Some view the expression in the streets as a sign of powerlessness. In my opinion, it is one of the best areas for engagement for dialogue and debate to change hearts and minds. The best form of communication and marketing is word of mouth. Public witness gives the opportunity to inspire, equip, engage and encounter people of all views and none. Several hundred people can pass by an area in just one hour. How many hearts and minds is it possible to reach in one day with such methodology?
Marches give an opportunity to inspire people passionate for a cause. In Managua, Nicaragua, a pro-life march of 200,000 had a strong influence in introducing a total ban on abortion to the Parliament. The first ever San Francisco Walk for Life in 2005 was more challenging. The organisers of the march of 4,000 people faced a protest of a similar size in its first year. Today, over 50,000 people annually attend the annual walk with just a few hundred protestors. A clear and powerful pro-life message is heard in what is considered a liberal city. In 2014, Abortion hurts women signs were displayed as part of the March all across San Francisco, despite protests.
Critiques of large demonstrations of public witness say that such events are self-placating or to make pro-lifers feel good about themselves, or that what is needed is to show the reality of abortion, or that there is little point in going to the effort. But the efficacy of marches is difficult to measure. The numbers of participants is only one form of measurement. Margaret Mead said that all that is needed to change the world is a small number of committed people, it’s the only thing that ever has.
A recent pro-life march I attended in Romania successfully brought together Christians from all denominations. To work together with others, on issues that unite us, can bring more powerful results than we possibly imagine. The legacy of an event can be completely skewed by future exponential and compound growth. Many people have lamented the lack of media coverage for the Washington March for Life. I believe that the abortion debate can be framed well around hearts and minds. Impact is more complicated to measure. Dynamic tension and media coverage does not necessarily lead to changes of heart and mind about the nature of abortion. The violent challenges from pro-abortion groups at the Melbourne march for the babies in 2014 were lamentable. Sometimes, changing the hearts and minds of pro-lifers can lead to the most powerful and effective change.
Gay rights groups have used public witness in a commanding way to communicate their desired message. LGBT pride parades have been effective in their results of bringing people together, celebrating those supporting the issue, supporting each other on a personal and political basis. Gay rights activists have seen tangible social reform through cultural and political action. The abortion issue is different because unborn babies are often not seen or heard, cannot speak or campaign to defend themselves – we must be their hands and feet. We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Gianna Jessen is the powerful voice of an abortion survivor, who helps us to see the human face on an unborn child and send a powerful and resounding message that babies are humans too. The facebook post of Kimberley Henderson, a musician, led to 730,000 likes and 155,917 with a powerful pro-life message of a woman who chose life, even after being in an abortion centre waiting room. Witness is more powerful than teaching. If teachers are effective, it is because they are witnesses.
One of the most inspiring Marches I attended was in Munster in Germany, the home town of Von Galen, a Bishop who boldly preached against the Nazis. Von Galen was unafraid to preach the truth in the face of adversity. He survived the Second World War but died shortly afterwards. How many times have we been willing to compromise in order to fit in with others in society? The pressure to conform can be strong. Above all, the pro-life message needs to be popularised into mainstream culture. Abortion needs to become unthinkable. Abortion happens within the context and culture of the family, where evil exists as the absence of good. A growing appreciation of the humanity of the unborn child can be fostered by not only joy, awe and inspiration at our unborn brothers and sisters, but also through the advent of new technology, helping us to marvel of the gift of very early life in the womb.
Wherever you are, I urge you to attend the Birmingham March for Life 2015 on 16 May. At the event you will hear a powerful and uncompromising pro-life message – life is special from conception with no exception. It might be a message that changes your life.