International panel. Left to right, clockwise: Luke Silke, Ireland; Maria Oswalt, moderator; Kristina Artukovic, Serbia; Stephanie Midori Komashin, Japan; Martha Cecilia Villafuerte, Ecuador
John Whitehead comments:
The Rehumanize 2021 Conference sessions on Global Perspectives on Abortion and on Nuclear Nonproliferation both touched on a common challenge for activists: overcoming apathy.
Kristina Artukovic and Stephanie Midori Komashin observed that in Serbia and Japan abortion is not a controversial topic. The practice is largely accepted, with little debate. Pro-life activism is minimal in both countries. Further, this indifference toward abortion is part of larger patterns. Kristina commented that abortion generates little debate in Europe generally. In Japan, Stephanie explained, indifference about abortion is consistent with a general apathy toward politics among young people.
Tim Wainwright sounded a similar note in his talk on working against nuclear weapons. In contrast to the vibrant, engaged anti-nuclear movement of the late 20th century, peace activists today struggle to generate interest in the nuclear threat (Tim’s comments here definitely echoed my own experiences).
Such apathy is disheartening, but it also has a hopeful aspect. A general lack of interest in certain life issues also means that defenders of life don’t have to face highly motivated opposition. For example, Stephanie observed that her pro-life activism generates very little active opposition in Japan. For my part, I have been somewhat heartened by how anti-nuclear activism hasn’t become a highly fierce, emotionally charged “hot button” issue. When people haven’t yet become deeply invested in an issue, they might be willing to listen to the pro-peace, pro-life perspective on it.
Julia Smucker comments:
The most striking presentation I heard at this conference was by Sabrina Butler-Smith, who shared her experience of being wrongfully convicted for the death of her child. Her descriptions of coerced confession, prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate defense demonstrated how skewed the US criminal legal system is toward finding someone to punish rather than finding out the truth. Parts of Sabrina’s story reminded me of similar ones recounted in Bryan Stevenson’s memoir Just Mercy, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about wrongful convictions and related issues.
Anita Cameron, director of minority outreach for Not Dead Yet, also spoke powerfully about the ableism that undergirds the push for assisted suicide, pushing back against the demeaning assumption that it’s better to be dead than disabled – a point that Beth Fox, another disability rights self-advocate, also added to in her breakout session that immediately followed Anita’s keynote.
I also found it refreshing to simply meet and reconnect with other consistent life advocates in the regionally-based chat session and virtual expo booths. This allowed us at least a small taste of the social dynamic of an in-person conference, an experience I hope we can safely return to sometime in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, I commend our friends at Rehumanize for putting together another full and dynamic online conference
For more posts on consistent conferences, see: