Interview with John Whitehead, president of Consistent Life Network

by Skylar Covich

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this interview are the personal opinions of Mr. Whitehead, and are not an official statement by the Consistent Life Network.

SC: You are the president of the Consistent Life Network. Describe the concept of consistent life. Can you recommend some articles on the history of the movement, and suggest ways people can get involved now?

John Whitehead imageJW: “Consistent life” or the “consistent life ethic” is the principle that human life should be defended from various socially approved forms of violence such as abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia/assisted suicide, and war. Many people would also understand the ethic as including opposition to threats to life that do not necessarily involve direct killing: racism, for example, or poverty and economic inequality, or human trafficking. Some consistent life ethic advocates are animal rights activists who believe in defending not only human life but also all animal life.

What the different versions of the consistent life ethic have in common, though, is a commitment to defending life which cuts across the usual political ideologies, or at least those ideologies found in the United States. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia or assisted suicide is generally associated with the political right, while opposition to the death penalty and war is generally associated with the political left. (One can legitimately question how historically grounded or accurate those identifications are, but that is how the issues are stereotypically grouped.) Consistent lifers work to get beyond those left-right categories.

The Consistent Life Network understands the ethic as defending life against six major threats: abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia/assisted suicide, poverty, racism, and war. As part of our work to defend life against these threats, we identify how different forms of violence are connected. Abortion, euthanasia, racism, and poverty, as well as discrimination against the disabled, all have long-standing connections to each other. Eugenics, for instance, is a racist, ableist philosophy that has been used to justify abortion and euthanasia. In a similar way, the overrepresentation of people of color on death row indicates how racism and the death penalty are connected.

As far as resources, we have on our website a page featuring a variety of writings on the consistent life ethic. In particular, I would recommend two essays: “Reflections on Personal Discernment: The Abortion Issue” by Bill Samuel, a former president of the Consistent Life Network; and “My Personal Journey on the Abortion Issue” by Rachel MacNair, the Network’s current vice president.

For a more historical look at the Consistent Life Network, our blog posts “Activists Reminisce: An Oral History of Prolifers for Survival” and “The Adventures of Prolifers for Survival — Scorned by Mobilization for Survival” offer a good introduction.

The Human Life Review had a symposium in 2017 on the concept of the consistent life ethic that is well worth reading. Most of the participants endorsed the ethic or were at least sympathetic to it. I would recommend particularly the contribution of Aimee Murphy, of our member group Rehumanize International, and that of our endorser and long-time friend Mary Meehan.

Last, I will, at risk of immodesty, recommend a piece I wrote called “Seeking Peaceful Coexistence,” which describes some of the major variants in consistent life ethic activism and how they can work together. I think that this piece and the other writings I have mentioned give a good sense of both the consistent life movement’s diversity and the core themes that unite the diverse groups within the movement.

If people want to get involved in consistent life ethic activism, I would suggest they contact the Consistent Life Network, or just contact me directly. We are involved in a variety of projects, including educational work meant to raise awareness about the ethic, working against nuclear weapons, and identifying grassroots healthcare options that can serve as alternatives to Planned Parenthood. We welcome new volunteers.

SC: One frequent concern about the consistent life movement, including by some in the American Solidarity Party, is that people point to their specific policy recommendations as life issues, even when a pro-life argument may not be the most logical or convincing. How do you address debates within the movement or critiques of the movement, in order to ensure that it is principled but also welcoming of different perspectives?

JW: To be sure, distinguishing between specific political policies or strategies meant to defend life and the basic principles of respecting life that underlie those policies is very tricky. The temptation is to identify the cause of defending life against a specific type of violence exclusively with one’s own policy solution to the problem. This can lead to a lot of friction and conflict among people who support different solutions.

This probably comes up most frequently in the case of defending unborn humans from abortion. From the fundamental principle that “the unborn have a right to life that must be upheld,” some people draw the practical conclusion that “abortion must be legally prohibited.” Others draw the conclusion that “the root causes that make women seek abortion must be eliminated,” and will therefore advocate for measures such as fighting pregnancy and parenting discrimination in the workplace, or providing more social support to mothers and children. Still others will focus on direct action meant to help women keep their children, such as sidewalk counseling or volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center. And some people will argue in favor of trying all these approaches.

A similar situation can arise with helping the poor. To what degree should helping the poor involve government intervention? What kind of government intervention? What should the role of private charities be?

I think a variety of strategies for defending life can and should coexist within the consistent life movement. Achieving such coexistence is not easy, though. The best idea I can offer for addressing this problem is that all factions should acknowledge (1) the possibility of a legitimate diversity of opinion on political strategies, and (2) the importance and urgency of the injustice we are trying to remedy.

The second point is especially important because the real problem arises if some group that claims to support the consistent life ethic shows itself to be uninterested in stopping one of the major socially-approved forms of violence. I can work with someone who has a different strategy for ending abortion, poverty, or other threats to life. I cannot work with someone who does not recognize these threats to life as problems that must be ended—or, at least, I cannot work with that person on the particular life issue we disagree on. So, whatever one’s precise strategy may be, I think clearly and repeatedly affirming a commitment to defending life against different types of violence—even if one thereby runs afoul of some more mainstream political party or ideology—is crucial.

SC: You have worked significantly in pro-life and pro-peace movements and on food security issues. How did you get involved in these areas, and how did you decide that the consistent life ethic was the best framework for you personally?

JW: I have been pro-life since I was thirteen years old and was sporadically involved in pro-life activism during my teens and twenties. The key turning point in my political life, though, was 9/11. The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon came when I was fresh out of college and trying to figure out what to do with myself. My country’s involvement in a new global war against terrorism provided a direction for me. The study of war, peace, and international relations became my passion after that, and I eventually ended up going back to school to get a master’s degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Mind you, this new fixation on international relations did not automatically lead me to the peace movement. Like most Americans, I was very angry about the 9/11 attacks, and, also like most Americans, I was reluctant to look past my outrage and ask the hard questions about what the smartest and most just response to terrorism might be. Something that contributed to that reluctance—and this is a very important part of my experience—is how disappointed I was by the anti-war movement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I attended some anti-war group meetings in the fall of 2001 and was dismayed by various aspects of the groups: the anti-Americanism, for example, and the emphasis on a quasi-Marxist worldview. I also was disappointed by how one group of anti-war activists I spoke to did not seem to have any positive ideas for how to respond to terrorism. (For a good assessment of the kind of anti-war activism I found so off-putting, see the essay “Can There Be a Decent Left?” by Michael Walzer.)

