't have to be full-fledged parties to do so. Sometimes, just bringing some potato chips and soda and a birthday cake to celebrate the birthday of one of your members to a regular meeting can a give everyone's spirits a lift.
Consider serving refreshments after your regular meetings. Granted, one shouldn't pass around the corn chips during a medical description of suction abortion, but serving refreshments at the end of a long meeting gives everyone a chance to relax and get to know each other.
Penn State Students for Life has a "Celebration of Life Banquet" each winter, not only to get their group together, but also to acknowledge the efforts of local pro-life figures. They invite the heads of local pro-life organizations to give addresses at the banquet, and they give recognition plaques to those local politicians who have exemplary pro-life voting records. And they recognize those of their own members who have shown exceptional dedication to the group.
Some folks glory in such things as engraved plaques and trophies. Your group could give out some such awards each year; they shouldn't be too expensive - even a neat little hand-lettered scroll will go a long way towards making the recipient feel special. Everyone likes to know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
In four years the undergraduate student body of a college undergoes a complete transformation. With this high turn-over rate college groups have short memories and often rehash the same ideas and activities every three or four years. Thus, well-kept records provide a history for your group, serving as a guide to preventing the repetition of past mistakes, and helping your group to recall past successes.
A group scrapbook with newspaper clippings, photos, old posters and the like is not only a good way to record what your group has done but it is also an excellent way to show off your group.
The sub-section on group resources in Chapter Eleven provides some more ideas on the types of records college groups would find it helpful to maintain. These are, for the greatest part, files on past activities, contacts your group has made, and files of articles on right-to-life issues.
One of the great wonders of the pro-life movement in the United States is the plethora of different organizations with which God has seen fit to bless it. These organizations include National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, Nurses for Life, Pro-lifers for Survival, National Pro-Life Democrats, the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and literally hundreds and hundreds of other groups from every nook and cranny of our society.
This is not the case, by the way, in all countries. Ireland, for instance, has a unified national pro-life organization, and Irish pro-lifers find American pro-lifers to be "peculiar," because we are not similarly unified.
In spite of this fact, many who oppose us believe that the pro-life movement is one, huge monolithic machine with lots of money. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For better or worse, it is an incontrovertible fact that there is not - in the U.S. - one, or even two large national organizations which represent all pro-lifers. Too many groups have sprung up spontaneously at too many different times for a single national organization to encompass them all. We are a true grass-roots movement. Perhaps the college groups illustrate this phenomena more than any other type of group: almost every college right-to-life group I have encountered was started first by students acting on their own, who, as they began to grow, came into contact with various other pro-life groups.
With all this variety within the movement it would indeed be surprising if there were no conflicts. And there have been plenty of arguments among pro-lifers, as was abundantly clear in the debate over the Hatch Amendment, for instance. I will not try to pass judgment on the wisdom of the actions of any pro-life group, but I would call to mind several principles to bear in mind - principles by which college right-to-life groups, in the least, should abide.
First, there are many differences in both kind and policy among pro-life groups, but these differences are very minor when compared to the differences - differences in principle - between pro-lifers and pro-abortionists. So we should treat each other with charity and forbearance.
Second, in those areas in which pro-life groups disagree on policy decisions and there is a reasonable amount of doubt as to the most effective course of action, pro-life groups should hold to a principle of non-interference. That is, if one pro-life group initiates some pro-life legislation which may succeed in doing some good - even if it provides only a partial solution - yet which another feels is meaningless, neither group should undermine the other's attempts nor disparage its motives. Let us not accuse each other of "selling out" because they sought "half a loaf" now in hopes of gaining the other half later. Such accusations are counter-productive and divisive.
Third, and finally, we should help each other out. By combining, rather than dividing our resources we will be more effective than ever. This is not to say that the various groups should meld together into some flavorless blob, but rather that we should cooperate. When another pro-life group sends your group a notice of an upcoming Prayer Breakfast, print a notice of it in your newsletter, even if you disagree with their politics. And when they have a rally, be there to contribute your support. Let's try to keep the squabbling to a minimum and attempt to present a unified face to the press, politicians, and the public. The president, or a person delegated by the president, should be your group's official liaison to other pro-life groups (and the rest of the world, too).
In general, it is my recommendation that college right-to-life groups try to develop good relations with all the pro-life organizations with which they come in contact. Contacts are important to every group, but do not be exclusive. Many different groups may have much to offer your group.
Early on in the formation of our college group I made it a point to write to every pro-life group I heard of, asking them to send information about their activities to our group. Consequently, I received much useful information and got our group put on some very interesting mailing lists. International Life Services (write to them at 2606 1/2 West Eight St.,, Los Angeles, CA 90057) publishes a directory of pro-life groups which gives the addresses of dozens of pro-life organizations across the nation. Write to those that interest you, and explain what your group hopes to do. Ask them to place your name on their mailing lists and to keep in touch. Good luck and good hunting for contacts in the pro-life jungle!
Soon after the right-to-life group at Carnegie-Mellon University was started, a pro-abortion group calling itself the Pro-choice Involvement Committee sprung up. To be honest, I was "bummed out." We had twenty-five folks show up at our first meeting, they had forty show up at theirs. (Of course, I was there too - afterwards Tom McGinnis, who was our group's vice-president, and I hit the bars to drown our sorrows.) But as things turned out we needn't have worried. The pro-abortion group held one or two events over the course of the next year and then faded back into the never-never land from whence they had come.
Who supports abortion? There surely are those who cold-heartedly advocate abortion as a means of population control or eliminating the poor, but many of those who support abortion are compassionate and concerned for mothers in distress. But they lack the imagination to see that there is more than just the mother involved. They can see no way out for her other than by the violent path to abortion. Other paths are murky and unsure, and they have no faith in that which they cannot clearly see.
