Activists Reminisce: An Oral History of Prolifers for Survival
Excerpt from Chapter 12, Consistently Opposing Killing
Note: This comes from a conference call done for a chapter in the anthology, Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War, published by Praeger.
Juli is Julianne Wiley (also known as Juli Loesch); Rachel is Rachel MacNair. Mary Rider was also on the call.
The last meeting of Prolifers for Survival was the first meeting of the Seamless Garment Network; we have since changed our name to the Consistent Life Network. The excerpt starts with the beginning of Prolifers for Survival.
Juli: As I remember, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident happened in March, 1979. In May they did a huge anti-nuclear march and we went to that. We had talked with or had a beer with people in the peace movement we knew were prolife, and got about nine of us to hand out about 50,000 leaflets.
Mary Meehan: It was a good beginning, and people were friendly.
Juli: It was great. It was a beautiful day, and a couple of the pro-abortion peaceniks came up and sort of listlessly told us that we weren’t allowed to leaflet. We remarked that we hadn’t seen the newspaper that morning, and hadn’t realized that the Bill of Rights had been rescinded. They sort of said, “oh, you assholes,” and walked listlessly away. That was 1979, and was the anti-nuclear power movement mostly.
But then Reagan became president in 1980, and the Left switched into an anti-nuclear weapons movement again. I felt energized by that, because to me nuclear weapons and abortion were perfect bookends, symmetrical images of each other. They both involved a frank commitment to targeting innocent targets, and they both depended on the calculated willingness to destroy them deliberately. Looking at it from a reasonable definition of murder – the deliberate killing of innocent persons – it was to me not debatable. I mean, it was not like nuclear power which had calculable risks that could be compared against other risks. Or even conventional war, which can have degrees of limitation, which makes a just war preferable to an unjust peace. The two issues struck me as being so absolute they set up a kind of a north and south pole, a whole magnetic force that drew in a lot of other issues because of the clarity of those two.
Rachel: But the Mobilization for Survival of Boston didn’t see it that way. I remember when Prolifers for Survival tried to join the Mobilization for Survival. The Boston Chapter sent out a letter, very exercised about the prospect. Do you remember that?
Juli: Oh yes, they offered to dismantle the entire Mobilization for Survival if we contaminated them by our membership. They were willing to destroy their movement rather than allowing in this tiny prolife entity. Evidently they thought pro “choice” was more important than survival of the planet.
Rachel: I remember at the time thinking the Communist Party has front groups that are members of this coalition. The whole point of having a coalition is that you set aside disagreements on other things to focus on the one thing.
Juli: Exactly. I would have been willing to march beside hot and cold running Trots [Trotskyites] to stop the nuclear arms race. But that kind of latitude was not permitted.
Mary Meehan: Well, there was a debate at the Mobe [Mobilization for Survival] convention in Pittsburgh, remember that? Later they let me write a little piece against their taking a position on abortion at all, and someone else wrote one saying they should. I think we did at least get some people to take another look at it. I guess they never accepted PS as a member. Or did they?
Juli: Oh, no.
[Co-editor Stephen Zunes notes: There were then over 200 member organizations, which makes the upset about PS’s application all the more ludicrous. Also, my recollection – I was on the national staff of Mobe at the time and was PS’s strongest advocate among them – was that Juli withdrew their application rather than split the organization, so the application was neither formally accepted or rejected.]
Rachel: I remember a memorable line from the Boston letter: all prolifers are “racist, classist, misogynist, anti-choice reactionaries.” We set it to music and put it on T-shirts: “Another Racist, Classist, Misogynist, Anti-choice Reactionary for Peace.”
Juli: Yes. The sad thing is when that faction of the Left sinks its fangs into the peace movement, they sink their fangs and claws and suck the life out of it. They take the peace camp and the peace T-shirts and peace sandals and put them on. So you think you have a peace movement, and what you really have is a raving Left movement that’s dressed itself up to look like a peace movement. Because the people who have really thought long and hard about the spiritual, psychological, and social requirements of nonviolence are repelled by them, and yet those are the people who ought to be the peace movement.
Mary Meehan: I saw the anti-war march in Washington last weekend, and I saw some of the same hard-edge stuff that’s always bothered me. But I also saw some very deeply committed, and probably decades-long-committed, peace people.
Rachel: What hops to my mind is how many peace movement people wouldn’t consider the prolife movement because of how turned off they were by people like Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, and George Bush.
Juli: Oh sure. Most people, myself included, when you look at a complicated problem, start off by seeing where your friends are. Because you trust them. There’s nothing wrong with that. Your friends are honorable and intelligent people, and you consult them to see what they believe in. But that turns into a camp or culture of the Right or a camp and culture of the Left, not based on real thinking or real dialog – just a desire to move with your particular herd. Us against them, which arouses the most pleasurable, pervasive, and vile passions.
Rachel: And is exactly what the peace movement knows better than to do.
Juli: Yes. It was wonderful to have an organization like Prolifers for Survival for a while that tried to respect both of those cultural camps, and understand them, and listen to them, and to act winsomely – is that a word?
Mary Meehan: It is, a good one.
Juli: To act winsomely towards both sides to talk about serious issues that concern all of us in our hearts and souls.
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