Because of my anger over 9/11 and my disappointing experience with the anti-war movement, I tended to be a real hawk on foreign policy for a few years in the early 2000s. This led me to make the biggest political mistake of my life: supporting the United States’ war of regime change in Iraq in 2003. I bitterly regret that decision to this day. The war, of course, turned out to be a catastrophe for both Iraq and the United States, with an untold number of deaths being the result. That disaster forced me to reconsider my support for the war and my attitude toward American military power more broadly.

At the same time, my studies of war and peace made me more aware of and sensitive to the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Since 1945, we have all lived with the possibility that a war among great powers could mean not only loss of life but the end of humanity. That dangerous possibility, which receded but did not disappear in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War (or, I should say, the first Cold War), came to weigh very much on my mind. Even more than the danger of nuclear weapons, though, I was appalled by the sheer immorality of such weapons; these were bombs so destructive that they could be used almost entirely indiscriminately, against civilians and military personnel alike. I realized how profoundly wrong it was to destroy entire cities full of people, as the United States did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as we continue to threaten to do even today.

I eventually became far more dovish in my views and wanted to do something to promote peace. Yet, I tended to associate conventional anti-war groups with a certain kind of left-wing politics and hence with support for abortion. I did not want to get involved with groups like that. An organization such as the Consistent Life Network—a group of pro-life, pro-peace activists!—was what I needed. Indeed, the background and history of Consistent Life was particularly appropriate for someone with my concerns: the organization began in the 1980s as Pro-Lifers for Survival, a group dedicated to opposing both abortion and nuclear weapons. So, I began volunteering for Consistent Life about seven years ago and found myself getting more and more deeply involved in its work. Now, I am the group’s president, which goes to show what can happen to you when you get involved in activism!

As for food policy, my work as an editor (which is my day job) has required me to read a great many books related to food policy and to international economics more generally. I cannot claim to have a deep grasp of economics, but I have learned a few things over the years about the shape of global poverty and some of the progress we have made in overcoming it. The agricultural Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s helped feed and lift out of poverty millions of people, at a time when people such as Paul Ehrlich were warning of the terrible consequences of overpopulation and recommending abortion as a solution. More recently, we have seen the share of people living in extreme poverty fall from over a third of the world’s population in 1990 to about ten percent today; over 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty in the last thirty years.

All of that ties into Consistent Life’s commitment to protecting life against poverty. Keeping in mind these accomplishments in feeding people and lifting them out of poverty prevents us from feeling hopeless in the face of the terrible poverty that still remains today. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to end extreme poverty; it seems utopian, yet if we have been able to help so many people in the last several decades, why can we not build on past successes to eradicate poverty?

SC: What is your opinion of Christian democracy, which is the primary ideology of the American Solidarity Party?

JW: I am not very familiar with the philosophy of Christian democracy, I must admit. The little I do know impresses me. I gather the concept is influenced partly by Catholic social teaching, which appeals to me personally as a Catholic. I appreciate Christian democracy’s emphasis on the importance of groups such as families and labor unions for a healthy society. That sets the ideology apart from more classically liberal ideologies that emphasize individual people and their rights, or certain socialist ideologies that emphasize state power. And both families and unions need all the support they can get these days, so that attitude is a point in favor of Christian democracy, as far as I am concerned!

Those are just my personal impressions. The Consistent Life Network as an organization is non-sectarian and non-partisan, and as such is open to Christian democracy as well as an array of other political ideologies.

SC: It is my understanding that when it comes to electoral politics, the consistent life movement has been divided among reluctant Democrats, some reluctant Republicans, those who move back and forth depending on the election, those who support third parties even if those parties aren’t consistent-life, and those who reject electoral politics entirely. This makes strategizing difficult.

The American Solidarity Party would like to include as many consistent life activists as possible, especially as we move toward the next election cycle, which will include a presidential contest. Describe the opportunities and obstacles in that work.

JW: I think the prospect of voting for candidates who defend life on all or most of the issues we care about would definitely appeal to some adherents to the consistent life ethic. The choices offered by the two major American political parties are so dismal that having a genuinely pro-life, pro-peace, pro-social justice option is much desired. To the extent that the American Solidarity Party can put forward candidates who stand for the consistent life ethic or something close to it, I think the party has an opportunity to win consistent lifers’ votes.

As you say, however, consistent life ethic activists have diverse approaches to electoral politics. Some people who might like the ASP’s opposition to various forms of direct killing might balk at other party positions. Libertarians, for example, might find the more social-democratic bent of the ASP not to their liking. Moreover, many people, even consistent lifers who are disaffected with mainstream American politics, will (wisely or unwisely) take the view that voting for one of the major-party candidates is the best or most responsible voting behavior. That approach obviously works against third parties of any kind.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, I think the American Solidarity Party does have the opportunity to make a difference in American political life, in two different ways. First, ASP candidates may be able make inroads by running at the local level. While even many consistent lifers might go for major-party candidates for national or statewide office, I think they may be more willing to vote third-party in local elections. The more face-to-face campaigning of local elections could also allow voters to get to know ASP candidates and the overall party better. Local politics could give the ASP an opportunity to build the party at the grassroots.

The second opportunity for the American Solidarity Party is not directly related to elections but is very much related to advancing the consistent life ethic. At present, I think one of the biggest problems we face is simply that people do not know what the consistent life ethic is; they have not heard of the concept, they do not connect the issues that the ethic connects, and they tend to think politically in the usual left-right categories. We need to make people aware of the ethic, of this powerful idea of protecting human life and working against a variety of threats to life. A third political party that vocally endorses the ethic and offers a radical alternative to conventional politics could be an important force for raising awareness of the consistent life philosophy. If the party’s candidates talk about the ethic a lot and if the party highlights the ethic in its traditional media and social media outreach, that could contribute to making the consistent life ethic the household term it ought to be.