It is vitally important to make the distinction between the act of abortion and the woman who has an abortion. All pro-lifers are deeply concerned about the mother of each unborn child. More than any other person in our society the troubled mother - the woman contemplating the destruction of her child - needs our help and compassion. We must support these women and show them our love, a love that says, "We love you. Do not destroy your child for the lack of love." Remember, too, that the woman who has an abortion is a victim. The same love must be extended to those women who have abortions, those doctors who perform the abortions, and those persons and politicians who advocate abortion.
We can find guidance in dealing with those involved in abortion by remembering how - after the bitter Civil War - Abraham Lincoln told the victorious Union to look upon the vanquished Confederacy "with malice towards none; with Charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right."
The experience of many college right-to-life groups is that these pro-abortion groups spring up on occasion and then disappear. This may be because they already have everything they want, but it is also probably due to the fact that most of their support comes from among those students who are sort of casually "pro-choice." They loosely think that abortion is a social necessity - something to be tolerated - but their gut-feeling is that it is not quite "nice." They don't want to get too close to it, and they don't want to dirty their hands with it. So these pro-abortion college groups have trouble arousing any enthusiasm for their activities.
The best way to approach these groups is probably simply to watch them. Attend their meetings and events, noting what they do. Don't heckle their speakers, but you might try politely distributing your literature after their presentations. Make sure that the campus is aware of the presence of pro-lifers by asking polite and fair questions and don't refrain from pointing out the fallacies in the pro-abortionists' arguments. If they verbally assault you, reply calmly and coolly or else remain silent. Don't take serious threats laying down, though. If they appeal to the student government to cut off your funding, for instance, come out fighting. Raise a ruckus; appeal to your school's administration; get one of your members into the student government; picket a student government meeting; bring the story to the press if necessary.
Ordinarily, however, these pro-abortion groups are not very important. Answer any letters they may get printed in the paper, but don't spend time recapping their arguments. Make your point and bring the argument over to your turf. With a little bit of patience on your part they will dissolve.
One of the best ways to handle pro-abortionists on the college campus is to "cut'em off at the pass," so to speak. Get some of your members into the student government or the editorial board of your student paper. Then, pro-lifers are in the position to grant funds to pro-life groups, to see that pro-life speakers are brought in, or to write pro-life editorials. You should encourage those members of your group who exhibit the greatest amount of political savvy to run for a position on your student government or to join the staff of your school paper.
In saying this, I am not encouraging pro-lifers to try to censor pro-abortionists. I don't think that a pro-life editor should necessarily prevent pro-abortionists from writing for the school paper, for instance. Rather, pro-lifers should see to it that they respond firmly but politely to pro-abortion arguments, and that no student funds go to finance abortions or abortion-promoting groups. Also, student pro-lifers should see to it that their school paper and their school government refuses to have any dealings with abortion clinics. That is, that they do not accept advertisements by abortion clinics.
On a college newspaper, a person with pro-life convictions could see to it that, for instance, advertisements from abortion clinics are refused. (It is perfectly legal, by the way, for a paper to refuse advertisements it doesn't wish to print.) A pro-life editor can write pro-life editorials, of course, but other folks could write pro-life columns or see to it that all local pro-life events are covered by the paper's reporters.
In student government, a college pro-lifer can have a big effect even if most of his or her peers are pro-abortion. One could propose that the student government pass resolutions condemning abortion-on-demand, infanticide, or euthanasia. (See Chapter Ten under Public Resolutions.) A student government could also be led to investigate whether any of their tuition, health insurance, or activities fees are going to fund abortions, and if they are, pro-lifers could take steps to bring the practice to a halt. Bigger projects that could be undertaken by pro-lifers on student governments include the establishment of a maternity loan fund at your college. One could also check to see that your student government was not affiliated with any student lobbying groups or political networks that have pro-abortion positions.
A member of your group who is also active with your school's speakers committee could suggest that pro-life speakers be brought to your campus. And if, for instance, the speakers committee is set on bringing in a speaker who is pro-abortion, why not suggest that they arrange a debate between the pro-abortion speaker and the pro-life speaker? With a little bit of imagination the members of your group can make your campus receptive to pro-lifers.
There are pro-life organizations which can be of assistance to your college group. Nationally, of course, there are the big organizations like the National Right to Life Committee which can provide general information about legislation, pro-life news, and educational materials. They are well worth getting in contact with but do not, to my knowledge, provide information especially tailored to the college right-to-life group.
There are groups such American Collegians for Life (ACL) and Collegians Activated to Liberate Life (CALL) which concern themselves with the problems and needs of college pro-life groups. Both of these groups merit a letter of inquiry from your group, and they may prove to be rather helpful.
In Pennsylvania, college groups banded together to form a state-wide network known as the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Federation for Life (IFL). The IFL attempts to provide a communication network among college groups in Pennsylvania and strives to foster the growth of new college groups. The IFL also sponsors state-wide meetings at which the leaders of college groups get together and exchange ideas. Maybe your state has a similar organization, or maybe your group could consider starting such an inter-campus network.
Local pro-life groups will likely prove to be the most helpful to your group. They have film lending libraries and speakers' bureaus which they would be delighted to let you use. Sometimes you may be able to cajole them out of free pamphlets and books for your group. Make sure that your officers contact the leaders of your regular local pro-life groups. Give them a chance to help you.
Your group's officers should strive to be on a "first-names" basis with the leaders of all the other pro-life organizations in your area. This greatly facilitates cooperation between groups, and may be very helpful when your group is asking for donations. Don't forget to offer them the services of your group, by the way.
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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.