Sidewalk Advocacy: What would You Fight for?

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by Mary Biese, University of Notre Dame

I hate waking up early, despise long presentations, and can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. But on my last Saturday on campus, I woke up at 8am and attended a six-hour presentation. So what was so important that morning? Well, to put it simply, I was training for this little thing called… “Sidewalk Advocacy.” I knew vaguely about the concept of waiting outside an abortion mill to get women to change their minds. I’d seen Unplanned. I knew it was important, somehow. But the details were a bit of a blur. 

Now, before you ask, the strategy isn’t just sticking some out-of-touch old man outside of a shiny Planned Parenthood to yell at scared women with an overly aggressive sign. True advocates are often young, vibrant, joyful people positioned peacefully on public property with actual resources and help. True advocates listen carefully and respond compassionately. True advocates lead women to truth and healing—and, at least in South Bend, lead them across the street, to a Pregnancy Resource Center (instead of a Pregnancy Termination Center). 

What struck me most about the training was the amount of compassion and listening involved in advocacy; it’s so much more than just apologetics tabling or just praying outside a clinic (both of which are necessary, of course). Speaking the truth with compassion and freeing women from the abortion giant’s lies—this is the heart of the pro-life movement. Empowering women to give their children a chance to live, by giving her the resources to birth and, if she chooses, raise her child, that is what we can do to truly have an impact. Yes, us. Not some arbitrary group, some arbitrary bunch of people with nothing else to do. The people who do this kind of advocacy, the people actually saving babies out there, take time out of their already busy schedules to really and truly impact the lives of women, born and preborn. And what do we do? We busy college students, always running between meetings, events, rehearsals, classes, and study groups? What’s our role?

Sure, we all march. We march for mothers, we march for babies, we march for real, true empowerment. But are we really willing to empower women? To get our hands dirty, to fight real battles, to lose a few battles? In my context, are we truly the “Fighting Irish?” …What would you fight for?

I know for many reading this, including myself, this list is long. There are lots of people, lots of social justice issues, for which we’d fight, for which we’d certainly put forth our time and effort. But think about it. “We’d” implies a “would.” We would fight for her, for him, for this cause, for that cause. How much of our actual time will we put in, today? Sure, we’re all busy. But every time someone tells you, to your face, that they don’t have time for something that really matters to you, you know instantly how much that person doesn’t care. We know if they really cared, they’d make the time. How many different iterations have we all come up with for this “I don’t have time” excuse? I always have an excuse, even for Zoom meetings. Excuses are easy. Everybody knows everybody’s busy, so it’s OK… right? 

We had the biggest break of our lives during quarantine. To what did we dedicate our time? Now more than ever, I’ve found myself reevaluating what I spend my time doing, on and off campus. Which activities are worth it? How much time should have I put into my studies when I could just do pass/fail? How do I balance my studies and other activities? Did I wake up at 4:30am California time to register for classes, or just sleep in and see what happens? The real question: What are my priorities? 

During quarantine, I couldn’t leave my house to get a burrito, let alone go out and try to do social-distancing Sidewalk Advocacy. And now, even if you are able to leave your home, maybe there’s someone immunocompromised in your family, or you’re just trying to help flatten the curve, so you’re also staying put. It might not be in your best interest to get arrested for trying to save babies during COVID-19 (and believe me, this does happen). So what can we do right now, and what can we do when this is all over?

Right now, we can pray, more than ever before. Add the preborn to your prayer requests, if you haven’t already. Praying for the pandemic to end? Pray for abortion to end. Pray that women will choose life, that they can get the support they need to carry their beautiful gifts of life to term. This is something we can do all the time, but especially now. More free time means more prayer time, right?

And when all this is over? Prioritize. Get trained. Make the time. Go out on the sidewalk, put it all on the line, and make a real difference in your community. Who knows, maybe you’ll save your classmate and her baby. Maybe you’ll save the future president of the University, or of the United States, or simply a compassionate human being with a good sense of humor. At any rate, it’s worth a shot. Go Irish, save babies!

Mary is a rising Notre Dame junior in the Program of Liberal Studies who loves singing choir music loudly in the shower and ranting about the theology of free will, to the great annoyance of her family and friends. She is beyond excited to start saving babies on the sidewalk this upcoming fall.

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