SC: The “Nukes Are Not Pro-Life!” rally in Washington, D.C., has been a major project for you personally, and one in which American Solidarity Party members have frequently participated. In a post-Cold War era, describe the argument for getting significantly involved in the issue of nuclear arms. If one were to start a pro-peace rally outside of D.C., would it be better to focus more broadly, or to pick a specific issue such as nuclear arms?

JW: I think protesting the injustice and threat of nuclear weapons is crucial today, largely because we no longer live in a “post-Cold War era.” We are now in the midst of a second Cold War between the United States and Russia. We have seen US-Russia relations get progressively more hostile over the last twenty years, and now the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria have become potential flashpoints for actual armed conflict between the two nations. This situation carries with it the same danger of nuclear war as the last Cold War.

In this month, we have seen the United States and Russia both withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, which abolished an entire category of nuclear weapons. The Trump administration is reportedly pursuing new investments in nuclear weapons that will cost in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars; part of that money is going toward developing a new, less powerful nuclear missile. Moreover, if the Trump administration does not renew the New START treaty with Russia when it expires in 2021, then the United States will be effectively operating without any controls on nuclear weapons. We seem to be on the brink of a new arms race, and who knows where that will lead?

And this assessment is focusing only on our relationship with Russia. The United States also has tense relationships with nuclear-armed powers such as China and North Korea. Those relationships could also flare up into armed conflict.

Given such a dire world situation, we have to awaken the American people to the terrible dangers we are all living with now. We have to mobilize people in favor of preserving START and establishing new treaties and legal measures to control nuclear weapons. We have to bring some measure of stability to the relationships among the nuclear powers.

Congress is currently considering various bills meant to lessen the danger of nuclear war; the Prevention of Arms Race Act and the No First Use Act are just two examples. These bills are good focal points for peace activism.

Beyond that, simply witnessing against nuclear weapons and for peace and trying to raise people’s consciousness about this issue is important. That consciousness raising is what the anti-nuclear peace vigil in D.C. is about, and I appreciate how involved American Solidarity Party members have been in that effort.

I think it would be marvelous if American Solidarity Party members and activists in cities other than D.C. also held similar anti-nuclear vigils. Certainly, vigils on other peace-related issues would be good, but I see no reason not to focus on the anti-nuclear issue. Nuclear weapons threaten all of humanity—no one can claim to be just a bystander or an uninvolved party. This truly is an issue that concerns everybody. The more people in more cities there are protesting for peace in the face of the nuclear danger, the better.

Member Perspectives: Is the ASP Anti LGBTQ+ ?

The strength of the American Solidarity Party will always be our passionate defense of our four principles of respect for life, social justice, environmental stewardship, and a more peaceful world. However, it can also come from how we respectfully argue our positions on other issues that challenge our communities. Here former ASP Chair Matthew Bartko offers some thoughts on the relationship between the ASP and LGBTQ+ people.

By Matthew Bartko

I believe the American Solidarity Party is pro-LGBTQ+ people. The American Solidarity Party is a broad coalition filled with diverse people from many different faith traditions and none at all. If you get to know the people in the party, you will find a variety of positions on sexual ethics and questions about the nature of gender and sexual identity. However, what you will not find is anyone opposed to human rights. In order to become a member, all of us have had to affirm our belief in the sanctity of human life, the necessity of social justice, our responsibility to care for the environment, and the possibility of a more peaceful world.

The very first bullet point in the Solidarity Party platform is, “We must build a culture and enact laws upholding the equal, innate and inviolable dignity and rights of every human person from conception to natural death.” In other words, we must not dehumanize anyone. In the civil liberties section of the platform, the Solidarity Party affirms “[t]he principle that all persons have equal dignity and are entitled to nondiscriminatory treatment regardless of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.” All those in the LGBTQ+ community are fully human and deserve to have their humanity respected. The Solidarity Party is passionate about protecting access to the polls, courts, housing, education, employment, and credit for ALL people, including those who are “L,” “G,” “B,” “T,” “Q,” or “+.” No one should have to live in fear of violence or discrimination, let alone the disproportionate and completely unacceptable violence and harassment faced by the LGBTQ+ community.

Some will say that if we do not enthusiastically support one policy or another, then we are bigoted and hateful. I believe we all need to come to such conversations with nuance and respect for the inherent dignity of the other person. Significantly, the American Solidarity Party acknowledges both the civil liberties of those in the LGBTQ+ community and the civil liberties of those whose religious convictions may lead to tension with that community.

Toward that end, there is a plank in the section of the platform on marriage which states that we support “[l]aws that protect religious institutions, small businesses, and private individuals from civil or criminal liability for refusing to participate in activities contrary to their belief in marriage as a secure union of one man and one woman.” Unfortunately, this line has caused a lot of pain and a feeling of rejection in some of the people I have spoken with. I seek to reassure them that we don’t only believe in religious liberty in regards to marriage, but in all areas of life. It is important to me that we communicate our commitment to protect the ability of individuals and private organizations to refuse to participate in any activities contrary to their religious practice—not just those related to marriage. Everyone shares the same civil liberties. They must be protected for all of us.

Party members may debate whose rights are under greater threat or the definition of marriage; they may debate theology, ethics, philosophy, and scientific evidence, but they do not debate the sanctity of human life or the inherent dignity of every person. I want to send a message to those in the LGBTQ+ community: We see you. We see the challenges you face. And while we do not have complete consensus on how to help, we do have complete consensus that you are valuable, dignified, worthy of respect, and worthy of equal protection under the law. In those areas, we will stand in solidarity with you.

