Eli Rodgers-Melnick

Within a recent five-day period, I marched twice in Washington, D.C. One march opposed a U.S. attack on Iraq; the other opposed legal abortion. According to partisan politics, these causes have nothing in common. But I went because I believe they share a fundamental similarity: both claim that human life is more valuable than anything else on earth.

When I boarded the bus on Jan. 18 for the anti-war march, I imagined it would resemble the peace marches of my father’s day. I did meet middle-aged former Vietnam protesters. With them were many high school and college-age students with hair dyed every color of the rainbow. But I did not sense love, peace or flower power. The mood swelled with anger toward the U.S. government, especially President Bush. From the stage, speakers cried, Damn President Bush and his war-mongering faction. The most conservative speaker I heard was Jesse Jackson!

I questioned other marchers about why they opposed the war. The general response was, The war is about oil, and we do not have the right to kill so many innocent civilians for the sake of profit. Many did not believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

I asked how they would alleviate tension in the Middle East. I am a half-Jewish Christian, so I was surprised to find myself more in tune with the Muslim Student Association than with many other groups. They did not denounce America. Along with Jews for Peace and the Black Radical Congress, they called for a peaceful, U.N.-mediated resolution to the occupation of Palestine by Israel. This was probably the view of most marchers, but many speakers and groups were more radical.

I noticed signs that were very anti-American, anticapitalist and not antiwar in any true sense. They belonged to an amazingly large Communist presence. A Spartacus Youth Club sign proclaimed, Defend North Korea’s right to nuclear weapons. A huge Progressive Labor Party banner stated, The only good war is a class war. That group led a chant calling for a U.S. military insurrection and civil war: Soldiers turn your guns around/ shoot the profit system down.

By the end of the rally, I had received two Communist periodicals and four pro-Communist leaflets. Their response to why they were against the war was, Capitalism promotes war and the only real solution is a Communist revolution resulting in a dictatorship of the proletariat. I felt alienated. I was 4 years old when East Germans tore down the Berlin Wall. Today North Koreans are starving under Communism, while the United States is their largest source of humanitarian aid. I had never before met anyone who said he was a Communist and proud of it.

The mood of the Jan. 22 march against abortion was totally different. The crowd was overwhelmingly religious and ideologically conservative. Patriotic songs played in the background. Marchers and speakers praised President Bush. Many other teenagers marched. However, I again felt alienated, although I am strongly pro-life.

Some speakers bashed liberals and feminists. This was despite the fact that Feminists for Life of America developed the campaign that produced one of the rally’s most popular signs, Women deserve better than abortion. As a liberal who believes society must protect the disadvantaged, I was uncomfortable. I was put off when an opening prayer condemned homosexuality. That issue would be relevant to abortion only if a gene for homosexuality is identified and pro-lifers oppose efforts to cleanse society of unborn gays and lesbians.

While I often agreed more with speakers at the antiabortion rally than the antiwar rally, those at the antiabortion rally tended to be boring and repetitious, while those at the antiwar rally were diverse and interesting. If I were not already pro-life, little I heard would have persuaded me to become so. My greatest joy was meeting a liberal, pro-life teenage girl. It was with her that I found the most common ground, for she respected life, not partisanship or discrimination.

As I walked away from both marches, I felt half content.

While the antiwar march had a wide range of people, its leaders were so extreme and blatantly anti-American that it might have pushed me into the other camp if I had arrived undecided.

The march for life was too religious, too conservative and sometimes downright discriminatory. This could alienate anyone who wasn’t a God-fearing Republican. You don’t have to believe in God to believe that an embryo is a human being with human rights.

Both groups should revise their approach and show that they hold one thing above party politics, religious division and prejudice: the sacred value of every human life.

Eli Rodgers-Melnick is a junior at Peters Township High School in McMurray, Pa. This column originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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