The 42nd annual March for Life kicked off Wednesday with a full schedule of pre-rally events at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. One of the highlights was the well-attended Youth Rally, which brought more than a thousand teens from all over the nation together to learn from pro-life leaders.
One of the event’s most powerful moments was when the teens heard from one of their own – a young girl named Zoe who told the story of how her mother’s abortion in 1998 has impacted her own life.
Speaking on behalf of Silent No More’s Shockwave Initiative – which seeks to bring awareness to how each and every abortion touches many more lives than just abortionist, mother and child – Zoe told the emotional story of how her mother took her aside before Faith Formation class one day and confessed that she had aborted her first child, conceived with a boyfriend before she got married. Zoe was stunned. Her mother had been her pro-life hero for as long as she could remember. But slowly, things started to make sense. She had always felt like she should have had an older brother. Now, she knew she had, and that his name was David.
That night, her mother revealed her secret to Zoe’s siblings. Zoe’s younger brother Jackson took it the hardest, running to his room and hiding under the covers, where he sobbed with grief. Eventually, all four siblings and their mother ended up in Jackson’s bed, holding him and praying together for the lost member of their family.
Today, Zoe says her brother’s loss motivates her to dedicate her time and energy to the pro-life movement. “I want to say that I've avenged David by abolishing abortion, and I'm very confident that our generation is going to be the one that does that,” Zoe said.
Kevin Burke, also speaking for Silent No More, shared his stories about working with incarcerated men in Florida. He said one of the most common denominators between men in prison was having an abortion in their past.
Burke said that the violence and power dynamic involved with facilitating a woman’s abortion stays with a man, and can often make him callous.
“Abortion brings out the worst in men,” Burke said, “the very worst.” But he said that by seeking help from a post-abortive healing ministry, many men are able to come to terms with their past and move forward in a healthier and more productive direction.
Save the Storks, a coalition of pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), gave the mainly high school- and college-aged audience a welcome message – an opportunity for employment in this struggling economy. The group told the young crowd about their mobile CPCs, pregnancy centers on wheels that park near abortion clinics to offer an alternative to the 84 percent of women who report they felt they had “no other choice” than to procure an abortion when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and encouraged them to seek jobs at these mobile centers. They said they hope to find the manpower to open 2.2 million of them in the coming years.
A major theme of the Youth Rally was the importance of social media. Almost every speaker made a point to take “selfies” with the crowd and post them to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram on the spot. Meanwhile, they urged the youth to “like” or follow their organization’s pages and share their content with their online friends and acquaintances.
Andy Moore, Matt Walsh, and LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief John-Henry Westen held a panel on social media strategy, each hitting a different area of online engagement. Moore, the director of online communications for Americans United for Life, urged young people to share pro-life media reports and blog posts with their online contacts.
Noting the overwhelming flood of viral content from the mainstream, pro-abortion media, he said it was important to counter that content with the real facts about fetal development, the negative consequences of abortion, and other under-exposed points in the abortion debate. But he cautioned the crowd to “have balance” in their social media presence. “If all you talk about is abortion, people will tune you out,” he said. He said that on his own Facebook page, he makes an effort to maintain about a 50-50 ratio of pro-life content to everyday content like personal updates, jokes, memes, and interesting news stories; and said that with his pro-life content, he tries to make sure it’s a mix of hard-hitting and uplifting stories so he doesn’t burn his followers out with doom and gloom.
Popular blogger Matt Walsh echoed Moore’s sentiments, telling the crowd that the key to finding an audience for your message is to “write stuff that people want to read.” But he encouraged them to disregard conventional wisdom when it comes to attracting readers. “When I started blogging, all the experts said to avoid controversial issues” like abortion and same-sex “marriage” in order to attract a wide audience, Walsh said. But it wasn’t until he wrote an open letter to Wendy Davis attacking her for her filibuster of a pro-life bill in Texas that his first post “went viral.”
The key to going viral, according to Walsh, who has 5-6 million readers every month, is to: 1. Be convincing; 2. Be blunt; and 3. Be real.
“Forget diplomacy,” Walsh said of online debate. He said the current trend toward trying to write persuasive pieces that don’t offend anyone was started by “people who aren’t very good at making arguments.” He warned the crowd not to try and anticipate every complaint that might be made against their writing, and instead focus on making clear and compelling arguments. He also warned them against treating online content like a college term paper. “Be human, not robotic,” Walsh said. “Let your emotions and personality and experiences shine through.”
Walsh told the teens that even though many of them have left blogs and Facebook behind as newer social media platforms are emerging, they have an obligation to use whatever social media platform on which they’re currently active to spread the pro-life message and defend the unborn. “I don’t know how you can have that platform and not use it” to save lives, Walsh said.
Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!
Westen challenged youth to engage with other kids on life issues, and urged them to use LifeSiteNews as a resource. He said the news website’s in-depth coverage of issues of concern to pro-lifers is designed to be a one-stop shop for soundbites, facts, and stories that can help activists of all ages and backgrounds bolster their arguments. “We collect the information, and you can use it to start conversations and win arguments,” Westen said.
Westen told the crowd not to be intimidated by the depth and breadth of content available at LifeSiteNews, and encouraged them to use the site like a smorgasbord of facts. “You don't have to read 25 stories a day,” he assured them. “Scan the headlines and find what you're interested in.” Added Westen, “We deal with the hardest issues because we know you're going to be asked the hardest questions. We post the answers to those questions every day.”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, reminded the teens that they are living in a culture where youth is king. “Whether right or not, youth is currency,” Hawkins said. “Hollywood, the media, and culture take [their] cues from us. And it’s time for us to lead by courageously illuminating the truth and hope. “
“We must show our peers, family members, and neighbors that we can be a nation that respects all human life,” Hawkins said. “We need to talk all the time about our vision and hope for the future, eliminating the scariness that people feel sometimes when they hear our words, thinking we want women to die horrible deaths for illegal abortions.”
“We need to correct their thinking,” Hawkins said, “show them our vision, and ask them to join us in this fight.”
Bryan Kemper of Stand True Ministries took to the stage to encourage the audience to use their youth and energy to their advantage to bring new intensity to the fight against abortion. He illustrated his point by offering a free pro-life t-shirt to the crowd, then rewarding the loudest, most enthusiastic audience member with the prize.
“Today's youth have so many advantages when spreading the pro-life message,” Kemper said, referring to the ease and worldwide reach of social media. “Don't hand this down to the next generation. Don't let your children sit in this room twenty years from now listening to my children tell them how to end abortion. Let's stop fighting abortion and end abortion!”