Martyn Iles in Washington
Reflecting on the ACL’s National Day of Action, as interviewed by Neil Johnson on Vision Radio, 16 March 2020
Martyn speaks to us from America, Washington DC, the seat of power for the United States and one of the most powerful places in the world.
Q: You’ve been gleaning insights about some of the secrets of the pro-life movement success in the USA. What are some of the things happening there and the sorts of things you have been learning?
There are a lot of people in America doing lots of the things we’re doing and doing them better – people who know how to lobby, people who raise grassroots movements, people who have the best research.
There’s a story to be told in America at the moment which I think is instructive for us in Australia. It’s around the pro-life movement.
A lot of us look at the American situation. We see the success of the March for Life, for example. We see that Donald Trump became the first sitting President to go and address that March. Also, there have been dozens and dozens of advancements legislatively on the pro-life cause, and also a lot of pro-life judges appointed including to the Supreme Court. People are saying now that the Supreme Court rulings that legalised abortion across America will not survive over the next few years. New rulings will come down because of judges who are pro-life.
We look at that and say, “Only in America”.
I’m encouraged while I’m over here to see that this could be the Australian story as well.
Franklin Graham has described Trump as the most pro-life president ever. It’s not just because Trump might be an unusually pro-life person. We all know instinctively that is not necessarily true. Something else has happened in the background. What has happened is a number of organisations over here have got busy.
They have been very skilful at prosecuting the pro-life cause in the public square, but also reaching the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans, and training them and teaching them and transforming the way they think about the pro-life issue.
I talked to one organisation where they go out into electorates right across the country, and they knock on doors and put materials in letterboxes. And then they do the data on that electorate and they find out that because they went in and educated the people before an election about the life issue, the people in that electorate voted for a pro-life candidate. They’ve gone in to see the President and gone in to see politicians and presented them with these findings. You can imagine that if there are votes in it, the politicians get right behind them.
And so, Donald Trump is a pro-life President partly because he now knows, because of the work of these great organisations, that if he is pro-life, he will win votes.
And that’s only been made possible because they’ve been out there, telling their fellow Americans about the pro-life issue, educating them, getting into the grassroots, putting things in their letterboxes, talking to them at their front doors.
It’s so important that we do grassroots work in Australia. And when we do that and we show politicians that people want them to be pro-life, wow, what a difference it makes. So that’s been a huge insight for me here. We’re really learning how we can bring that back to Australia.
Q: In Australia, testing the waters, having a ‘standing army’ of volunteers at the grassroots level who are ready to actually respond… tell us about the past weekend, the day of action, and how things have gone?
This is where the proof is that the things we learn in America really do work in Australia.
I was here a year ago when I first met these groups which do this great work. I’m here a year later and able to report to them that we’ve started to get busy in Australia.
This weekend just past on Saturday we had a ‘national day of action’. On that day hundreds of volunteers across the country in every single state and territory went out into their community with pro-life flyers that pointed people to a website which contained a lot more powerful material.
They went out and put well over a quarter of a million flyers into the letterboxes of the Australian people, inviting them to think again about the pro-life cause. That’s a very powerful thing, especially considering there are 10 million households in Australia. If we can hit a quarter of a million in one day, on day one, there is so much more that we can do on this front.
What we’re doing is we’re raising a standing, grassroots army of what we call, ‘activists for truth’ who are going to take the truth into their communities, changing the hearts and minds of their neighbours. But also, what that does is it changes politics, as we’ve seen here in America. Suddenly, you get people voting for these issues that we’re telling them about at their doorsteps and in their letterboxes. So it changes things.
So that’s where we’re heading – a permanent grassroots movement. We’ll be doing good and spreading messages of truth, whether there’s an election or not, because this is a long journey. It’s going to change people’s minds on issues like life.
So I’m excited about it. Our motto is ‘Truth made public’. It’s no longer just about me doing that. It’s about all of us, part of the movement, getting on and being a part of that great project.
Q: Elections are a long way off – tell us about the timing of this kind of movement and what would you have to say to people thinking about getting involved?
We’re putting in the groundwork now because during election campaigns people see and hear so many political messages that it all gets lost in the white noise. And also, because this is not currently an issue which people understand or know anything about. As Christians, we often assume that people have maybe a little more concern for some of the issues that we’re concerned about than they actually do. So, it’s going to take time. It’s going to be a project which is going to be ongoing for quite a while.
It is really a matter of reaching people with truth. These flyers simply said “Every abortion ends a human life” which is an absolute fact. A fact of science, a true thing. It’s a simple message to put into people’s minds. You can put out a simple message like, “a heart beats at four weeks”, you can put messages like, “unborn children feel pain”. You can start educating people about the horrors that are abortion, gently, slowly, one step at a time. We can reach the same people five times, six times, seven times over the course over a few months. And you do change them, and you bring that issue into the front of their mind.
Then come election time, you’ve done the groundwork. You’ve reached them.
And you are going to change the election in a more powerful way than if you just waited for the two weeks before people go and vote. This is a bigger project we’ve got on our hands. I’m very excited about it. I think it has great promise well into the future. Not just on the life issue, but on a quite a range of issues.
To make this work, we almost need to turn conservative Christians into activists, and I say that in the best possible way. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, but I’ve got to tell you there’s a lot of great people out there who have decided that they would like to put feet to their faith and be salt and light and coming forward in their hundreds which is fantastic.