Yesterday, we published a somewhat provocative piece by Suzan Sammons about the March for Life, and why she — as a pro-life mother with a history of participation in that event — thinks that in the wake of this year’s cancellation, the time for the March has passed. Sammons writes:
It was a high. For pro-lifers in the trenches who face a great deal of discouragement in everything they attempt—whether counseling an abortion-minded woman or speaking with a niece about the humanity of the unborn or so many other uphill battles—it was a moment to feel supported. For all the teens who came from the far corners of the US on tour buses—whether they were mostly there for the fun trip with friends or not—it was a moment to feel that it’s actually good to be prolife and maybe to learn a few things about abortion along the way.
Not only might that chance for a high be gone for good, but it could be a good thing that it is. Remember first that this cancellation isn’t about COVID-19 and civil unrest, it’s about the new prevailing thought stream in our world—a current that smart elites have harnessed to accomplish their pet goals. Before the March was cancelled, organizers had announced that participants would need to “social distance” during the March and that anyone older than age 2 must wear a mask. After I got over laughing about social distancing during the March—the one where out of necessity I once nursed a six-week-old baby while standing on Constitution Avenue shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of people—I was struck by the sheer folly of the plan. It really would be better not to come together. The kind of march they described was not a March for Life at all—it was a humble profession of submission.
What will the prolife response be? Already, many Catholic leaders like Leila Lawler have called on us to go instead to the place the killing actually happens—our local abortion centers. Think what our impact could be if we poured all our resources into this kind of effort instead of the trip to DC. As she said, “It has always bothered me that while everyone is marching in DC, the abortion clinics are doing their bloody business.” Is this perhaps what we should have been doing all along? If not—because we needed that encouragement once in a while that the March provided—it is certainly the appropriate thing for us to do now.
I said that the March’s cancellation is an emblem of our times. The March wasn’t cancelled by its own organizers. It was cancelled by the same breathtaking current that swept away so many of our freedoms over the last year. In the time we find ourselves in now, we cannot look to a feel-good gathering numbering in the hundreds of thousands for support and encouragement. The days of preaching Christ’s message to one another in a friendly environment like that have passed. It’s God’s mercy that this has become so clear now.
There’s a lot to unpack here.
I think Sammons nails the purpose of the March in the first paragraph cited above. I’ve written before that the March is essentially useless as a political protest, and how, for a while, it made me stop seeing the point at all.
But then I went back with fresh eyes, this time as a father, and saw the young men and women who were there, as Sammons’ says, to experience “a moment to feel that it’s actually good to be prolife and maybe to learn a few things about abortion along the way.”
I’ll come back to this in a minute.
Now, although it likely plays a role, I personally don’t think the winter resurgence of COVID is the primary reason the March got cancelled. Of course the organizers of a large national March are going to have to show their concern and advocate social distancing – it’s a liability question, particularly because, as we all know, the same standards do NOT apply to our side as apply to our side as to the Leftists who’ve been protesting for the past year. I’m not going to dock too many points for March organizers playing the game, at least superficially. I’m sure you know of parishes that say people need to sign up to attend Mass, too, only to let anyone who shows up grab a pew. There’s compliance theater on both sides of the COVID issue, and we all know it. But they had evidently planned on going ahead with the March right up until the Capitol incursion earlier this month, and they made the decision to switch to a “virtual” March very late in the game, which means it was likely a forced decision. People made non-refundable travel plans, and they’re not going to be happy about that at all. This wasn’t a decision to make lightly, and many folks are angry. I don’t think the March organizers have done a very good job at all explaining themselves.
But I think the real reason it was cancelled is because DC has militarized in advance of the Inauguration. There is currently a Green Zone around the US Capitol with a force of about 25,000 members of the National Guard. Streets are closed from the Lincoln Memorial all the way to the Supreme Court, and from K Street to the National Mall. Over a dozen metro stations in the area are also closed, as are the highways leading into the city and many of the parking lots. The National Mall itself is closed, and the space is filled with 200,000 flags to “represent the people who could not attend the inauguration.” The Memorial parks around the area (Lincoln, Jefferson, Memorial Bridge, etc.) as well as the Washington Monument — where two arrests were made this morning for weapons violations — are also closed.
In other words: there’s just no way a large group could move in and out of the city this week. I don’t know that next week (the March is scheduled for the 29th this year) is going to be any better. So personally, I wouldn’t exactly chalk this one up to submission. The March for Life website makes clear they intend to return to an in-person March next year.
So the big question is: how much does any of this matter to the future of the event?
Sammons thinks that the signs are clear: we’re in a post-March America now. She makes a lot of suggestions on how the young people who would normally attend the March could be supported in their pro-life efforts, as well as some important initiatives to build a more stable foundation for a culture of life at home. They’re good suggestions, as far as they go, but I fear that to abandon the national event from now on would cause two significant problems:
First, it would be seen as a tacit admission of defeat. The political class in this country may not be interested in listening to our voices, the media might be hell-bent on suppressing images and video that show our numbers when we March, but they all know we’re there, and they know how many of us there are. You can’t live or work in DC and not have a sense of the scope of the event. The March may not be effecting change, but if we stop marching, I’m afraid we’re telling them we know we’ve lost, and it’s not worth fighting anymore.
But second, I still think the March is about the the young men and women who go there. That’s who it’s really for. It’s for them to see that despite four-plus decades of political trench warfare on the issue of abortion, there are still hundreds of thousands of people like them who are willing to keep the torch burning. That they are not alone. That despite the odds being stacked against them, there’s still some hope.
You don’t get that feeling praying with five other people at a local abortion clinic. And it’s a feeling that many of these kids need, perhaps now more than ever, as our political future looks even darker than it ever has, and the pro-abortion Left tries to crush our voices with every ounce of power they can grab. As one young woman I interviewed at the 2015 March — who had never missed a year in her entire 22 years of life — told me:
You have to be strong in it and you have to believe that it will change. So, I think it’s something where even though nobody’s watching and even if they are watching they’re all giving you dirty looks, you come because you want to change it. You want to do something about it. And you have to believe it yourself, because it’s really easy to kind of just fall away and think like, “I’m pro-life, but…I can’t make the March this year.”
I think that as a political statement, it’s something…it works in the sense that clearly it’s doing something, because nobody’s covering it. It’s something that just will not, you know, they refuse to acknowledge it. Because it’s something big that, if people saw what was happening, you know, somebody would be changed. Somebody would be surprised or shocked. And they take such precautions to never show any of this, that you can see somewhere that it’s making a difference.
I don’t know how much longer we’ll have the freedom to March, but as long as we’ve got it, I don’t think we should surrender any ground.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.