by Aimee Murphy
In the summer of 2011, I was a freshly minted college graduate, working full-time as a front office assistant at an urgent care clinic. After spending so much of my time and energy during undergrad devoted to human rights, I was trying to stifle that ember of passion in order to “make it” in the one job I’d been able to land since graduation. But in my free time, I was making connections with folks from all sorts of different backgrounds on social media, trying to figure out how I could use everything I’d learned as an Ethics, History, and Public Policy major at Carnegie Mellon University. I knew that I couldn’t be done doing human rights work.
I also knew that, though I had tried to find jobs within various pro-life and generic human rights groups, I had always felt like something was missing from the work I would be doing at those organizations I considered joining. Within the standard fare of pro-life groups, I had never felt particularly welcome: I was an out, queer, Latina; a former atheist who sympathized with those eschewing religious affiliation; I was politically unaffiliated and unwilling to toe the GOP party line; and I was an unapologetic feminist. Yet, within many of the largest mainstream human rights organizations (like Amnesty, for example), I knew I wouldn’t fit in because I was outspokenly against abortion. Furthermore, I felt like there was a niche in the Consistent Life Ethic movement that was yet unfilled: a space for youth and young adult activists who could make a change at the grassroots level.
I knew that if I was going to invest my time and energy into a human rights or pro-life organization, I needed it to be a place where I would have felt welcome as 16-year-old me, when I was just entering the pro-life movement but felt largely unwelcome because I didn’t fit the stereotype of the “old, straight, white, Christian, Republican man." I needed it to be hospitable to LGBT people, atheists and agnostics, liberals and leftists, people of color and Indigenous people, pro-lifers, and social justice warriors. I needed it to be a space where I could bring my whole, authentic self, instead of asking “Do they even want me here?” Thus, radical inclusivity became a core value right away.
I also needed it to be a space where people could learn and talk about ideas in an open and respectful way, where we could work to convince people in a kind and charitable way, not to score political points. Thus, we added rehumanizing, respectful dialogue to our package of core values.
Furthermore, I needed it to be a space that wouldn’t kowtow to political partisanship but rather would build bridges and challenge the political status quo. Thus, we knew that non-partisan orientation and multi-partisan collaboration were crucial additions to our core values, too. Perhaps most centrally, I needed it to be a space that wholeheartedly rejected violence as a solution and sought to protect all humans, regardless of circumstances. Thus, nonviolence and our shared inviolable human dignity were the crux around which all of this was based, and the most core value of them all. To sum it all up: this organization we were creating needed to be a space where every human could stand for the life and dignity of every human: it needed to be inclusive not only in who we worked with, but in whose rights we worked for.
In many ways, I had this restlessness in me to create this new space that would be what I needed. To echo James Baldwin, “The place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it.” So eventually in August, I posted in a Facebook group for LGBT Pro-Lifers, asking for peoples’ opinions on whether I should start a magazine or a conference dedicated to the Consistent Life Ethic. The consensus was set: start a magazine, and maybe work on a conference later. One college student from the group, Nicholas Neal, reached out and sent me a private message: he was invested in this idea and wanted to help as much as he was able. Thus it was that Rehumanize International (at the time, Life Matters Journal, or LMJ) was born. I was the first President of the organization, and he was the first Vice President.
We got to work immediately on the first issue of LMJ, and Nick and I began sifting out the core values of the organization. In the first volume of issues, we included a statement that has helped guide us from the very beginning:
This journal is dedicated to the aborted, the bombed, the executed, the euthanized, the abused, the raped, and all other victims of violence, whether that violence is legal or illegal. We have been told by our society and our culture wars that those of us who oppose these acts of violence must be divided. We have been told to take a lukewarm, halfway attitude toward the victims of violence. We have been told to embrace some with love while endorsing the killing of others. We reject that conventional attitude, whether it’s called Left or Right, and instead embrace a consistent ethic of life toward all victims of violence. We are Life Matters Journal, and we are here because politics kills.
Below this prototype of a vision statement, we included a short disclaimer statement that helped us form our first mission statement:
The views presented in this journal do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer-review and dialogue.
These statements still resonate with our team to this day, and we include them in each issue of our magazine, still. They reflect some of those core values that we mentioned: commitment to nonviolence and inviolable human dignity, radical inclusivity, non-partisan commitments and multi-partisan collaboration, and openness to challenging, but rehumanizing discourse. The groundwork was laid from the very start. As Nick and I worked to build our first board, we collected a motley crew of passionate and hopeful college students and recent college grads that flouted easy partisan categorization. Together, the first board crafted our first formal vision and mission statements. Over the years, not much has changed in them. The current versions read as follows:
Vision: we are dedicated to creating a culture of peace and life, and in so doing, we seek to bring an end to all aggressive violence against humans through education, discourse, and action.
Mission: to ensure that each and every human being's life is respected, valued, and protected. We adhere to an ethos called the Consistent Life Ethic, which calls for opposition to all forms of aggressive violence against human beings, including but not limited to: abortion, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia and assisted suicide, police brutality, torture, and unjust war. Additionally, we achieve our vision by maintaining our organization as non-sectarian and non-partisan, and furthermore by promoting collaboration amongst many organizations across movements.
Perhaps you can read into these statements that from the very get-go, we knew that these were values that were important to us in our organizing:
Dignity-Affirming & Persuasive Dialogue
Restorative Conflict Resolution
Better Together: Strength Through Diversity
We believed then as much as we do now that these core values are strong guideposts for all of the work we do and the broad movement we seek to build to change the world. No matter who is at the helm or stewarding the programs we might take on, we know that if we return to these values, we can find our way through the most challenging work.
One of the things that I love about these values we’ve woven together is that they allow for such beauty of diversity. People within the organization have different perspectives and can have unique takes on these issues, but we can agree on these core values and on the Consistent Life Ethic that binds us all together in this work. It makes for a stunning tapestry of the human experience, and ensures most of all that we have “all hands on deck” to change the world; indeed, if we actually want to see an end to all violence, and respect for all humanity, then each and every member of our human family needs to be convicted and charged with the task at hand. We need everyone. So, though we might have a long way to go, we have a strong compass that can guide us on the way.