Progressive Prolifers at the Progressive Magazine 100th Anniversary Celebration
by Mary Krane Derr
Note: this was originally published in the Consistent Life Network’s paper newsletter at the time it happened in 2009. It is offered now in the history of our adventures.
We weren’t gate crashers. We were there as part of the festivities, sometimes recognized, sometimes not, sometimes welcome, sometimes, not.
For starters, take two of the speakers on the official program, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and political scientist Stephen Zunes. Most of the event wasn’t about abortion, and these two activists were both present to speak on issues other than abortion. But their respective stances on that particular subject are a matter of public knowledge. Anyone with Internet access can look up Marcy Kaptur’s legislative record, including her good record on labor, LGBT rights, family planning, and maternal/child health and welfare, among other recognizable-to-all progressive concerns. Stephen co-edited the recent anthology Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War.
Rachel MacNair and I are friends who go way back and have long histories of our own with Consistent Life. We team-staffed a literature table for CL in the exhibit hall at the Progressive Magazine celebration. Our table featured a large, eye-catching banner:
And who was the very first person to approach us, when we were still setting up the table? A young man who told us he was pro-life, but did not feel free to disclose this opinion in progressive circles. Throughout the day, we met a number of pro-every life women and men who also gladly outed themselves to us.
Quite a few of the people who stopped by were pro-choicers who said lovely, hospitable things like, “I may not agree with you about everything, but I’m glad you’re here” and “I like your kind of prolife.” We had good, respectful dialogues about relieving the root causes of abortion as well as better understanding our areas of disagreement — including not one but two long conversations with an abortion clinic escort.
Rachel and I enjoyed the overall positive climate of these exchanges. We didn’t know quite what to expect at the Progressive Magazine event. But not a single person came up to our table and issued one of those dreaded ad hominem rants, or scolded us along the lines of “What the hell are YOU PEOPLE doing here?” Which has happened in the past, far more than once. That’s progress among progressives.
Now, a few folks did raise eyebrows at our banner or shake their heads and walk briskly away. And once, when I was by myself at the table, I did distinctly see and hear a pair of conference-goers stop dead in their tracks, proclaim “Yikes!” and turn about-face. As if there were not a quite involved and sentient being (me!) taking all this in just inches away. And a sentient being at the ready to make eye contact and smile sincerely at them in passing, at the very least, and if they allowed, to ask them, quite seriously, what specifically was behind that “Yikes!” I did want to know, I did want to listen, but if people don’t give you an opening, then it’s not yours to grab after. But any of these responses sure beat the bad old unreality-based ad hominem rant.
However, something quite troubling did happen to Rachel, after I had taken my leave of the conference. Rachel attended a bigwig panel discussion on the future of the progressive movement. During the question/comment period, she pointed out the existence of progressive pro-lifers. She recommended that the progressive movement as a whole work with us to reach people who otherwise might not give progressive values and politics any serious hearing. Now, Rachel says she wasn’t going on any longer, and probably was going on shorter, than others who lined up behind the questioners’ mikes. I did attend previous panel discussions, and there sure were a lot of talkative folks with strong opinions who leapt up behind those mikes the instant they were switched on. But the bigwigs on the panel grumbled that they could see where Rachel was going with this (they could? How did they know before she went there?). There amidst the champions of free speech, she was summarily cut off. Then the panel bigwigs unleashed a number of statements Rachel had no chance to publicly respond to. And no one challenged the censorship dynamic here. Indeed, there was apparently a lot of applause for it.
On the other hand, some women in the audience approached Rachel afterwards and shared their own reproductive challenges. They quickly grasped that hers was not the stereotype they expected, and they all ended up hugging each other. But why were complex, very human, small-scale interactions like these, the kinds of exchanges we had both experienced elsewhere in the conference, not reflected in the overt, bigwig-marshalled, publicly unchallenged group dynamics that cut off Rachel’s mike?
Like Rachel would tell you if she had a chance — that question matters to the future of the progressive movement, to the hundred more years we wish the dear old Progressive magazine.
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
For another of our blog posts with her as author, see:
For more of our blog posts on Actions and Adventures, see: