I attended the March for Life last week but saw nothing of the episode that seems to have come to define it in the public mind: the alleged altercation between the students from Covington Catholic High School and a Native American war veteran. Those who heard only the first draft of the story—concocted on the basis of a slickly edited video on Twitter—are left with the impression that the students wearing MAGA caps assailed this sexagenarian hero and subjected him to abuse. Those few who viewed the full video know that something close to the opposite occurred. Most of the media outlets who ran with the initial version appear to have been too busy to catch up with the correction, so the Twitter mob that sought to destroy those boys and all belonging to them—and forced an apology from the boys’ teachers and diocese before the truth emerged—got to decide the tone and meaning of the March for Life in the minds of most of those who took in anything at all about it.
The problem indicates an absence of adulthood: Nobody is capable of summoning up the courage and authority to clap his hands and shout “Stop!” as evils are perpetrated in plain sight. Of course, the episode also confirms something we ought to have absorbed years ago: that Twitter is a vile, decivilizing instrument. In the not too distant future, should there be any sane and sentient adults capable of sifting through the ashes of the one-time Christian West, they will almost certainly conclude that it was Twitter, the generator of vile and hateful mobs, wot dunnit. Yet we watch with no more than a shrug as each new low finds its place at the bottom.
Coming from Ireland (where abortion was declared legal just days beforehand, following last year’s voting down of the unborn child's right-to-life), I was especially attentive to the march. It was an overwhelmingly positive occasion. Along with reports of the continuing decline of abortion in the United States, it gave me enormous hope that perhaps my country may one day be diverted from its present disastrous path. I went home greatly buoyed up, but with a couple of reservations.
One reservation I expressed the first time I attended the march, a decade ago: The overwhelming presence of religious slogans and iconography prevents the meaning of the march from deeply penetrating a secular society that rejects this language. The eyes of the momentarily curious glance off such symbols: nothing to see there.
We know the meanings of these symbols, and the connection they have to the meaning of everything. People do not simple-mindedly oppose abortion because they are “religious”—they see the killing of unborn children as self-evidently barbarous. Our lives derive from (let us put it in vaguely secular terms) the force that generates reality, and the integrity of this process is central to understanding why abortion is a great evil. To speak thinly—and derivatively—of that process as purely a matter of “human rights” is evasive and inadequate by comparison, and yet different words are needed to address the world beyond Capitol Hill. The argument I made a decade ago is a tactical one, a plea for pragmatism in the face of the great evil that is destroying a civilization rendered insensate by secular ineloquence and mendacity. It would be profoundly wrong—and counterproductive—to propose a solution centered on removing all those Christian slogans and icons, but we need to translate their messages into secular language, however narrow and unresponsive that language may be.
My second hesitation goes to the roots of the incident involving the Covington students. In no sense do I blame those boys for what happened. They were set up and earmarked for evisceration on Twitter and in the so-called American media, an entity exceeded in malevolence only by the media of my own country. The aim, of course, was to create a Cultural Marxist trope—originalist omnipotent victim v. pimpled patriarchs-in-waiting—to discredit the March for Life, which remains a drum beaten under the nose of the death culture of modern media because the operators of these scrofulous entities cannot bear to notice the genocide under their noses.
The exuberance and good humor of the boys seems to have been what attracted the attentions of the various malcontents the Covington boys ran foul of. Though I have no criticism to make of those boys, I respectfully submit that the episode supports a feeling I had about the march in general: Its tone has become unmoored from the gravity of its subject matter.
Like anyone else, my wife and I were in a happy mood when we set out for the march. The buzz when we arrived at the Mall was extraordinary and there appeared to be considerably more people present than the last time I attended—upwards of half-a-million. People were standing around chatting and laughing, sipping coffee, telling stories, making each other laugh. Many of them were young and exuberant despite having traveled for hours on cramped coaches. Their numbers brought great joy to the clouded souls of these two Irish pilgrims.
But as the march edged its way toward Constitution Avenue, and the gaiety continued, I began to think that maybe this was not the best way to mark the gravity of this Holocaust of our time. I could see that the celebratory mood—celebratory of undoubted achievements of the American pro-life movement—was in a sense justified and essential to the continuing success of the event. But I also realized that the march has become more a celebration of pro-life energies than a commemoration of abortion victims. The unbroken atmosphere of joyousness begins to wear thin after a while.
I have a proposal to make that I believe could alter the tone and mood of the march—in a way that might arrest a media and public mindset that simply glazes over as the march goes by. It may be time the march was transformed into a more somber confrontation of America's doublethink in the face of the abortion apocalypse.
The march requires an injection of solemnity, and the idea I tumbled upon comes from one of the most striking styles of protest I have observed: that of the Sentinelle in Piedi (the Standing Sentinels) a movement that erupted in Italy during the public controversy that attended the introduction of gay civil unions not long ago. This informal movement—comprising men and women, young and old, students and grandparents, families and individuals—took to Italian streets in 2016 to defend the ecology of family life, assembling in piazzas across the country, each protestor simply standing there reading silently from a book he or she had brought along. Participants were arranged in the form of a checkerboard, one meter away from each other.
Something akin to this might work well at some juncture of the March for Life. The question is what book to read—the Bible is in one sense the right book, but in another not. The U.S. Constitution is out for different reasons.
My proposal is this: Very soon, the pro-life movement should organize a nationwide—maybe even worldwide—competition for a children’s short story that somehow expresses the gravity of the abortion issue and that is appropriate for young children, a story of death-before-life. The winning entry would then be printed in book form, to be distributed to attendees at next year’s March for Life. At a certain juncture, the attendance would lapse into silence, each person holding the book up for the world to see. Then, after a suitable prearranged pause, the crowd would begin to read the story aloud as one person—a bedtime story for the millions of children whose lives have been stolen by abortionists and their apologists all over the world.
John Waters is an Irish writer and commentator, the author of nine books, and a playwright.