By Sean McCarthy
During the 2016 presidential election season, I was deeply distressed by the dominant parties. As a Catholic, I found myself unable to support either party in good conscience. The Republicans, despite their supposed acceptance of the dignity of the unborn, elevated a veritable demagogue, exacerbating all of their worst tendencies and positions. The Democrats, despite their commitment to social justice and their acceptance of the evidence of environmental crises, refused to acknowledge the human dignity of the unborn and seemed increasingly hostile to any religion that refused to submit to the demands of postmodern secularism. I became aware of the American Solidarity Party through Facebook, and quickly became a member, finding in it a party where my convictions could remain whole rather than torn and fragmented.
I felt that as a student (currently in my sixth year in the combined MA/PhD Philosophy program), I could contribute to the party by founding a campus chapter at the Catholic University of America. I proceeded to gather the minimum number of members and to recruit the necessary faculty advisor. By the end of the fall semester, after explaining the vision of the party to those in charge of campus organizations, we were able to establish the chapter.
I mainly relied on like-minded friends to help me in the beginning, especially Niklas Rodewald, a Marist seminarian. I recall hosting the first of many open houses, events that proved to be disappointing in turnout (altogether I have had two people come to such events, one of whom is now the chapter’s vice president). I intended all along to recruit undergraduate students, in the hope that they would take over and sustain the organization into the future.
During the spring semester of 2017, I sought ideas for events aligned with our vision. Every year during the month of March, CUA celebrates Women’s History Month by encouraging student organizations to recognize women and host various events. I realized that this would be an ideal occasion for the chapter to honor Dorothy Day with an event. From what I knew of her at the time, she lived a life that defied categorization into typical liberal and conservative boxes, as she was profoundly and holistically pro-life. This idea would turn into an annual event that has happened three times and of which I am especially proud: The Legacy of Dorothy Day.
That first year, I connected with Dr. Zena Hitz from St. John’s College, Tim Keating of the Society of Mary, and Art Laffin of the Catholic Worker house in Washington, D. C.. They came and offered profound, authentic, and moving reflections from their own experience of being shaped by Day’s legacy. Art has been my most enduring speaker, sharing his wisdom during each of the three events. Like Day, he seems to never turn down an invitation to speak. Last year, we were joined by Dr. Margaret Laracy of Communion and Liberation, an organization that had presented an exhibit on Dorothy Day at their yearly event in New York City. This past March, Art delivered introductory remarks before we watched “Don’t Call Me a Saint,” an excellent documentary made by Claudia Larson about Dorothy Day.
I’ll offer two reflections from my experience hosting these events. First, as Day understood, even the smallest beginnings can lead to profound change through faith, hope, and love. The events drew a handful of people and did not make an enormous splash on campus. Nevertheless, we began a tradition that has impacted various people and shapes our identity and mission on campus. As Day wrote, “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
Second, the people most impacted by the events might be those who are engaged in presenting them. In other words, as Flannery O’Connor put it, “The life you save may be your own.” In planning, arranging, hosting, and offering introductory remarks at each of the events, I have gained experience in what is involved in carrying out successful events. I have been shaped through these experiences to become a better leader of the group on campus. More importantly, though, this work required that I give sustained and intensive focus to the life of Dorothy Day, a person whose life is truly worth remembering and emulating in the twenty-first century, as it embodied passionate commitment to a consistent ethic of life. By focusing on such a saintly witness, I was affected for the better.
In addition to these events, we’ve also hosted two events highlighting the consistent life ethic. One of these involved remembering Ben Salmon, the Catholic pacifist who was imprisoned, beaten, and force-fed for refusing to participate in World War I. In this case, I was contacted by certain pacifist activists who thought my organization would be congenial to their mission, and I mostly agreed that it was (notwithstanding our acceptance of just war theory). I was made a little uncomfortable, however, by the protest that occurred afterwards, featuring Buddhist monks beating drums, a man calling through a megaphone for repentance for America’s sins, and slow marching through campus to the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the building for the Archdiocese for the Military Services! The other event consisted of me interviewing John Whitehead on what a consistent ethic of life is. This event was far more peaceful and agreeable and ranged over a variety of issues connected to a consistent life ethic, including John’s special expertise in war and peace issues. I made sure to include other issues like poverty and immigration. Hopefully, this can be an event that is repeated multiple times.
This past year I was joined by the most promising recruit of the organization so far, Ally Kilgore, a rising junior at Catholic University, who is an outstanding student and one of her class’s senators. Despite this modest but clear success, I was confronted with a troubling development once the summer began. The office of campus activities had determined that all political organizations besides the two affiliated with the major parties and one other organization dedicated to open discussion would no longer be recognized. As you can imagine, I was distraught and indignant. I proceeded to e-mail those in charge, challenging their explanations, and when this was unsuccessful, I pleaded my case to higher authorities on campus, who decided that I should meet in person with the individual in charge of campus organizations. I finally met with this man a few weeks ago and had a very affable yet forceful conversation, which succeeded in persuading him that the American Solidarity Party ought to be recognized on the campus of Catholic University. This was established for two reasons: first, that our vision cannot be fragmented and distributed among the two dominant parties, as our seamless garment approach is holistic; second, unlike certain other third parties that tend towards radical positions in the eyes of the university, we are deeply aligned with the school’s vision and mission, since we are so thoroughly informed by Catholic social teaching. Indeed, as I have said many times to people when introducing the organization, our party is deeply aligned with the vision of Pope Francis, who, as Charlie Camosy argues, is at the cutting edge of Catholic social teaching.
I hope that as we go forward in what will undoubtedly be another dramatic election season, we will succeed in showing more people that there is another way, that those who embrace the dignity of all human life from beginning to end do not need to be single-issue voters, but can find a home where a consistent ethic of life reigns.