Offending social justice with social justice


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

Column by Shannon Frazer. Email [email protected].

Government shutdown was closely averted late Friday, and one of the main reasons for the delay hit close to home. Democrats and Republicans were at odds about whether to fund Planned Parenthood, which was a major contributing factor for the hang up.

According to an April 9 Washington Post article, “Democrats had wanted to cut billions less: They assented to the larger figure, and in return Republicans dropped a demand to take federal funds from the group Planned Parenthood.”

“Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion supplier,” the article said, but ironically, “in accordance with federal law, none of the money it gets from the government funds abortions.”

Thanks to the anti-abortion group Genocide Awareness Project that visited UK’s campus last week, students are well aware of the effects of the practice … or are they?

Some might classify the abortion display on campus last week as disturbing, repulsive and offensive. If you talked with any of the representatives who put up the graphic posters, though, they most likely would have expressed a deep regard for morality and social justice.

That is one group’s take on justice, but notice the negative feedback that results from the campus community, thanks to the overwhelming nature of the pictures. Start with an emotionally charged issue like abortion and put faces to it, and then you’ve got people’s attention.

Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to see the abortion display myself, based on classmates’ and co-workers’ reactions from being bombarded with such images while passing through campus, I wonder whether another tactic would have been more effective.

What these pro-life representatives seemed to overlook was that by portraying the extremely graphic results of abortion, they turn the ensuing conversation to how offensive particular images are, and not to who they are, what their organization represents and their ideologies.

The same can be said of some campus preachers,  who shout hellfire in the free speech area of campus to any and all students who are willing to listen. Most are so turned off by the types of comments the preachers make that they are none too eager to begin any sort of civil discourse in return.

By no means am I an expert on how best to communicate a controversial issue, but I believe my own ideology could translate to more intelligent discussion and less dispute.

I recognize that social taboos, political complexities and religious divisions drive much of the disagreement between people groups today. But as a fellow human being, I propose we look at each side in those same basic terms: as human beings.

Everyone could use a little help in some way or another; there’s no denying that. But if you think you have a workable solution to better those people’s lives, whether that is to condemn those who choose to have abortions or who don’t follow your religious doctrine, consider for a moment whether your actions are at all effective in reaching out to those people you target.

Might it make more sense to promote your cause, rather than use scare tactics and thereby associate yourself with the negative images and words that you are speaking out against?

Really, who couldn’t use a good bit of help right now? Take a look within our own country, in our own city and even in our own backyards.

I recommend the alternate solution of seeking out organizations that present their agendas in more civilized context. Research how social justice groups “get it done,” and earn a loyal following. Take a cue from the slightly less flashy Voices for Planned Parenthood representatives, who sat opposite of the Genocide Awareness Project display.

If anti-abortion or pro-religious zeal is your mission, perhaps this could offer insight into how to reach out to people and turn words into positive actions.

That is what people want to remember: not how they were accosted by offensive images or a fanatical preacher, but how one person — representing many — helped them work toward a greater good.

Because of the government’s last-minute budget settlement, Planned Parenthood remains afloat (for now) and anti-abortion groups continue to carry out their social justice mission to counter the group.

But remember, even social justice is subjective. One group’s self-justified demonstration can be abhorrently offensive to another. Stand for what you believe in, but don’t use another group, event or idea as your scapegoat.