2020 Second Runner Up Essay, by James Elliot
In a political field increasingly characterized by extreme ideological division, the uniting words of Eleanor Roosevelt come to mind. She observed, “The Democrats believe that the whole people should govern.” The whole people entails all communities - communities of different ethnicities and different perspectives - who share a common goal of progressively promoting access to healthcare, reforming the broken criminal justice system, and improving quality of life for American citizens. However, the Democratic Party has betrayed its value of inclusion by consistently alienating members who take progressive beliefs to a virtuous whole life conclusion by protecting life within the womb. A whole people deserves a whole life ideology, one that respects those of differing consciences, instead of testing dedication to abortion by placing restrictions on whose lives the Democratic Party protects. Such a disturbing trend has indeed undermined but not destroyed the integrity of this institution. Pro-life Democrats should not overlook this “issue of such deep conscience,” but should continue fighting for long term reform. However, until the fight has progressed to the extent where pro-life Democratic candidates regularly contend, voters should potentially support pro-life candidates from other parties, voting according to conscience, because the value of life is paramount to all other political issues.
The value of life must be paramount to other talking points because of its inherently inclusive nature. Black lives do indeed matter, as do Hispanic, white, and Asian lives - human lives - on both sides of the womb. That is the nature of a whole life and whole person worldview. The Democratic Party truly values building African-American communities and improving quality of life through social policies. However, that goal would be better attained by cultivating all African-American lives. According to the CDC, 47% of pregnancies for African-Americans are aborted yearly, compared to 16% of white pregnancies. Even if the Democratic Party fights for improved minimum wages, safer school systems, and less wealth inequality - supposedly providing equal opportunity - they brush over the root of these issues. More black lives, and indeed lives of all other ethnicities, are snuffed out before they are born than ever before, denying the very possibility of equal opportunity and enflaming what Representative Katrina Jackson called “modern-day genocide” by undermining political efficacy. That is why it is unconscionable to support a pro-choice candidate, especially those who prohibit negotiations with the pro-life community, regardless of that candidate’s stance on other social matters. Overlooking such an issue and only attending to “the whole sum of views” is impossible because truly progressive views stem from valuing life first and foremost.
However, just because pro-life Democratic voters should vote to sustain life does not mean that we should give up the struggle to reform the Democratic party in the aggregate. William Wilberforce fought a seemingly one-sided battle, prying the cruel hands of wealthy corporations from the necks of unjustly enslaved men and women across the British colonies. He quite literally gave his life in this noble pursuit, breaking social standards in 1789 by introducing a bill to free the shackles on innocent lives. Not until June 26, 1833 did Wilberforce achieve his goal, fighting through personal ailments and vicious vitriol from politicians on both sides of party lines. He died three days later. Such dedication to battling unparalleled injustice should inspire this modern movement. Reform is the hard way, but it is the right way. Lasting change does not occur overnight, but through years of intentional upstream swimming. It is slow, seemingly invisible, but permanent. Since the Democratic Party historically counts the whole people as its supporters, the opposition of party leaders should not discourage reformers. According to Marist Poll data in January of 2020, 44% of Democratic voters are likely to vote for a candidate who supports significant restrictions on abortion, and 39% believe abortion should either be illegal or determined by individual states. Exclusive wording in the party platform when dealing with abortion belies a national willingness from the average person to actually support all lives, which can be channeled through perseverant grassroots efforts, defying elite expectations.
My baseball coaches unfortunately often benched me after I committed errors in the field. But their goal in doing so was to help me improve through further learning and eventually return to my position. In the same vein, pro-life Democratic voters should not reward candidates who undermine Democratic values by betraying unborn lives, but also should not give up the fight. Historical roots run deep. The words from the 2016 party platform preamble display this truth: “As Democrats, we respect differences of perspective and belief, and pledge to work together to move this country forward, even when we disagree.” Channeling Wilberforce grit, reformers from within can return the Democratic Party to a field where supporting whole life is celebrated by the whole people.