Rehumanize International’s activism spans across a wide array of issues, including some that are beyond the Minimise Project’s remit – our aim as a group is to reduce the abortion rate, and we do not have an official stance on other issues like war, or euthanasia. However, we are including write ups of a variety of events from the Rehumanize annual conference. People often think that pro-lifers only care about abortion. This is a snapshot of the variety of issues that pro-lifers actually care about, and of the injustices in society that they pro-actively try to change. Reporting on the event is Cian, a Minimise member who is very much on board with Rehumanize’s broader mission, and who attended the conference.
Rehumanize International have been at the forefront of refreshing, boundary-breaking pro-life activism for some years now. Their annual conference is always a big hit, and this year’s was no exception. Covid-19 meant that the conference was entirely online, but the change in medium gave the conference new potential, meaning that anyone in the world with an internet connection could join in. Having attended some of the talks, I thought to say a little bit about them. The conference gave a platform to a wide variety of activists from across the Consistent Life Ethic spectrum. Here are a few lines on some of them. (Given differences in time zones, I only attended some events.)
David Swanson, World Beyond War
David Swanson of World Beyond War gave a stimulating and provocative talk about anti-war activism. Swanson was perhaps a bit too dismissive of Just War Theory, describing it as ‘an unfortunate vestige of abandoned worldviews’. However, he made good points about JWT’s abuse as a rhetorical device by, for instance, the US military. If war is a last resort, he asked, why do we never hear about any other resorts? While being conscious of not telling oppressed groups what they can and can’t do, he urges them to resort to non-violence, ‘the most powerful tool in your toolbox’. As an example of non-violent resistance against an invasive force, Swanson cited the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, when the Germans enacted a policy of complete non-cooperation with the French occupiers. When you do not obey, he argues, there can be no occupation. Given that World Beyond War is American-based (and the conference likewise), it’s unsurprising that much of the talk focused on the US military. However, we in Ireland are by no means removed from this, given that the US military continue to use Shannon Airport with impunity.
Josie Setzler, Witness Against Torture
Josie Setzler is a longtime activist with Witness Against Torture. Her talk focused on the torture of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. Of the 779 men who have passed through Guantánamo, only eight (!) have been tried and convicted. 40 men still remain incarcerated there. Witness Against Torture campaign not just for the closure of Guantánamo, but also for the US government to take responsibility for the prisoners once they are released, make reparations, and strengthen anti-torture provisions.
The brutality of Guantánamo might seem far removed from us here in Ireland, but Shannon Airport has played an important role in ‘rendition circuits’, i.e. trips to take detainees to prisons such as Guantánamo. ‘Indifference is the currency of brutality’ is a phrase which cropped up in Setzler’s talk and it seems to be a guiding principle for Witness Against Torture: simply, if we’re indifferent to something like torture we make it easier for it to happen. Indifference – or even support – for torture is a significant problem, and popular culture plays a major role in this. Setzler observed a marked change between portrayals of torture in popular culture before and after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001: before 9/11 it was the ‘bad guys’ who tortured people, but after 9/11 it became the ‘good guys’, i.e. the US.
To explore the writings of some Guantánamo prisoners, Setzler recommended Poems from Guantánamo: the detainees speak (2007), and Guantánamo Diary by former detainee Mohamed Ould Slahi (2015). She also recommended the film The Report (2019).
For details of how to write to prisoners in Guantánamo, see http://witnessagainsttorture.com/join-us/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org (currently it is not certain that letters written to detainees actually get to them). Witness Against Torture plan to hold a ‘fast for justice’ and a week of action in January 2021. Contact them for further details.
Given recent events in the US, it was unsurprising that Ismail Smith-Wade-El’s talk on dismantling racism had a large attendance. Smith-Wade-El began by arguing that racism is an obstacle to consistent human dignity and to opportunity, and therefore it is contrary to a consistent ethic of life or justice. He injected a bit of levity by quoting the black writer Zora Neale Hurston: ‘Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?’
Smith-Wade-El emphasised that dismantling racism requires cooperation. He also directly addressed the issue of racism in the pro-life movement, pointing out that it alienates people from the movement, ‘short-circuits the power that a movement can have’ and ‘breaks down opportunities for progressive work’.
Smith-Wade-El listed some things we can all do to dismantle racism, including:
– instead of being colour-blind, embrace and affirm difference. Consult the experience of people different to you
– remember that we all benefit from dismantling racism: as Indigenous Australian activist Lilla Watson puts it, ‘your liberation is bound up with mine’
– intervene when you encounter racism
– intentionally create diverse institutions and abandon or disrupt homogeneous ones (but avoid being tokenistic)
John Kelly, Not Dead Yet
Disability rights activist John Kelly’s talk dealt with ‘Ableism, euthanasia and assisted suicide’, highlighting the presence of ableism in the discourse around the issue. He also tackled many of the prevalent myths about euthanasia and assisted suicide. For instance, we have reached a point where palliative care prevents people from dying in excruciating and prolonged pain, yet dying in terrible pain is one of the reasons given for why ‘assisted dying’ should be legalised. Not being used to interdependence, many people – especially those from white, privileged backgrounds – are afraid of relying on others for assistance, and feel that being dependent on others is an intolerable indignity. But as Kelly pointed out, we’re all interdependent, whether or not we acknowledge it.
As we have seen in Ireland with abortion, once something is regarded as ‘healthcare’, it becomes normal, acceptable. Kelly gave the shocking example of insurance companies who won’t cover chemotherapy but would cover assisted suicide. He also had some helpful advice for debating this issue with others. He suggested asking your interlocutor if they oppose the death penalty. If they do, and if part of their reason is that 4% of executed prisoners are innocent, then point out to them that 12-15% of people who die by euthanasia or assisted suicide were not actually dying beforehand.
Terrisa Bukovinac, Pro-Life San Francisco
‘Activism’ is a huge topic to cover in just thirty minutes, but Terrisa Bukovinac managed to pack in plenty of advice and encouragement in that time. She stressed the importance of supporting fellow activists. Activism is difficult, and it goes against norms that have become ingrained in us. Obedience to authority figures has been drilled into us from an early age, and it is necessary to free ourselves from this ‘cycle of obedience’ in order to fight for justice.
Bukovinac acknowledged obstacles to activism, including fear (and pointed out how oppressive institutions use fear, notably fear of the unknown, against activists), but she was also blunt: ‘It’s not someone else’, she said, ‘it’s you’. You can’t expect other people to do the work for you. She also emphasised the importance of unity, however difficult it is to achieve. In order to make change, it is essential to find common ground with fellow activists and set aside your differences. She also advocated the use of humour – poking fun at an oppressive institution – as an underutilised tool for activists. Perhaps most importantly, she noted that when fighting for the rights of our fellow human beings (as when we seek to protect unborn humans from violence), ‘giving up is not an option’.
We all need encouragement – and we certainly need it in the pro-life movement. This is one of the great things about the Rehumanize Conference: you can’t help but get a boost from having so many dedicated activists gathered (virtually) in one place. Huge credit is due to all concerned for the success of the conference, and in particular for ensuring that the technology did what it was told – no mean feat at the best of times.