Friday, December 5, 2008

At Least One Campus Gets It [SK]

The University of Calgary--with its eager desire to prosecute peaceful pro-life students for displaying graphic images of abortion--needs to read this editorial from the Oklahoma University Daily. The editorial is in response to the Justice for All exhibit, which you can view here.

Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, it’s impossible to walk down the South Oval without cringing at the giant photos of mutilated fetuses on display.

But the presentation by the Justice for All is constructive, if cringe-inducing.

The people who stood alongside the display on Monday and Wednesday and answered questions from passers by were well-informed about the issues they were discussing.

Unlike the students present at some demonstrations, they knew what they were talking about and were able to talk about it compassionately.

They were respectful and reserved. Instead of shouting people down, they were quiet until people approached them and started talking. Then, they answered questions with what appeared to be genuine feeling and intelligence.

Their views are controversial, but they were presented in a compelling and coherent format. The giant photos didn’t make up the sum total of their presentation; they were also armed with brochures and handouts that offered interested students even more information about one of the nation’s most divisive issues.

But what we appreciate most about the Justice for All isn’t that they managed to communicate their message effectively, it’s that they succeeded in inspiring civil conversations about a controversial subject.

They made a “Free Speech Board” where students could write any reactions, even negative ones, to the display. They provided notebooks for people to record whether they supported or opposed the display of graphic photos on the South Oval. Most importantly, they talked to people.

Over the years, dozens of different groups and individuals have trotted down the South Oval in efforts to raise awareness about something, be it homelessness, genocide, or the very real danger that women who wear lipstick are bound for hell.

These people have tried a variety of formats, from harassing students for money to staging protests to standing on benches and screaming at people.

Of all of these groups and all their methods, none has been more effective at creating a space for discussion than the Justice for All. On Wednesday, the scene on the South Oval was one of remarkable calm, considering the nature of the photos that were on display.

Along the sidewalk, pro-life and pro-choice advocates traded barbs, but closer to the photos themselves, small groups of people were gathered, talking — at normal volume levels — about abortion. Others were paired off, talking one-on-one.

Everyone clearly felt strongly about what they were saying, but they were saying it with at least a modicum of respect and none of the hysteria that tends to accompany the topic.

Regardless of where you stand on the abortion rights spectrum, it’s difficult to deny that the Justice for All has done an admirable job of creating a much-needed space for debate that is passionate but civil.

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