Wednesday was by far the longest day for us, but arguably also our most productive. Not only did we have many wonderful conversations with the guests of the RNC, but we received quite a lot of media attention as well. The attention we received, I believe, was in large part to our non-traditional message: we were not there to criticize solely the GOP, but neither were we there to support them. Our political affiliation was ambiguous. Yes, we carried a sign stating, “War is not pro-life” but so too did we carry a sign that said “Abortion is not pro-peace.” We were taking shots at both candidates, both parties, and the reporters were interested in why.
While our shirts and signs elicited many questions, I think our message was clear. Although the theme for the convention for the day was “Make America First Again” we were there to point out that America is already first in some ways, and these are not things we should be proud of. We are in the top tier worldwide for having the most prisoner executions, performing the most abortions, and we have the most nuclear weapons in the world. America is among the leaders in all these acts of violence and war, and that is not a good thing.
If we are to move forward and work to improve our country, we need to start with the basics: we need to be open-minded enough to recognize that we’ve made mistakes, but we can learn from them. I want to be proud of my country, but it’s important not to get carried away by nationalist attitudes that blind us from the truths, and the areas in which we need to improve.
We need to start by upholding these attitudes even in our private lives. I was having a conversation with an older pro-choice woman Wednesday morning who denied the scientific fact that a human's life begins at fertilization. She was so set in her vision of what pro-lifers are like that she accused us of supporting the death penalty despite us having a sign that clearly said the opposite. She eventually left in a huff without even taking the embryology leaflet we offered. I know that I too struggle to be open-minded at times, and I need to constantly remind myself that I cannot expect a person I am speaking with to be more open-minded than I am myself. I believe that being humble enough to dismiss the assumption that we are always right is key to improving our country and striving for human rights for all human beings.
But this isn’t all that we need. We need to uphold the value of the human person higher than our differences in order to work together. We had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Jason Jones of Movie to Movement (and The Stream) for an interview. We discussed how liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can all work together to forward the Consistent Life Ethic. While we all came from different ideological backgrounds, we concluded that it was important that we advocate for human rights above all else so that we can move forward. We need to call out either political party if they are guilty of devaluing human life and hold our own parties accountable.
There was one conversation we had on Wednesday that stood out to me as a prime example of these attitudes. We were tired enough in the late afternoon that it would have been easy to miss this moment. But something caught our eye—a young black man (later identified as Hanif Phelps) carrying a sign stating “All Lives Matter” along the side of Fourth Street. We were shocked at first and ready to have a discussion on why the Black Lives Matter movement is important and their message is needed. Upon closer examination, though, there was a catch: the top part of the sign was satirical – there was an asterisk so it read “All Lives Matter*”. On the bottom half of the sign he listed the exceptions: his list was long. It included black folks, Muslims, the unborn, refugees and several other groups of people whose lives we devalue in our society.
Phelps’ sign was insightful: it was the simultaneous affirmation that all human life is valuable with the recognition that our society doesn’t treat all human lives as such. It is my hope that one day we will value the lives of every human being equally, and not make exceptions to allow for their mistreatment. If we can adopt this attitude, we can bring about the end to the death penalty, abortion, and unjust war, and who knows what other injustices in our country.
It’s good to know that open-minded individuals like this man exist, and aren’t afraid to be critical of our society for the sake of improvement. If we can all adopt an attitude more similar to his, then I believe we can Make America First in respecting all human lives.