IRL News: Cred and Circuses

October 27, 2009


I realize Sarah usually uses this header, but what the hell, this is real life. Anyone who’s walked by Sproul this week knows that the Anti-Abortion Gross-Out Roadshow or whatever is in town, with their huge pictures of aborted fetuses juxtaposed with photos of Barack Obama for some reason. I guess they want him to ban abortion, but you know, not being the Supreme Court, he can’t actually do that, so I’m not sure what the point is really. Anyway, normally I’d write it off as just another useless partisan shout-fest, but then I saw these signs.

This isn't from the campus, but it's the same sign.

This photo isn't from campus, but it's the same sign.

Now, being a Berkeley student, I’m more or less used to displays about genocide. “What could this be,” I thought to myself, not really but for the sake of this rhetorical device. “Perhaps something about Darfur, or a plea to recognize the Armenian victims of Turkey in 1915.” Lo and behold, what should I find but AbortionTownUSA, the traveling exhibit of Comparing Abortion To Things It’s Not. Now, I’m an open-minded kind of guy, but this got me thinking that perhaps these anti-abortion activists were playing fast and loose with their facts. So it’s time for some unsolicited advice.

Hey, abortion protesters! How’s the movement going? Not had any abortions lately, I trust? Good, good. Now listen. This “genocide” thing. I’m not sure how to put this, but when God was handing out reasonableness, I think some of you guys were in the john. Genocide, as you seem to be unaware, is a systematic attempt at the eradication of an ethnic group, often but not always directed by a state. Abortion, on the other hand, is a heartbreaking decision made by an individual woman to terminate her pregnancy. Note how not-the-same-thing they are. The thing is, someone in your organization must know this. There’s zealotry, and then there’s active distortion, and this falls squarely in the latter category. The thing is, you already have a pretty coherent, moral argument against abortion: “We believe a fetus should be considered a full human being, and thus destroying it should be considered murder and outlawed.” That’s a position people may not agree with, but can at least respect. The genocide thing takes you from “strict” to “hysterical” pretty darn quick. All you’re doing is making people angry at you, and if anything that’s going to help the opposing camp. If I was running an anti-abortion campaign, I would not want my message to be “Hey, women who had abortions – you’re HITLER.”

Which brings me to my larger point: protesting just about anything works better if you take pains not to look like a nutcase. Studying at Berkeley, I’ve seen a fair few protests come and go, and I’ve gotta say, people seem to pay better attention when no one’s wearing a Halloween costume. Comparing abortions to genocide, dressing as a polar bear, throwing beads at a Marine recruiter, none of it seems to help in what you would think would be the most important goal of a protest: making your message understood. Here are some pictures of famous protests, labeled with the qualities they impress upon the viewer.





Pakistani Lawyers


Taxes or something


See, it’s good that you want to attract attention and all, but ideally your group’s presence (combined with judicious tip-offs to the media) will do that anyway. All the costumes, theatrics, and misleading rhetoric do is make you look like a dingbat, and thus your message becomes associated not with concerned citizens but with dingbats. Remember, you want your message heard, but also understood and seriously considered by others. Otherwise, you’re just having a party with your friends that blocks people’s way on Upper Sproul. There’s a time and a place to show what a free-spirited iconoclast you are, but trying to convince people of the urgency of the threat of global warming is not it.

So, to sum up: the President can’t overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion is not the Holocaust, and silly protests don’t work. Well, that’s all the unsolicited advice I’ve got for today. See y’all Thursday.


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