Member Perspectives: Venezuela Revisited

The strength of the American Solidarity Party will always be our passionate defense of our four principles of respect for life, social justice, environmental stewardship, and a more peaceful world. However, it can also come from how we respectfully argue our positions on other issues that challenge our communities. Here Mario Ramos-Reyes responds to Matthew Cooper’s thoughts on the recent developments in Venezuela.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Mario Ramos-Reyes

Life is full of surprises. The president of the National Assembly of Venezuela (now interim president of the Republic), Juan Guaidó, took everyone by surprise. Not only did he swear himself president following the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela (that of Hugo Chávez himself), but he extended his open hand to the collaborators and the military of the Madurista regime: he promised them amnesty as a way to gain their confidence. At the same time, he promoted cabildos abiertos, open town councils, to which Nicolás Maduro, surprised and cornered by this political maneuvering, responded as always: with threats against the personal security of the interim president Guaidó; with the deaths of dozens of citizens and the repression of hundreds more; and with accusations of interventionism against the international community, especially the “empire” led by Donald Trump.

These events show that the narrative has changed in the struggle against authoritarianism. I mean not only in the case of Venezuela, but also in Latin America and in the political processes of the world community. Despite international tensions and conflicts, no current government can directly invoke the legitimacy of its actions by appealing to the people (rejecting any “interference”); it must also be subject to the rule of law and international recognition. A democracy involves not only having elections—and Maduro boasts of having “many” of them, as Alfredo Stroessner, Rafael Trujillo, and many other Latin American dictators have done before—but the elections must also be transparent and legal. In an oppressive regime, people might vote (if even that), but they do not choose. That’s a masquerade of democracy. Let’s examine this in more detail.

The Constitutional Background

Juan Guaidó was elected, first of all, according to Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which alludes to the “absence” or “lack” of the president. But, one may ask, was not Nicolás Maduro the president? The answer is no. Maduro’s six-year term ended—his first term—on January 10, 2019. He had been president since April 19, 2013. He claims that he was reelected in May of 2018, but that election was declared illegitimate by most observers and protagonists. It was, as it appeared from different angles, a sham. First, the lack of transparency and the illegality of that election were challenged by a broad spectrum of political parties gathered under the name of the Democratic Unity Roundtable and Broad Front for Venezuela. Second, that election was illegal. It was called by the Constituent Assembly, an institution invented by Maduro; instead, it should have been called by the legitimate National Assembly, elected by the people. Finally, even the “loyal” opposition who competed with Maduro did not recognize the results of the election. It was, they protested, plagued by intimidation and fraud.

Likewise, the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU), the United States, Canada, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Latin American countries gathered at the Lima Group, and a long list of others also did not recognize it. Only dictatorships such as China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba supported the regime. Hence, because of the “absolute lack of elected president” (Article 233), Assemblyman Juan Guaidó assumed, ad interim, the presidency with the commitment of convening free elections within thirty days.

Does this legal route make Guaidó a self-proclaimed dictator? In no way. His oath, according to a strict constitutional provision, was made in front of an open town hall (cabildo abierto) and the parliament—the National Assembly, which is the legitimate body elected by the people. It was a personal oath according to law. It was President Maduro, on the other hand, who took an illegal oath on January 10. Alleging he won the 2018 election, he went in front of the Supreme Court (controlled by him) and not, as he should have, in front of the National Assembly. He is no longer the constitutionally elected president of Venezuela. Maduro became the “usurper,” as Guaidó called him, and began pushing and hastening his fall, inviting the military to join him.

The Intervention of the “Empire”

The recognition of Guaidó as president was immediate by the OAS, the United States, Canada, and the majority of Latin American countries. A majority of the European community also did so on February 4. Again, dictatorships and oppressive governments, from Iran to Turkey and from Russia to China, were the ones supporting former president Maduro. It is clear that both Vladimir Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s governments are not willing to quit doing business with the regime. They have been receiving crude oil as a form of payment. Maduro owes them too much money.

Has this been an intervention orchestrated by the so-called “empire” of the United States? Not quite. It is not a “standard” intervention. Times, as I said, are different. This time, the United States has captured the opportunity to support a movement for a more open society. The Trump administration, along with a number of international actors, from the OAS to the Lima Group, has insisted that Maduro is no longer the president of Venezuela. His recent oath of office is disgraceful because it was based on the rigged election of last year.

Some voices in the United States have been expressing concern that the Trump administration has intervened—and are even calling for the condemnation of Juan Guaidó’s move. I believe this petition is indefensible. They demand more restraint, more realism in foreign policy. I am sympathetic with this view but with a qualified sympathy. Guaidó is not a dictator—Maduro is. Very often in the past, interventions have sided with strongmen and dictators. Such is not the case this time, and this is, I insist, not a direct intervention—at least not yet. The declarations of both National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have supported free elections and the return of political liberties to Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence has promised that the United States would lend “unwavering support” to the people of Venezuela in a “call for freedom.”

This is not a “manufactured” crisis meant to install a dictator. It is, rather, a crisis born of the Venezuelan people, who are tired of arbitrariness. Besides, Maduro’s claim that the U.S. and foreign powers are attacking and violating Venezuela’s “sovereignty” is merely ideological rhetoric. He suffers from a totalitarian virus that has infected some populist voices, from the left and the right, whose notion of sovereignty is identified with the State, the political community, and the nation as a supreme and transcendent power. That sovereignty, so the argument goes, is absolute.

This view is quasi-totalitarian. The State is only an instrument of the political community (or the nation), which is, yes, autonomous, but with relative autonomy within a global human rights framework. To speak of sovereignty as a carte blanche right to continue abusing human dignity demonstrates the totalitarian character of the regime. Does that view make it harder to push any change to a more open, liberal system? Certainly, as the recent history of Venezuela has shown. If that is the case, I do believe that any political pressure and economic sanctions are legitimate. Does this situation, one can ask further, justify the use of military intervention? Perhaps. That was the case in Paraguay in 1989 when the military rebelled against a criminal dictatorship on behalf of human rights and true democracy. Does that mean the need to resort to foreign military intervention? Not necessarily. That move would, in this case, be counterproductive. The end game of that action will be difficult to predict. Bloodshed may be the unwanted result.

The Vatican: The Policy of Lukewarmness

This potential reality, that of unwanted bloodshed, was expressed by Pope Francis during his recent trip to Panama. One could not disagree. We should remember, however, that blood, sweat, and tears have already been shed: young people have been killed (and continue to be), and torture has been used as a method of intimidation and fear. It is not surprising, then, that more than three million Venezuelans have fled the country and are wandering in neighboring Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, begging for help.

