40 Days for Life begins today

Four New Hampshire locations are sites for 40 Days for Life campaigns beginning Ash Wednesday, February 17, lasting until Sunday, March 28. Each campaign features peaceful pro-life witness outside abortion facilities, along with prayer, fasting, and community outreach.

For more information about each campaign and about the global 40 Days for Life project, go to these links. Note that each campaign has its own vigil calendar, where volunteers can sign up. Each campaign also has its own special events schedule.

Statement of Peace

The 40DFL Statement of Peace, signed by all participants, is an integral part of the campaign. Among the commitments: I will only pursue peaceful, law-abiding solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign…I understand that breaking the law or acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign.

What 40DFL is and isn’t

40 Days for Life aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and – in its most visible work – peaceful vigil outside abortion facilities.

Civil disobedience is not part of 40 Days for Life. It’s about witness, not protest.

Also, it’s not about ignoring COVID. Volunteers are directed to observe appropriate protocols including social distancing. A volunteer who becomes ill or is exposed to COVID is expected to stay home rather than attend the vigil.

Anyone whose health concerns make participation in group events inadvisable can pray and fast from home, joining in spirit those who are keeping vigil on the sidewalks. Remote witness sounds like a contradiction in terms to anyone unfamiliar with the contemplative tradition, but that’s what some of us have done in COVID time. Has this weakened 40DFL? Hardly. This campaign is taking place in 567 locations around the world, making it the largest spring campaign since 40DFL began in 2007.

“I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down”

Adapted from a 2015 post on this blog.

Peaceful pro-life witness is not Activism Lite.

Recall what peaceful witness called for in 1963, in the face of angry and sometimes violent resistance that had deep political and social roots. Recall Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from those days: I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down.

In 1963, a few months before Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, he and many other civil rights activists converged on Birmingham, Alabama to challenge racial segregation. Their campaign was marked by intensive planning and discipline, because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was intent not only on its message but on delivering it the right way. Volunteers for the Birmingham campaign were screened and trained, as King recounted in Why We Can’t Wait. He noted, “Every volunteer was required to sign a Commitment Card.”

Comprehensive commitment

To what did the Birmingham activists commit?

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration.

King added, “We made it clear that we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself and us that he could accept and endure violence without retaliating” during the campaign. That took guts. It meant putting aside the natural right of self-defense during the demonstration, even as they faced people who had no qualms about using violence, including bombs.

I want to take the Birmingham commitment to heart.

Witnessing with accountability

Anyone can sign a piece of paper (or in this age, click on “I agree”) signifying a commitment. So why bother? Because nonviolence during a public demonstration isn’t something to take for granted. Public affirmation reinforces personal commitment. Public affirmation is part of accountability to the larger community. It draws a clear line between those peaceful demonstrators and any people willing to resort to violence to impede them.

I have neighbors who take umbrage at the assertion that today’s pro-life movement is part of the civil rights movement that came to flower at that March on Washington in ’63. In reply, I can only avow that life is the fundamental civil and human right. Abortion takes lives, and there are businesses that profit from it. Let peaceful public witness to that continue.

I haven’t endured the physical abuse to which the Birmingham demonstrators were subjected. Their example is awesome even today. They faced police dogs and fire hoses, and still made a commitment to nonviolent public witness and action. The best way for me to honor their memory is to emulate them, even though I’ve faced nothing worse so far than name-calling.

The immoderate “moderates”

Recall that the nonviolent demonstrators in Birmingham were far from passive. There was urgency in their goal of justice and reconciliation. From a 1963 UPI report on the Birmingham demonstrations: “King reacted strongly, however, to a statement by Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggesting that the all-out integration drive here was ill-timed. ‘I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down,’ King told a reporter. ‘I begin to feel that the moderates in America are our worst enemy.’”

King used the word “moderate” ironically. He knew that civil rights, but not yet was a phony kind of moderation. In the same manner, denying the right to life is hardly a moderate position, even when cloaked in euphemisms like “reproductive justice.”

The events and words of 1963 aren’t frozen in place, devoid of application to our own times. View them not as an archaeologist views a dig, but as a traveler views a map: take this path, not that one. I could do worse than follow the people who signed those cards in Birmingham.

Fall 2020 40 Days for Life begins September 23

The next 40 Days for Life campaign will begin on Wednesday, September 23, in 588 cities around the world. New Hampshire campaigns are in Manchester outside Planned Parenthood’s Pennacook Street office, and in Greenland outside the Lovering Health Center.

40DFL is a twice-a-year coordinated campaign to end abortion through three actions: prayer and fasting; community outreach; and peaceful public witness (prayer vigil) outside abortion facilities.

Signups for vigil hours are available online. All volunteers must agree to 40DFL’s Statement of Peace. Each campaign has its own newsletter for updating participants. The campaigns’ websites outline COVID-prevention measures for participants, including social distancing during vigils.

Abortions go on during the pandemic, so 40DFL keeps going, too.

For the Manchester campaign: 40daysforlife.com/manchester

For the Greenland campaign: 40daysforlife.com/greenland

Three New Hampshire Pastors on Racism

There’s been so much grief and anger and even noise in our nation since George Floyd died in Minneapolis that I have hesitated even to put down in writing my own reactions. My social media feeds – and I can’t just drop them; they’re integral to my work – leave me feeling alienated and quite inadequate to rise to the occasion we’re in.

I have a couple of things to share with you that I hope you’ll find constructive.

a webinar worth your time

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a contractor with Cornerstone Action, dealing with legislation and communication. One of my Cornerstone colleagues, who’s on the Cornerstone Policy Research (non-political) side of the organization, facilitated a webinar this week with three Manchester-area pastors. Two are black, one is Hispanic, and each has something to say about his own experience in New Hampshire. This was an eye-opening hour for me.

You can register for the webinar recording at this link, which I believe will expire on or around June 17th.

I’m grateful to pastors Michael Worsley, John Rivera, and Isaiah Martin (a former UNH Wildcat football player, by the way) for their participation.

a thought for future reference

Say what you will about COVID-19 precautions and how they may or may not have been selectively enforced during recent public demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. My own takeaway is this: any response made by government and law enforcement to the peaceful rallies in Mr. Floyd’s memory is equally applicable to rallies and all other peaceful public witness to the dignity of human life, now and in the future, with or without public health emergencies.

It’s good to see how law enforcement was careful to distinguish the recent peaceful demonstration in Manchester’s Stark Park from violent demonstration. Peaceful pro-life witnesses have all heard at one time or another that our very presence creates “an atmosphere of violence.” We know better. Peaceful demonstration, even with an undercurrent of anger, isn’t on a spectrum with violence on the other end. Violence is in a separate dimension all its own.

Follow-up in Dover

Yesterday’s post shared the news about a classic grassroots pro-life organizing effort in response to a pro-abortion exhibition at a Dover, NH arts venue. It seems that last night’s peaceful witness attracted even more participants than the first one a few days ago.

From a public post on Facebook from Phyllis Woods, who led the effort: “The experience of seeing nearly seventy prolife defenders come out on a Friday night to stand in witness to the truth that giving birth to a child is normal and abortion is anything but normal, was moving and heartwarming for me and I am both humbled and proud to be counted among them.”

Phyllis has been inspiring me for a long time. Looks like she’s not done yet.