Progressive Prolifers at the Progressive Magazine’s Hundredth Anniversary Bash

And we weren't gate crashers, either. We were there as part of the festivities, sometimes recognized, sometimes not, sometimes welcomed, sometimes not.

crossposted at Nonviolent Choice,


And we weren’t gate crashers, either.  We were there as part of the festivities, sometimes recognized, sometimes not, sometimes welcomed, 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 (yes, progressive prolifers *really do* care about a whole slew of social justice issues). 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 supports the mission of Consistent Life, an international network of over 200 pro-every life organizations (including Nonviolent Choice). With peace psychologist Rachel MacNair, he co-edited the recent anthology Consistently Opposing Killing (Praeger, 2008). 

Rachel and I are friends who go way, 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: "Prolifers for Peace, Peaceworkers for Life."

And who was the very first person to approach us, when we were still setting the table up? A young man who told us he was prolife, 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.

And quite a few of the people who stopped by were prochoicers 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. In our long pasts with this sort of thing, we have both routinely experienced some rather difficult difficulties at literature tables. Yes, not everyone of the prochoice persuasion would do this, to be sure…But numerous prochoicers have quite rudely and precipitously mistaken us for some pretty horrid things that just a little polite conversation would quickly reveal us to be decidedly not.

No doubt prochoicers who staff literature tables are also quite familiar with this sort of abruptly unloosed torrent of verbiage that leaves not one unflooded space for response or engagement or self-defense…and it’s not much fun, is it?

Although, especially later, it may afford some consolations of comedy. Rachel and I still laugh about the woman who long ago ran up and sternly ordered her, "Stop taking orders from the Pope!" When in fact Rachel is a dedicated Quaker, and the Society of Friends does not even have ministers, for Christ’s sake! because that mess is just too durn hierarchical and authoritarian.

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 adhominem rants, or scolded us along the lines of "What the hell are *YOU PEOPLE* doing here? Get the f*** out!" Which has also happened, far more than once…that is, when we haven’t been excluded from the event before we even got in the door.

That’s progress among progressives, for real.

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 conferencegoers stop dead in their tracks, proclaim "Yikes!" and turn aboutface in their tracks…

As if there were not a quite involved and invested sentient being (me!) taking all this in just inches away. And a sentient being at the ready to make eye contact and smile (sincerely, not fakily) 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…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 and its nonproletarian-priced celebrity fundraising events on my customary posh, high-roller mode of transit, the Greyhound bus.

Rachel attended a price-included-in-exhbitor-pass bigwig panel discussion on the future of the progressive movement. During the question/comment period, she pointed out the existence of progressive prolifers. 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 advocates of free speeach, she was summarily cut off. "Free speech for me but not for thee…"

Then the panel bigwigs unleashed a number of statements Rachel had no chance to publicly respond to. One panel member, for example, criticized the Pope’s statements about condoms in Africa–as if "prolife" meant you automatically bowed in obedience to those words, of course.

And no one openly challenged the censorship dynamic here. Indeed, there was apparently a lot of applause for it.

Rachel tells me what else she would have said if her mike had not been cut off:

"I would have responded by re-iterating and bringing [the panelists] back to the point I was actually making about outreach, rather than responding to non-sequiturs. There were several bizarre points made that I could have taken issue with, had I had all afternoon, but I would have kept on track because the session was about the future of the progressive movement and I was keeping on track even if they weren’t."

(Now me, I would’ve explained how those "bizarre points" were nonsequiturs, *then* returned to the matter of outreach. But that’s me.)

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 prolife-as-expected, and they all ended up hugging each other.

But why were complex, nuanced, empathetic, 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 half a chance–that question matters to the future of the progressive movement, to the hundred more years we wish the dear old Progressive Magazine.