Adventures as a Delegate to the Democratic Party Convention
by Lisa Stiller
Reminder: The Consistent Life Network’s blog is for the airing of a wide variety of views connected to the consistent life ethic. Therefore, the views are those of the author and not necessarily of the organization. Political elections are especially likely to elicit sharply differing perspectives from consistent-lifers.
It was quite a challenge, as a Consistent Life Ethic supporter, to become a delegate to the national Democratic convention. And in so many ways, it was also a challenge to be there. But looking back, I think the whole experience was probably worth the effort it took to get there.
So, why did I even bother to do it?
One of the biggest challenges for us Consistent Life people is election time. There are so few candidates out there that are really CL. Former Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey and Former US Senator (OR) Mark Hatfield are two of the most well-known leading elected officials who came close to a consistent ethic of life. Today, it is almost impossible to get elected to any office if you are CL: it’s that opposition to abortion snag.
And along with this, it’s almost impossible to become an active member of a local Democratic party if you even breathe the idea that you oppose the sacred cow of the “right to choose.” Especially if you are from the west coast or the northeast.
But believing strongly that I cannot just sit around and not vote at all, I try to go for the candidates who come closest to a Consistent Life Ethic stand. So when Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president, I was pretty excited. Yes, he is pro-choice. I wish there had been a chance at some point for some CL people to have a talk with him. But his economic policies would do the most to drive down the abortion rate — look at countries that have universal health care and better social supports than we have, and their abortion rates are considerably lower. And Bernie opposes the death penalty, does not believe we need to rush to war, and supports measures which would bring down poverty rates.
So, for the first time in about 27 years, I got involved in a presidential campaign. I had my sights set on going to Philadelphia from the beginning. I wanted to support Bernie’s message of peace; caring for the poor; opposing the death penalty; and taking a big step out of the box to try to make single payer health care, a $15 minimum wage, and free public higher education a reality. And I wanted to use that opportunity to begin discussions about CL with other Bernie supporters and the media.
Working with the Bernie people was the easy part. I even met a few other people who opposed abortion, and supported Bernie because his economic policies would drive down abortion rates. Fortunately, abortion never became a big issue in this campaign. And when I spoke about it terms of a consistent life ethic to people, I didn’t get ostracized. Of course most people did not agree, but some did say they got being opposed to abortion from the opposition to violence perspective and appreciated the consistency of the CL viewpoint, even if they were pro-choice.
I campaigned hard, had my name out there, and was incredibly shocked when I received the highest number of votes in my congressional district to become a Bernie Sanders delegate!
So I got to Philadelphia, and realized I had some work to do. And some real challenges. There were endless speeches, with many speakers throwing in their support for the “right to choose.” There were three that were chosen specifically for their support for abortion, including speakers from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. I took that opportunity to try to walk around the lobby area where the media was hanging out to try to interest reporters in a different view, and to talk to them about the fact that yes, there were Democrats who opposed abortion. Most that I managed to have a conversation with were surprised. Very surprised. A few gave me cards, or took mine, and one finally agreed to interview me for a talk show to be aired at some future date. We have our work cut out for us in educating the media about “pro-life liberals.”
The other challenge was trying to talk to other delegates I met. Conversations got started anywhere and everywhere; the phone charging station, food lines, and at the after convention parties that went until after 2am (and were the major cause of all that sleep deprivation). And when the subject of abortion came up, or even when asked why I supported Bernie, if I felt comfortable with the person, I started talking about the consistent life ethic. And no one turned away from me. Of course, most did not agree, and I returned to subjects we had common ground on. I can only hope I planted some seeds.
Perhaps the most challenging task I took on was was talking to all of the Planned Parenthood volunteers who swarmed throughout the convention center every morning, and approached just about everyone. Some actually engaged in a conversation. Many did not realize that opposing abortion was a cause for being closed out of involvement in local and state Democratic Party involvement. And with most we were able to end the conversation agreeing to disagree about abortion but agreeing that we needed to do more to support those resources that women and families need to thrive. Yes, some walked away when I told them how I felt. But it was those other conversations that seemed to make the effort worth the time.
I guess that is why I decided going to Philadelphia was so important. The challenge of talking about CL to other delegates, and the chance I knew I would have to talk to people such as those Planned Parenthood volunteers. It’s about planting seeds, starting a dialogue, and putting a human face on “the opposition.”
Now that it’s over, I am trying to decide if I want to stay so actively involved with the local Democrats. I have built some good relationships. Met some pretty good people, who I might even want to have as friends. If I continue, I will be taking on the challenge of promoting the Consistent Life Ethic in a tough environment. But I have come to believe that so much of our work is about relationships. Build on those first, and keep planting those seeds. You never know where they will fall.
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