Pointless Exercises

by Jay Johansen
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Note: This is a highly opinionated article. I'm sure many of my friends and associates in the pro-life movement will completely disagree with me. I write this to inspire discussion and debate.

When people whose political, social, or religious goals I agree with initiate some project, I try to be very cautious with my criticism. Infighting can destroy any movement, and I don't want to participate in it, much less start it. If I think a project is unlikely to be successful, well, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a public relations campaign that I find unconvincing would nevertheless be persuasive to other people. Maybe a proposed law that I think has no hope of passing can in fact be rammed through with the proper political connections. Etc. I don't contribute my time or money to projects that I think are ineffective, but I try not to attack them either. It's hard enough fighting your enemies without having to also fight your friends.

Nevertheless, there are some projects that seem so pointless, that I just want to scream, "Why are you wasting your time on this?"

A few years ago I was at a meeting of pro-life leaders where one group discussed their project to create a "Memorial to the Unborn". This was to be a large park -- ten acres or some such, I forget exactly how big -- with stone markers scattered around it with poetic inscriptions about the horrors of abortion. They had already spent tens of thousands of dollars on this project and they were seeking contributions for the multi-million-dollar total budget.

What possible good would this do? Pro-abortionists are not going to come to this park. Even if they were somehow convinced to come or stumbled across it by accident, I can't imagine that seeing a pretty park and some stone markers is going to change their minds. If the pro-life slogans on the markers are persuasive enough to change someone's mind, surely it would be far more effective to put these slogans on bumper stickers or in TV ads where many people would see them, rather than hidden away in a park.

I've seen a lot of effort devoted to getting signatures on anti-abortion petitions. Why? I can understand circulating petitions when you think that the politicians or the business leaders or whomever are unaware how most Americans feel about an issue. Surely by now every politician in the country knows that there are many Americans who oppose abortion. What does yet another petition add to this? If they are pro-abortion, it's not because they don't know that there are a lot of pro-lifers out there.

Maybe some of these projects have indirect goals. Perhaps the real purpose of a protest is not to persuade the abortionist to quit but to fire up your own supporters. Perhaps the real purpose of the petition is not to show the president or Senator Jones that there are many pro-lifers out there but rather to collect names for a mailing list.

But before you devote significant time and energy to a pro-life project, please, please, ask yourself: What is our goal? If we succeed in the immediate objective -- building this park or getting 10,000 signatures on this petition or whatever -- what good will that do? If the honest answer is, "Umm, I'm not sure" or worse "It will make me feel good for having been the leader of this project", then maybe you should try to find another more productive project to devote your energies to. Let the other side waste their times on building walls enscribed with donor names or giant quilts.

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March 29, 2009

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