On Censorship and the Virtue of Refusing to Shut Up
By Chad Hagel, NCLN Intern and President of UTM Students For Life
When I booted up my phone on August 26th, 2015, the words on the screen stopped me cold. I had been looking forward to spending the last few days of summer relaxing and preparing for my third year at the University of Toronto Mississauga without tension. Alas, it was not to be. One of my fellow pro-life club executives, Cameron, was informing me that he had received an email from our Student Union telling us that our club status for the 2015-2016 year had been revoked. We were told little more than that, but it was as if the large flame of peace I had been nurturing had been extinguished. Even though it had not quite begun, our second year operating as a club had gotten off to a rough start already.
Over the next five months, I experienced a whirlwind of emotions as we first strove to find out why we had been censored. We decided to enlist legal aid while attempting to reconcile with the Student Union, and finally we chose to enter into a lawsuit, which has yet to be settled. The constant bombardment of stress and frustration—on top of my academic life—took a significant toll on me, and I reduced my course load in the second semester so I could recharge and refocus my energies.
In so doing, I was able to reflect on my position in the pro-life movement. I encountered a staggering revelation: since my involvement in pro-life work on campus, I had become firmly committed to speaking strongly against the greatest human rights injustice of our time. This revelation became all the more staggering as I remembered my mindset as I’d signed the club’s mailing list in 2014: apathetic, just doing it because it was expected of me.
How did I get to this point?
Before I explain how, I want to make a point about how apathy functions in the pro-life movement. It’s like a canker sore. When you get a canker sore—especially around your lips—it’s painful. It affects how you eat, how you breathe and how you talk. In short, it doesn’t just affect your lip; it affects how you interact with the people around you. It’s much the same with apathy. If someone’s apathetic, their apathy affects not just them, but the people around them. Apathy breeds more apathy, and apathy is something we cannot afford to have in the pro-life movement.
However, there is hope. Just as a canker sore recedes with time, apathy can be tackled and brought into conviction. That’s what I’m here to emphasize – how to move apathetic pro-lifers in your pro-life campus club to conviction. Here are some beginning methods:
- Create a supportive environment. One of the greatest boons I enjoyed in struggling with my Student Union was the support I received from NCLN and my local Right to Life group. They assisted me in numerous ways, most of all emotionally. They led me from apathy to conviction. Further, build that support network not just with pro-life organizations, but also within your club! Meet up with your members outside of activism and exec meetings for coffee. Ask them how they are doing outside of the pro-life cause. Get to know them as a whole person. Invite them to approach you if they have any concerns about being in the club, or anything else related. Be there for them.
- Implement a theory of change. As current president of Toronto Right to Life, Blaise Alleyne, once put it, pro-life organizations should not focus solely on doing activities for the sake of doing activities, but should look toward the broader picture. He calls the former a theory of action, the latter a theory of change. He argues that instead of doing activities that make us look busy, we are to do activities that are grounded on the principles of saving lives and making abortion unthinkable. Emulate this in your own club. Look hard at what you are planning for the upcoming year. Is it just busy work? Or is it planned with purpose, with an end goal in sight? How will your activism be effective in ending the killing of preborn humans? These and other such questions will help ground your club in a spirit of change, which will diminish the stain of apathy and allow convicted leaders to develop.
- Maintain your compassionate care. In my experience, I know that when I go to events and have no response – either mentally or emotionally – and have that apathy reciprocated by the event organizers, I am unlikely to come back. If the organizers didn’t care, how likely am I to care? Similarly, be careful to present your caring face to those you meet in the pro-life movement, in your club as well as in your activism. Just as you would extend care and compassion to the post-abortive woman, be sure to extend care and compassion to your club members. If they call you, call them back. If they text you, text them back. If they want to talk to you in private, respect their wishes and move to a quiet place. When you debrief after activism, make sure you ask them how it went, and listen to them. Listen to people–it is an indirect way of showing you care about them.
Although this is hardly an exhaustive list, do these small things and you will witness a blossoming of passionate pro-lifers in your campus club.
In the end, however, it is important to remember that the convicted pro-lifer will get tired. This is an inherent part of the human condition. When that happens, remind them of how they were. Ignite that spark. Be their support. Follow through. Look towards the bigger picture. Even though that may not be enough to restore the energies of your team member, it will certainly work for you: you will become further convicted of the need to have a pro-life presence on your campus. And that, really, is what we need: leaders determined to carry on the fight to save the preborn.