A few weeks ago, as I walked to get lunch at the SAC, I was greeted by several pro-life protestors brandishing large banners of mutilated fetuses.
I flashed back to my Catholic high school religion class lessons on abortion, and cringed as I remembered similar posters hanging on the wall next to me every day. When are these people going to learn this is not the way to win supporters to their cause?
For the record, I would like to state that I am pro-life. I firmly believe that further down the road the legalization of abortion will be viewed as a mistake, just as capital punishment is now frowned upon internationally. But if I, a believer in the pro-life cause, am offended by the tactics of these protestors, who are they reaching? An antagonistic approach to protesting only alienates the interest group from those whom they wish to send their message to.
The pro-lifers are not the only people who are guilty of taking an antagonist approach in their protesting methods. Some animal rights activists who are opposed to fur splash red paint on people wearing fur coats to symbolize the blood of the animals. Many have witnessed this or heard of it, and the confrontational nature of these demonstrations has led to a lack of credibility for the animal rights cause.
Not all animal rights activists behave in this manner, yet because of those who do, no one will take the peaceful activists seriously. In the same light, environmental activists who chain themselves to trees are more likely to be viewed as radicals than rational people with whom to discuss the environmental issues.
The more aggressive activists are in trying to present their cause to the public, the more likely they are to come off as confrontational extremists.
A protestor who smears his shirt with ketchup to give us a visual of the Big Gun industry’s ever-growing casualty list is more likely to make others looks away and mutter, “That guy’s crazy,” than it is to make them suddenly decide to champion the gun control cause. The shock factor is just not as effective as some activists like to believe it is. If the average person sees something unpleasant, they are likely to turn from it rather than examine it more closely. It’s just human nature.
I am not suggesting that activist groups should refrain from protesting. On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful way to raise awareness about causes that are often overlooked. I actually would like each of the groups I mentioned to be able to further their causes, because I agree with them, but in order for this to happen the antagonistic factions of these groups need to alter their tactics. The aggressive approach does not work. The methods those pro-life activists were demonstrating outside of the SAC have been in use since the Roe v. Wade decision, and no ground has been gained.
The country is still divided right down the middle. Activists need to realize that through their aggressive approaches to demonstrating they are actually hurting the public’s image of them.
I doubt that the pro-life demonstrators won over a single member of the opposition through their protest in front of the SAC. For a moment I, a believer in their cause, was even disgusted with them. Activist groups, though their heart may be with the cause, need to realize that not everyone is as adamant as they are about their beliefs. In order to win over the opposition they need to come across as rational people who are approachable for a discussion on their views. I would venture that nobody who had their doubts about the pro-life cause went rushing up to a protestor a few weeks ago who was waving a banner with a mangled fetus to ask them the reasoning behind their views on abortion. These methods are damaging the credibility of interest groups. There has to be a more effective way to champion the cause. If activists want to further their causes they need to abandon these tactics and present themselves as accessible people with credible ideas.
Emilie Haertsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.