There is purity in light. Light illuminates all it touches. We light candles in hope, in celebration, in reverence, and all too often in sorrow. There will be candles in Colorado Springs, Colorado, some in the festive spirit of the season, others in sorrowful remembrance of those whose own light expired before its time.
French author Jean Paul Satre said of words: “Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.” Words created the darkness that descended on Colorado Springs. Silence created the darkness that descended on Colorado Springs. Words and silences with consequences.
Anti-abortion radicals provided the words. Edited words in the smear propaganda videos produced by the nefarious Center for Medical Progress. [C&L] Provocative words from radical politicians in Congress as they launched five investigations into the activities of Planned Parenthood. [NYT] Incendiary words, generating as the saying goes “more heat than light,” from Republican presidential candidates. [NYT] Manipulated, provocative, incendiary words created the darkness instead of providing illumination. Worse still those manipulated, provocative, incendiary words were spread across the nation without filtration. [C&L]
It was almost as if the journalists and broadcasters who amplified these words had forgotten the power of the pen, or in these days, the pixel. Someone decided that the “heavily edited words” in the propaganda videos counted as “news.” And the words were unleashed before any illumination took hold. Yes, the tapes were edited for effect, certainly not for edification. Yes, the tapes were controversial. However, no, the tapes were not authentic, truthful, or informative. And the message was further enhanced by the failure of editors and publishers to require that what they broadcasted and printed was authentic, truthful, and informative.
It seems as though the editors, producers, and publishers were content with fireworks – ephemeral bursts of gaudy light, instead of a steady but less glamorous illuminating candle.
Words can challenge or comfort us. Those manipulated, provocative, and incendiary words caused some to remember that since 1977 there have been eight murders, seventeen attempted murders, forty-two bombings, and one hundred eighty six arsons against abortion clinics and providers. [Vox] Others noted that in just the last four years states have enacted two hundred thirty one pieces of abortion restriction legislation. [Guttmacher] Those manipulated, provocative, and incendiary words comforted and validated not only the radicals among us but also the murderers, the bombers, and the arsonists.
Our words are our own. Once uttered they are released forever, and in the case of some media outlets may be repeated almost endlessly, looping along with stock footage and graphics. There is a vast difference between freedom of speech, and freedom from criticism which is not always evident in the reactions to radical hyperbole.
The Center for Medical Progress, the creator of the propaganda videos, denounced the attack on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center, but without any acknowledgment that the attack may very well have been informed by the very videos and controversy it created. [HuffPo] The attack began and ended at the Planned Parenthood center. Three lives were extinguished there.
Are the radical anti-abortion advocates asking us to please don’t think ill of them because they never intended their words (and pictures) to inflame the murderers, the bombers, and the arsonists? We’re cautioned about using scatological language in case “small ears” might be listening; do we take as much care when it’s possible small minds might be attending to the messages?
Words can’t be deflected easily. Most of the Republican candidates sought refuge in generalizations — “everyone should tone down the rhetoric.” But whose rhetoric called abortion providers, “exterminators,” or “a criminal enterprise,” or “killers?” [NewYorker] No one is arguing that all members of the so-called “pro-life” movement are murderers, bombers, or arsonists – only that the heated verbiage of the radicals provides inspiration and validation for those who are inclined in that direction.
And then there were the silences.
When those 231 pieces of anti-abortion legislation were being considered in State Legislature – how many voices were heard in opposition? How many pro-choice advocates crafted letters to members of those assemblies? To local editors? To local media outlets? How many legislators decided it was safer to “go along to get along” with radicals rather than risk their wrath?
When the controversy over the video tapes flamed into the news, how many editors and producers succumbed to the temptation to air what was dramatic, flashy, and provocative before vetting the material for authenticity? We might ask how many times news organizations must get “used” by political groups before they realize that the words and pictures they are disseminating are propaganda and not really newsworthy? How many times are these outlets cowered into the shallows of self referential exculpation, as in the convenient “both sides do it” narrative?
The best feature of a candle is its capacity to provide continuous illumination, without flares and flashes. It may be dim in comparison to electric bulbs, but no illumination is without shadows. However, to paraphrase Satre: Every candle has the capacity to illuminate. Every darkness the power of destruction.