In January, I marched at the annual March for Life. In April, I took to the streets of Washington, D.C. once again for the People’s Climate March. On both occasions, I was motivated by the same basic impulse: to stand up for human dignity and resist the throwaway culture that Pope Francis has denounced time and time again.
Given how polarized our country is at the present moment, it may seem strange that someone would attend both of these marches. Abortion is often seen as a right-wing issue, while climate change is often treated as a left-wing issue in the United States.
And at the March for Life, numerous individuals were jubilant about the arrival of a new Republican administration, while there were many visible signs of disdain for Donald Trump at the climate march.
Stereotypes and diversity
If we are honest, some of the stereotypes about anti-abortion and environmental activists are true — at least for a select group of activists. As a pro-life activist, I have met anti-abortion activists who are quicker to quote Ayn Rand, despite her strong support for legal abortion, than Pope Francis; some who seem more interested in women’s sex lives than saving unborn children; and those who, in their opposition to a social safety net and government support for pregnant women, show little solidarity with anyone outside of a womb. Among environmental activists, there are those who see religion as problematic at best, who seem to care more about trees and polar bears than human beings, and who are elitists that are detached from the struggles of poor and working class people. And I have seen abrasive tactics that seem more like therapeutic attempts to fix the brokenness inside of the activists than genuine attempts to persuade others to join the cause.
But this is not the full story. Pro-life activists are not just a bunch of old white men, obsessed with sex, who scream about baby killers while they are intentionally or unintentionally promoting plutocracy. Environmentalists are not all hippies who live in trees or secular elites who treat science like a religion. Attendance at either of these marches would quickly reveal that these movements are very different and more diverse than their critics might imagine. A great percentage of the people marching were regular folks just like our neighbors, most of the messages were positive, and there were signs that the movements are changing.
The pro-life movement is more demographically diverse than the propaganda of its opponents would suggest. Women are just as likely to be pro-life as men. Black and Latino Americans are more anti-abortion than white Americans. Millennials are just as pro-life as previous generations. At the same time, each of these groups is disproportionately progressive on economic issues, which helps to explain why there are over 20 million pro-life Democrats.
Coming together in new ways
The pro-life movement is changing. The movement and the March will always have a particular focus on abortion, which is entirely appropriate, given the gravity of legal abortion. But there is a growing recognition that only a whole-life approach can truly address abortion and show an authentic, consistent commitment to protecting the lives and dignity of all people. Thus, marchers carried signs that mentioned not just the unborn, but supporting their mothers, paid family leave, migrants, the unemployed, food stamps, climate change, sexual assault, human trafficking, women’s rights, human rights, people with disabilities and more. I was surrounded by people proclaiming they are “pro-life for the whole life.” With the large number of pro-life progressives, feminists and others with a more communitarian mindset among the millennial generation, the future of the pro-life movement is very promising and likely to drift further away from negative stereotypes.
The environmental movement is also changing. At the climate march, people of faith were formally recognized and we marched under our own banner. Giant signs displayed Pope Francis’ quotes from Laudato Si’. Catholics urged their fellow citizens to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. These were recognized as interdependent concerns that should motivate us all to support sustainable integral human development rather than being treated as competing agendas. People were marching for their kids and grandchildren, for future generations, and for the human rights of those who are harmed by climate change and environmental degradation. This Catholic humanism, inspired by the teachings of the Church, highlights the growing impact of faith on the environmental movement and focus on the human impact of our treatment of the environment. Under Pope Francis’ leadership, these voices are growing.
Environmental degradation — particularly pollution and climate change — and abortion kill millions of people each year. The weak, the poor, the vulnerable are cast aside. We all have a responsibility to resist this throwaway culture. This means breaking down partisan barriers, subverting stereotypes, and building movements that promote human dignity and the common good.
Robert Christian is editor of Millennial Journal. He writes from Maryland.