Yet, the reaction of the Vatican to the Venezuelan situation is ambiguous. It did send an envoy to the illegitimate oath ceremony of Maduro on January 10. It was to promote, the Vatican said, the common good. Not only was that statement surprising, but it perplexed many people looking for a clear and firm position in defense of human rights. I believe that diplomatic relations do not prevent serious commitment to human rights. This current policy is mild at best. We are quite far from the firm stance that Karol Wojtyła, the Polish pope, took against the martial law of Wojciech Jaruzelski’s regime and the Vatican’s support for Lech Wałęsa in the 1980s.

The End is Near

The situation of Venezuela, where hundreds of citizens are marching every day in the streets in an effort to hasten the departure of Maduro, is at a crossroads: it can recover its once-model democracy and, at the same time, avoid a confrontation. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it is the light of freedom and the republican tradition. Guaidó, too, has this desire. In his acceptance speech, he expressed the hope that Article 350 of the Constitution will prevail against “any regime, legislation or authority which is against values, principles.” Life, as I said at the beginning, may surprise us. In this case, I believe it is changing for the better.

Interview with Christy Yao, Chair of the Maryland chapter of ASP

by Skylar Covich

SC: Describe a little about your background. Where did you grow up? How did you first get interested in politics?Specifically, how did you get interested in the pro-life and anti-war movements?

CY: I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, right outside of Washington, D.C. I first got interested in politics with my interest in environmentalism at the age of four. High school students were putting trash in my mailbox after they got off the school bus; this made me very upset, so I started my first campaign by putting a poorly-written sign up. Less than a year later, I went across the political spectrum and attended my first March for Life. This balancing act would keep giving me headaches as I got further into both environmental and pro-life activism in college.

SC: Another organization you work with is Rehumanize International. Describe their mission and activities.

CY: I was an intern for Rehumanize International last year, and still submit articles to their blog and magazine, Life Matters Journal. Rehumanize is a non-sectarian, non-partisan Consistent Life Ethic organization. They work to create a world free of violence. This includes opposition to abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, unjust war, and much more. Rehumanize sends speakers and displays to college campuses, as well as participating in protests and activism events around the country and the world. Rehumanize also holds a conference every year.

SC: How did you find the American Solidarity Party and decide to get involved? Are there any issues that you think the ASP should focus on even more?

CY: I first found out about the American Solidarity Party at the Consistent Life Network Conference in 2017. I then learned more about the party at the Rehumanize Conference later in the same year and decided to get involved in early 2018. I would love to see the ASP focus on environmentalism and racial justice, since those are two issues that are very close to my heart. I would also like to see the ASP get more involved on the ground with pro-life issues, such as having a greater presence at events like 40 Days for Life.

SC: You are chair of the American Solidarity Party of Maryland, one of the most active chapters, which is consistently holding meetings and participating at rallies. There are some advantages to being in the D.C. area, yet it seems that any state chapter could find ways to be like yours. Do you have some advice on making that happen?

CY: First of all, thank you! I think the main reason we are so successful is that we are not only in close proximity to D.C., but our state is also so small that we are all in close proximity to each other! Maryland is a small but densely-populated state, so it’s easy to get together. I would advise state chapters to try to meet up as often as possible in person. Putting faces to the names of your members can go a long way. People also often show up who are not very vocal on social media, and they are a valuable resource! Another good idea is to connect with other organizations in your area. We often co-sponsor events with the Consistent Life Network or Pax Christi.

SC: There are some ASP members who are nervous about attending pro-life or anti-war rallies, or aren’t sure whether those rallies matter. What do you think is the role of protest in American politics today? Do you have advice for people thinking of attending their first rally?

CY: Protest is not only important to politics, but to society as well! Protests show people in the general public what their fellow citizens care about and raise awareness about various issues. Politicians are also paying attention when people protest, because protesters are often active voters. The vast majority of protests and rallies I have attended have been very low-stress. Organizers will generally tell participants if there will be opposition to their protest, such as counter-protesters. If someone is still apprehensive about attending a rally or protest, I would recommend that she either go with a friend or have a specific job at the protest, such as taking pictures. Whenever I get discouraged or nervous about a protest or rally, I think about what will matter five years from now. Dirty looks or disagreements last for a minute, but change lasts forever.

Pelicans and Pancakes

Members Gather Informally in Columbus, Ohio

by William Campbell

On a cold and snowy Ohio morning, a small group of people gathered in a Columbus-area Bob Evans restaurant for good company, good conversation, and … pancakes? “Pelicans & Pancakes” is an event created by ASP Columbus as an event intended to get people active in their community. Our discussion ranged across a variety of topics affecting the ASP, from the fundamentals of our platform to ballot access. But by far the topics that generated the most interest were the issues closest to home, which emphasized the need for more grassroots efforts in our party.

Events like “Pelicans & Pancakes” give our members, and those we would like to be members, an opportunity to participate in the conversation about our local and national policies. Where they might get drowned out in the sixty comments on a social media post they feel passionate about online, by having them participate “in-person” at the table, quite literally, their voice can be heard, and their position can be clarified.

The ASP may gain a member or two through online discussion, but the majority of people are not going to be swayed by a Facebook post, or even by an article like this one. They are going to be convinced by friends and family taking the time to share with them the importance of our principles as ASP members, and how those principles inform not just our political positions but also the very way in which we conduct ourselves in our day-to-day lives. How do we truly stand in solidarity with our neighbors if we are not willing to physically stand beside them? Or to put it another way, are we a party that operates in “real life” and in our local communities, or do we just exist behind computer screens and comments on Facebook posts?

For me, I have made the commitment that my labors on behalf of the American Solidarity Party are an extension of my ministry as a Christian man. By that, I mean that I have taken it upon myself to care for my family, my friends, and my neighbors, through prayer and counsel. That counsel often takes the form of encouraging lively conversations about those topics that really matter: the welfare of our earthly bodies and the well-being of our eternal souls. And I believe with my whole heart that the principles of the American Solidarity Party are the natural outgrowth of Christian teachings.

