As Washington D.C. geared up (or in my case, hunkered down) in preparation for the unprecedented influx of people expected to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama today, a telling paradox came to light.
Officials estimate at least 1.5 million people are in town for the historic swearing-in of our nation's first black president. Security is tight, with some 25,000 police officers on duty, all bridges into the city shut down to motor traffic, and enforced attendance cutoffs once parade routes reach capacity. The enterprising people of the D.C. metropolitan area capitalized on booked-solid hotels by renting out their homes for thousands of dollars a night to visitors with cash in hand. To be blunt, this city has never seen anything like what is unfolding today.
Absent from all this anticipation is the fact that just two days later, another group of people will be arriving in D.C. They won't have money to spend on hotels, let alone privately rented accommodations, so many of them will get what sleep they can aboard charter buses, stay with friends, or sprawl out with sleeping bags on the hard concrete floor in the basement of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. They are here for a far more important purpose than even this historic election, and in fact many (if not all) of them live in fear of how this 44th American president might worsen the crisis they are coming to protest.
But their numbers will be comparatively small. A hundred, perhaps two hundred thousand will arrive, and even this head count will be underreported by the local media. There will be no celebratory galas, no lavish dinners or black-tie affairs. Metro won't offer free passes to ease the confusion of first-time subway-riders who will pack into its trains.
And yet they come, because this Thursday marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized the murder of the unborn in the womb, and to do nothing about such a horror is not within their ability to accept.
The contrast between these two national events couldn't be more stark. What is most frightening, perhaps, is that nearly ten times the number of people coming to protest abortion as the law of the land in America will be celebrating a president who has promised (whether or not he follows through) to expand abortion "rights" beyond those allowed by any of his predecessors.
I disagree strongly with many of the views of our new president, but I appreciate the historic occasion his election represents. It is a shame that this moment of national pride in overcoming past wrongs is tainted with such surrender to the same vile aspect of our nature that made slavery, segregation, and racism possible in the first place. Too few are asking the essential question: How can we see the election of this president as true progress, when as a people we have merely traded one tradition of civil-rights abuse for another that's even worse?
The irony of the inaugural attendance numbers runs deep. One and a half million people? If that figure sounds familiar, maybe it is because it is most often associated with the average number of innocents killed by abortion every year in this country. Washington, D.C. has been flooded with individuals from all walks of life, from every ethnicity and background, from every class and income level -- and in them we can see an authentic representation of the hidden blood on our hands. One point five million attendees; 1.5 million souls.
I've written in the past about my belief that the March for Life fails as a political statement. My belief hasn't changed, but I've begun to think that perhaps in contrast to this inauguration, the March may be more important than ever.
Our new president has given his supporters advice that we defenders of the unborn should follow. Savvy politician that he is, he has recognized that the desire to be a part of something so important should not be limited to those who are able to come to Washington on Tuesday. In a recent video posting on YouTube, the Washington Post reports, President-elect Obama
"issued a low-key call to transform Inauguration Day from an elite Washington-based celebration of the transition of power in a democracy into a nationwide festival that individuals can participate in through new media technologies and hosting parties of their own, wherever they may be.
If it sounds a bit like the Obama campaign writ large, that's because it is -- and, as such, it illustrates how the techniques of an unusually interactive campaign may be marshaled not only on behalf of a political agenda but on behalf of changing American civic culture in the years ahead."
The pro-life movement should take note. For 36 years, we've employed the same strategies, beat the same drum, walked the same pavement. For 36 years, we've been either ridiculed or ignored. We've never managed to garner enough numbers for the March to shut down Washington, though our numbers have been impressive. We need to organize, we need to innovate, and we need to make ourselves heard. We are empowered by technology, energized by youth, and committed to our cause. If we can't win elections, then we must hold those who have won the elections accountable.
More importantly, we must get the truth to as many people as possible, no matter what their beliefs: Abortion is not a religious issue, it is a human-rights issue. It doesn't take eyes of faith to see the humanity of a child in the womb. We may be outnumbered, but we have the truth.
Printed with permission from InsideCatholic.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.