Yesterday, I returned to the March for Life for the first time in at least a decade. After participating for a few years, I quit the March in my late teens. This was not because I lost my moral opposition to abortion, mind you. Rather, with the War on Terror in full swing I was overwhelmed by the myopic focus on abortion at the expense of tens (eventually hundreds) of thousands of civilians sacrificed to the false gods of war and wealth in Afghanistan and Iraq. That the march began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a rally filled with star-struck praise for the right wing in power was too much for my Catholic, consistent life ethic conscience to bear.
Recently, students from my school formed chapter of Students for Life. Two dozen of them excitedly planned to travel to Washington, DC. They needed support from teachers to go with them and opposing abortion is a worthy cause. I could go again, I thought, out of love for them. After all, last year I accompanied students to the March for Our Lives. Why not this time? So, I volunteered.
Before I criticize yesterday’s March, I first want to say that I had a phenomenal morning on pilgrimage with my students and fellow chaperones. We had the tremendous blessing to explore the museum at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine and celebrate Mass in the Redemptor Hominis Church. I was moved to tears praying before a statue of Our Mother of Sorrows in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. We had meaningful conversations on offering up our suffering – sore joints and the lack of sleep – for women and for unborn children at risk of abortion, the purpose of protest, the pro-life beliefs of our feminist foremothers, and more.
As the March began, we were excited by the energy of the crowd and the good fortune of being close to the front of the massive crowd even though we had missed all of the speakers. Then I began to realize my surroundings. One woman said, “Pence is my favorite.” Two men spoke derisively of the Women’s March planned for today. At least three banners read, “All lives matter.” Red MAGA hats were ubiquitous. A large screen forcing minor children to see images of dismembered babies whether they were ready or their parents consented. I remembered why I had quit the March for Life long ago, but I thumbed my rosary beads and kept my thoughts to myself. (I confess I did break my silence to loudly pray a few Aves when passing a Westboro Baptist style preacher attacking Mary. No one gets away with an attack our Mother without a response.)
Having left the March and endured the long bus ride home I woke up this morning resolved to focus on the good moments and let the bad ones go. Then, this afternoon, I opened Twitter.
First, it was news of Ben Shapiro’s “baby Hitler” nonsense. Yes, it’s a pro-choice argument as common as it is illogical. Yes, he’s right; we would not kill even “baby Hitler”. But speaking at a rally is not a debate and Shapiro’s speech distracted from the March’s “Unique from Day One” theme and pro-life is pro-science message. (Not to mention the distraction of his self-interested reading of ads from his sponsors in his speech.) Then I took to reading some of Shapiro’s articles from various outlets over the years as well as his social media posts. Let’s just say his words on Afghan civilians and American people of color, for example, are not what I would describe as pro-life. Nor are they anything I want to be part of.
Second, it was the video of a young man and his buddies antagonizing an indigenous elder drumming as the March for Life overlapped with the Indigenous Peoples March in the capital. Several young men clapped and laughed as the one smirked and stared at the elder. Apparently these young men are from Covington Catholic School. The school has subsequently apologized for their students’ behavior, but as an educator I can only wonder where the adults were. God forbid they were within earshot and let it happen.
After learning about these two moments, I am sickened with regret. Regret that my presence in the crowd could somehow communicate that I support the right-wing vitriol of Shapiro or the racist arrogance of the youth from Covington. Regret that the teenagers whom I accompanied on this trip, many who experienced protest for the first time yesterday, will lose hope in the pro-life movement that tolerates such behavior.
I don’t know yet whether I will return next January. That, I suppose, is up to my students. I’ll be there for them if they need me. What I do know is that I will be discussing racism with my students over the next couple of weeks, focusing on the Sisters of Mercy Critical Concerns and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts: the enduring call to love.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of life and the Americas, pray for us.