I have heard it said that our party is the “small town” American party. If we want to see our principles impact the society and country the way that we all talk about online, we have to go where the people are. In-person events like “Pelicans & Pancakes” are a low-stakes investment of our time, talent, and treasure. The cost is really just being willing to go out and meet with people and share with them the principles that make us unequivocally Christian Democrats.

Ultimately, people want to feel like they belong and are being heard. They want to participate in the important things that matter in our world. In our digital age, it may seem like such a little thing to sit down, eat, and talk, but it has proved, even in our first social gathering of 2019, very influential and impactful for our people. Frankly, they were excited to be out and meeting with people face-to-face. In fact, we received such positive feedback from our gathering that we are moving quickly to plan more events like this, and we envision bigger goals for our local communities. And it all started with gathering people on Saturday morning over breakfast!

Pancakes helped serve as the starting point for our conversations, but I believe that the “take-home” message is this: it is the “in-person” time that we give to our fellow ASP members that ultimately betters our party and grassroots message. By investing in people, and seeing them in real life, we are making a statement that we value them and their opinions. This will improve us and make us stronger as the “small town” local party, as we continue to work together for the betterment of our families, our neighborhoods, and our nation.

American Solidarity Party Chapters March for Life: LA

Marching We Will Go!

The pro-life struggle includes moments of celebration
by James Hanink

This time I kept my sign. Heck, I could have been the model for it. On one side there’s a silhouette of a “senior” wearing what looks like my cap. His cane is like one we keep handy at home. On the other side, there’s a Gospel truth: Toda Vida tiene dignidad. It’s been so since Creation. The sign is from the annual OneLife LA march. The event joins in spirit the major pro-life marches in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

In Los Angeles, the march has its own feel. We begin with a youth rally and close with a family-style picnic. In the course of the day, we visit the information tables of groups and agencies that support the commitment to be pro-life for the whole of life. Representing the American Solidarity Party, I had the chance to introduce this new political vision to people who welcome its message. Among them were Bishop Ochoa, an auxiliary in the largest archdiocese in the country, and a group of students from Thomas Aquinas College, maybe its best liberal arts college.

Next day, out of a sense of duty, I checked the Los Angeles Times. Would it have any coverage of the OneLife event? Nope, not a line. It did cover the Women’s March, though. That march, the same day as ours, had less participation than the year before. There’d been in-fighting among its organizers. Still, one point they could support was “the decriminalizing of sex work.” How cruel an irony in a city plagued by human trafficking.

Now, for me, there’s more than a sign that’s a “take-away” from my latest march. Three points merit emphasis.
First, an important part of the pro-life struggle is people knowing that families and music and the flavor of a fiesta are welcome. The struggle will continue, and it will be daunting. But we can also enjoy moments of celebration.

Second, and it’s a sobering point, our attendance this year was disappointing. There were roughly 15,000 of us, about half of last year’s turn out. People wear down and wear out. There’s the abuse scandal, too, that dispirits many of us.

Third, whatever one thinks about the POTUS, his time in office is limited, and perhaps more limited than the election cycle suggests. And whatever one thinks about the POTUS, he has made significant pro-life contributions. When his presidency ends, we have every reason to expect an indiscriminate and ill-informed backlash against pro-life people. We had best do what we can to anticipate it and get ready to respond.

By the way, there was one other sign at our march that I want to mention. It was handmade. It featured an arrow pointing down to the person carrying it. In the center of the sign, above the arrow, was an identification: Former Planned Parenthood Employee. At the top of the sign there was a question: What am I doing now? On the left side was part of the answer: a picture of praying hands. On the right side was the rest of the answer: Speaking Up!

Yes, let’s all of us go marching on!

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

American Solidarity Party Chapters March for Life: Chicago

Chicago March For Life

By Amar Patel

In the process of making plans to attend the 2019 Chicago March for Life, I came across several events that occurred before and afterwards. The march was scheduled from two o’clock to four o’clock in the afternoon starting at Federal Plaza in the heart of the downtown area. Part of me wanted to go to church at Holy Name Cathedral, but examining the map I realized this would require me to figure out parking twice, and I really dislike that process in the city. As luck would have it, I stumbled across a Mass and follow-up brunch hosted by Aid for Women, a local crisis pregnancy support center. The presider was the Rev. Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, who has counseled me in past endeavors, so I thought it was a great chance to see him, help the center in its fundraiser, and not have to rush from my own church to get downtown before the march. Little did I know how many connections I would make.

First, I re-introduced myself to Father Rocky and updated him on my current endeavors in the ASP. He said he would pray for me and insisted that I meet Rep. Dan Lipinski of rare elected pro-life Democrat fame. I met with the congressman and his wife, and he took my card. He was open to future dialogue. I hope to speak to him in the near future.

Then, I spoke to Ryan Bomberger, who delivered the keynote address at the brunch and a speech at the March for Life rally only a few hours later. Ryan is the founder of the Radiance Foundation, a pro-life advocacy group. He gave me permission to share his infographics as necessary to help end the scourge of abortion. He also indicated an interest in the party.

Finally, I had a brief chat with Sheila Liaugminas of Relevant Radio. She was interested in Christian Democracy and a party with roots in Catholic social Teaching. She told me she had just mentioned to someone at brunch about a truly pro-life party. We hoped to connect soon.

After that, ASP Vice-Treasurer, Tai-Chi Kuo, his fiancée, and I met up and went to listen to some stirring speeches at the march. A woman with the daughter she saved with the help of Aid For Women, a Chicago Bears executive, and Jeanne Mancini, March for Life President, were some of the many orators we heard.

The Chicago March was not very long and didn’t have many pro-choice protesters, so the walk was uneventful except for the great luck of having John Hogue, a young ASP member, spot our signs and excitedly join us for the brief jaunt. I enjoyed talking to him and planning future events at the Catholic Worker House where he lives and works. It was a blessed day.

American Solidarity Party Chapters March for Life: DC

DC March for Life

by Christy Yao

I can honestly say the DC March for Life was more crowded than I ever remember it being, and I’ve been to the March close to 20 times. The American Solidarity Party marched with a group of other marchers who support a consistent-life ethic. Rehumanize International organized a rally before the March, which looked nothing like the main rally. The rally the Solidarity Party attended heard from atheists, members of the LGBT community, members of the disability community, and many others.

