I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the March for Life. Still, I’d never been, so I was excited to take the opportunity to go for the first time last year. Now, big gatherings aren’t exactly my thing, and the March is roughly 20 times the size of my hometown by population, so I was a little on edge to start. Still, I live in a very pro-choice part of the country (Boston), so there’s something inspiring about seeing hundreds of thousands of people gathering to proclaim that they oppose the wrongful killing of fetal humans. Do I think the March for Life is helping end abortion as much as some people seem to think it is? No, probably not. Do I think it’s, on the whole, positive? Sure.
Except for the signs.
Some of the signs weren’t bad. The first signs I saw as we walked towards the pre-March rally were those passed out by particular groups; they may have had branding and some kind of slogan, but they were pretty neutral and “classically pro-life” with your average positive messaging. But I would classify many of the signs that I saw as actively detrimental to the pro-life cause.
Maybe you’ve never seen the signs or really thought about them in detail, or maybe you already sympathize with my frustrations. Either way, you might wonder why it matters for me to talk about all of these signs (and surely they’re not representative of the entire March)? Besides, you might say, the media consistently has neglected the event, so it’s not like anyone actually sees the signs.
What we see influences us. If the major pro-life event of the year is full of low-quality sloganeering that disposes us to be less thoughtful about the pro-life position and less compassionate to pro-choice people, we normalize ineffective and immoral behavior for the rest of the year. This is a self-reinforcing cycle capable of doing lasting damage to the pro-life movement. We are training ourselves in mediocrity.
These signs also send a message to others and ourselves that this is who we are and how we think. Bad signs speak poorly of the movement. If our signage indicates that we don’t understand what pro-choice people think and that we demonize them any chance we get, even if our movement as a whole isn’t really like that, we’re giving people every reason to believe those things about us. When your pro-choice friend sees your pictures on social media, the signs in the background could turn them off from ever having a good-faith conversation with you.
I want to share a few of the worst signs with you to illustrate why certain approaches to public messaging are problematic. Then, I’d like to give you a few ideas to raise our game so we can more effectively advocate for the pro-life position during marches and public demonstrations.