by Jessica Vozella
In today’s work for peace and justice, connectivity and shared intelligence are often game-changers for organizations to reach their maximum potential. Many organizations exist that serve similar causes with shared values, but without connection it is easy for groups to isolate themselves, often duplicating services or involuntarily restricting their scope or education due to their own limited resources. With a network, however, these organizations can unite under their common goals and values in order to achieve together, rather than trying to go it alone with the limited resources, personnel, and knowledge they may have. Together, they are inclusive, reach further, and are more powerful than any one voice or group.
For the anti-violence community, such a network originated in 1987 when a group of people convened with the intention of uniting their work on two life issues: war and abortion. This group, which was previously known as Prolifers for Survival, became The Seamless Garment Network at that meeting. They also formed a mission statement that established a clear connection between the violence of nuclear weapons and abortion and sought to unite even more issues of violence under one movement. In 2002, the organization changed its name to the Consistent Life Network in an effort to clarify the mission and focus. Rachel MacNair, a founding member of the organization who was present at the 1987 meeting, explained that the group was founded on two principles that allow it to connect organizations across the anti-violence movement: that violence is interconnected, and “that consistency is the most convincing argument in the peace movement.”
Today, the Consistent Life Network (CLN) is just that: a network of members committed to the consistent life ethic with a specific emphasis on connectivity among those working in the field. Without holding specific positions on issues, abiding by particular political philosophies or religions, or insisting on the “right” ways of doing this work, the Network members “are a larger community with a common set of values working on a common call,” says former president of the CLN, Bill Samuel. This common call allows groups from all over the world and peace movements to operate individually, but to also come together when it makes sense to do so. Over 200 organizations and individuals have membership in the CLN, including Rehumanize International, and these members hail from the USA, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Nigeria, India, and Australia. These are small, independent groups that vary greatly in their work and their type, from religious orders to student groups, secular social justice advocacy organizations to museums and publications. The breadth of opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds brings a vital richness and diversity to the movement that allows for innovation, perspective, and competence. Rachel MacNair, a founding member of the Consistent Life Network, thinks the structure of the CLN is ideal: small organizations focused on their own missions, causes, and work that come together to form the consistent life ethic, and thus avoid the typical power struggles of a larger organization.
In fact, the organization’s leadership is representative of the Network’s focus on diversity and collaboration, as the leadership board is composed of people living all over the US, each bringing their own work and experience to continue bridging the gaps in the field. Another impressive note is that the CLN is completely run by volunteers and without an office space. As both Bill and Rachel mused, many of the members of the CLN are living outside of the typical economic system, with varying degrees of material independence. Thus, there is not much money flowing into the Network. However, the board members continue to generously volunteer their time, and some perform specific functions for the organization, like Rachel—in addition to being a founding member, she runs CLN’s weekly e-newsletter and heads the organization’s research branch, the Institute for Integrated Social Analysis (IISA).
The IISA functions as a research base for objective research on subjects relating to the consistent life ethic and connections between issues. Rachel, who earned a Ph.D. in psychology, has engaged in powerful research that unites perspectives from those in the peace movement with those of the opposing side. One instance of this is when she compiled multiple sources of data and arguments from both sides of the abortion debate into a book, Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion. She set up a table outside the 2016 American Psychology Association Conference in Denver, and 127 copies of her book were taken. The demand for her book highlights the value of empirical data on issues that are often presented with biased research, even when it is accredited and taught around the country. Thus, the organization’s role is not only important within the pro-life community. “We are not preaching to the choir,” Rachel proudly states, “…although sometimes, the choir needs to know how to sing.” The work done by the Consistent Life Network helps create a connected, knowledgeable pro-life community while continually engaging those who would not otherwise be open to discussions on controversial issues, and thus has an impact on the movement toward a more peaceful world.
The existence of the Consistent Life Network is invaluable informing a movement that is informed, supported, and constantly evolving. Creating this united front builds a stronger case for each issue and educates those who wish to combat opposition to the movement. And the opposition is not always where one would expect to find it, as Bill notes: “There are still a lot of [people] who think that the consistent life ethic is threatening to the work on abortion, which we’ve always disagreed with.” For Bill, who was the president of the Consistent Life Network for twelve years, starting in 2005, the most important work of this Network is in uniting issues that threaten the dignity of human life, because we are all connected in a way that will persist for the long-term. The individual issues that the pro-life movement deals with most often do not encompass the full spectrum of violence that threatens the world today, and the very foundational principles of the Network remind us that violence is all connected. Therefore, the CLN is intentionally equipped to deal with new life-threatening issues as they arise. And though these issues are not close to being solved, the Consistent Life Network and its members are hopeful. “We’ve been very encouraged by the groups that have been springing up; there is a new interest for the consistent life ethic amongst youth and groups (like Rehumanize International), [and they] have a renewed season of interest and a lot of energy,” Bill remarks. This is the future of the anti-violence movement with the help of the Consistent Life Network—a movement that is now better connected, energized, and ready to resist the world’s threats to life for as long as it takes.