My two favorite speakers at the Rehumanize Rally brought two of my favorite things with them: a baby and a textbook. Emily Gargani spoke while holding her seven-month-old son Ambrose. Emily is a pro-life nurse, whose beliefs were placed into action when she and her husband found out during an ultrasound that their son had a heart defect. Emily explained how she then had to fight for her son to stay alive, both before and after he was born. Ambrose had surgery when he was just a few days old, and is now doing well. He looked cute as a button in his winter coat, “marching” for the rights of babies like him.

The theme of the March this year was “Pro-Science Pro-Life”. Sarah Terzo, a member of both Secular Pro-Life and the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL), as well as a writer for Live Action, gave a speech that echoed this. She brought an embryology textbook with her to show that one does not need to be religious to be pro-life. The science is there to tell us that life begins at conception. The unborn is a person whether it is an embryo, zygote, or nine-month-old fetus. The state of development a person is in does not determine her worth.

In my opinion, Rehumanize International always has the best signs. The sign used this year was first made for the Science March of 2017, with textbook citations on how life begins at conception. The backs of the signs had creative hand-made drawings and slogans on them. The one I was carrying said “Abortion is a tool of the patriarchy.” I don’t think there’s a sign in this world I would rather carry. I was all too happy to let my male colleagues carry the ASP signs while I expressed why being a pro-life feminist is so important to me.

After the March, ASP members gathered at the Southeast Neighborhood Library for a discussion led by the Consistent Life Network. Most of the participants in the discussion also were at the Rehumanize Rally, so it was nice to go more in depth on many of the topics that had been brought up at the rally. We discussed both the history, present, and future of the Consistent Life and Pro-Life movements and how we can really make abortion history.

After the discussion, the ASP invited all those at the discussion to come to dinner across the street at a DC favorite, District Taco. Between bites of burritos, the discussion kept flowing about how to further integrate pro-life and pro-peace messages. With a full stomach and a fuller heart, I went home to rest up for representing the ASP the next day at Georgetown’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference.

The Cardinal O’Connor Conference drew students from as far as Sydney, Australia. It was interesting to have students from all around the world share their opinions on the ASP. Some had heard of us, but many had not. The response was overwhelmingly positive from the students we talked to. Many college students agreed that both major parties weren’t getting much done in Washington, and we need a change. It was very heartwarming to see so many young people so passionate about finding comprehensive solutions to ending the crisis of abortion.

The part of the conference I enjoyed most was when I got to sneak away from the ASP table to listen to Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life. I’ve heard Foster speak twice before, and each time I have learned more about the cause I’m so passionate about. While she was being introduced, Foster shook hands with many of us in the front rows of the Georgetown Bioethics Library, giving her speech a much more informal feel. I really liked that, and think it made students feel much more comfortable around such an influential woman. Foster told the story of how just 57 people in the National Organization for Women voted to make being pro-choice a part of mainstream feminism, and part of the pro-life feminist Alice Paul’s Equal Rights Amendment. If just 57 people could change history in such a dramatically flawed way, how many people will it take to fix NOW’s mistake?

That is where I think of the ASP. We have so much potential for being world-changers- for taking the message of being “pro-life for the whole life” to the streets. If 57 people could make abortion mainstream, how many will it take of us to make it unthinkable? After all, we have the benefit of science and truth on our side.

Interview with Dr. Hunter Baker, advocate for Christian democracy and religious liberty

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He ran in the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 8th congressional district in 2016, and is now an interested supporter of the American Solidarity Party. As stated on his faculty website, he is the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, and The System Has a Soul), has also been published in a variety of print and digital publications, and is a research fellow of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

By Skylar Covich

SC:  You ran for Congress in a Republican primary recently. What were the main issues on which you ran? What obstacles did your campaign encounter? Did your experience as a candidate increase your frustration with the two-party system?

HB:  It will sound strange, but I ran because I felt called to run and specifically to run on the issue of religious liberty. The appetite in the electorate was probably more geared toward the economy, but I felt that I needed to try and wake up these predominantly Christian people to the necessity of protecting religious liberty for everyone. Jobs are hugely important; there is no question about that. However, it seems to me that if you don’t have freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, then you lack the essentials necessary for living a life with integrity.

The obstacles were largely financial. It is extremely difficult to get any exposure without a significant amount of money. I made appeals to the press, but their position was largely that they can’t cover everyone, so they cover the folks with large campaign funds. It seems to me that by that standard, if Socrates himself ran, he wouldn’t get any coverage. I outperformed on straw polls when audiences had a chance to hear from me directly. In the end, I finished seventh in a thirteen candidate primary. Everyone who beat me had more money than me. Everyone I beat had less money than me!

When you add the centrality of money to the limitations of our binary system, Americans are choosing from a very limited menu. It seems to me that the faithful Christian ends up in an unsatisfactory position, which is why we need something like Christian democracy (with an American twist).

SC:  You have studied Christian democracy in your academic work. To what extent can Christian democracy succeed as a US political movement? How should it differ from European Christian democracy, and should it use a different label?

HB:  I think the big difference historically is that Europeans needed a Christian party to resist aggressive secularism. The French Revolution was a totally different thing from the American version. Until fairly recently, American Christians could find reasonable alliance with either major party. However, at this point, faithful Christians are not really welcome in the Democratic Party, and faithful Christians get twisted out of shape in important ways by the Republican Party. My personal preference would be to build on the Christian democracy brand because it is highly successful on the broader global stage. I think an American version would be still more strongly pro-life and would have a robust sense of church-state separation rightly understood, but the differences don’t have to be all that great. I think Christian democrats have been better at governing for harmony. That’s something we need. The appeal of a different label is that you get around the objections C. S. Lewis, Jacques Maritain, and others have expressed against using the modifier “Christian” in the name of a political party.

SC:  Perhaps more than most in the American Solidarity Party, you have worked with organizations which advocate free-market capitalism. The American Solidarity Party understands the importance of private enterprise and especially values small businesses, but many of the party members became interested because we are more willing to entertain critiques of capitalism from a pro-life, pro-family perspective than other political parties. How can advocates and critics of capitalism learn from each other and come together?

HB:  I have tended to have a free-market orientation for a couple of reasons. The first is simple prudence: the freer alternatives have clearly outperformed the more collectivist ones. The second reason is that I fear the concentration of power in the hands of government which is, at bottom, a coercive entity. Nevertheless, capitalism can’t survive if the majority of people feel it doesn’t serve them well. We need economic statesmanship of the type Abraham Kuyper advocated, which seeks to unify the interests of rich and poor. It is also important to say that while free markets work tremendously well, they also have drawbacks. You can have a tremendous free market in heroin or pornography, for example.

SC:  Religious liberty has been a frequent topic of discussion within our party. What are some of the most important religious liberty issues currently, and how can we advocate for such liberty as a third party?

HB:  There is little question that gay marriage presents the greatest threat to religious liberty simply because of the way our laws on civil rights work. I was never all that worried about gay marriage as a phenomenon in and of itself. But I knew that when gay marriage became a norm, then all the civil-rights issues would come to bear on anyone attempting to maintain a biblical life and witness on the issue. All of Christian higher education and many Christian non-profits are at risk. In addition, you have to look at the baker and florist cases. The area marked out for faithfulness is very small—just wedding ceremonies—but even that is intolerable to new progressive puritans who seek to enforce their own orthodoxy. I think Democrats have identified religious liberty as a problem, and they seek to reduce the rights associated with it. Republicans—establishment Republicans, in particular—have no appetite for a fight over religious liberty because they think it is a losing issue. A third party can help a lot on the issue.

Member Perspectives: Toxic Capitalism Won’t Solve Toxic Masculinity

The strength of the American Solidarity Party will always be our passionate defense of our four principles of respect for life, social justice, environmental stewardship, and a more peaceful world. However, it can also come from how we respectfully argue our positions on other issues that challenge our communities. Here ASP member Grace Garrett offers these thoughts about capitalism and toxic masculinity.

Toxic Capitalism Won’t Solve Toxic Masculinity

By Grace Garrett
From the Platform:

“We believe that the U.S. economy should be built around the needs of the human person, rather than focused primarily on consumption and the accumulation of wealth. It should create opportunities for self-sufficiency, while encouraging ownership of our responsibility to look out for one another.”

You’ve got to hand it to Gillette: they really managed to rile people up about mid-range razors.  They ran an advertisement which addressed toxic masculinity and the #metoo movement, and suddenly some antifeminists on Twitter are flushing their razors down the toilet.

So, at least for the sake of your plumbing, step away from the razor and let’s take a moment to discuss how we got here.  Despite the term “feminist” being used as a ubiquitous epithet, as a feminist, I love men.  It’s the culture of toxic masculinity that hates men.  A short definition of toxic masculinity would be that toxic masculinity is the way misogyny hurts men.  Toxic masculinity tells men to eschew “feminine” behaviors, so that they can’t cry; they can’t rest when they’re hurt or sick; they can’t be nurturing as fathers or lovers; if they’re raped or assaulted, they can’t report it; and when toxic masculinity has had its way with men, they’re left with shocking rates of disability, suicide, addiction, failed relationships, criminality, and overall dissatisfaction with their lives.  Men are separated from their most virtuous selves when they are under the influence of toxic masculinity.

But do you know where this culture of misogyny comes from?  Toxic capitalism. Toxic capitalism tells men that they need to provide more stuff or they’re doing an inadequate job.  If their wives aren’t driving their own nice cars and their kids aren’t in the best private schools, according to toxic capitalism, they have failed as men. Toxic capitalism bombards us with images of women in bikinis splayed on the new Corvette and advertises first-class seats with the bodies of nubile flight attendants. Toxic capitalism knows that violence and rage are addictive and fills our televisions and consoles with unspeakable acts of violence. Toxic capitalism gives men and women jobs that drain the life out them without any sense of ownership nor any hope of financial security, in order to maximize profits for the élite. Many men have been left feeling emasculated; they were taught that a real man provides for his family, and now that they are failing to do so, they amp up other attributes of traditional masculinity such as aggression or sexual pursuit in unhealthy ways.

Advertisements from huge companies—like Gillette’s parent company, Procter & Gamble—definitionally follow the culture and appeal to what is already trending to attract potential customers.  Advertisements do not drive the culture; they simply co-opt the values which are already popular in our culture in order to make a profit. Procter & Gamble is a beneficiary and proponent of toxic capitalism with a 287:1 CEO to worker pay ratio and a history of working with vendors who utilize slave labor.    Procter & Gamble is not going to save us from toxic masculinity; it’s not going to give workers ownership of the work of their hands or stop objectifying women in its advertisements.   When the culture moves on from the #metoo moment, so will Procter & Gamble.

At the end of the day, those of us who are invested in a more humane culture should take a moment to be grateful that Gillette didn’t advertise their razors with a pornified image of a woman twerking on a razor, playing into the “commodification and exploitation” of human beings arising from the easy access to pornography which our platform so wisely condemns, or with some “be a real man, get in a fist fight” nonsense. This advertisement, as false as it may be, is a step in the right direction. But we cannot depend on fickle corporate advocacy to remain “woke” and respectful.

We in the American Solidarity Party often joke that we are political unicorns.  We are for the family, and for robust support of “measures that promote stable and healthy marriages and aid families in the raising of children” which are commonly associated with the American right wing, for policies that allow access to high quality childcare and accommodations for working parents, which are further left, and for “the right of workers to be compensated for the wealth they create and to participate in economic decision-making” and the promotion of worker-owned coöperatives, which brings us far outside of the realm of the toxic capitalism that Procter & Gamble practices.  But these positions are part of the same abiding opposition to dehumanization. We want men and women to be whole, and we oppose societal and economic forces which make that wholeness less attainable.

“Woke” advertising campaigns are all well and good, but let’s not forget that advertisers can only reflect the culture we create.  We need to use the Gillette advertisement to remind ourselves that we will never be truly liberated from toxic masculinity until we are liberated from toxic capitalism.  Yes, the work of true liberation is harder than buying a “virtuous” razor at CVS, but the dividends for the men and women we love are abundantly worth the effort.

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