While I have often read about TFP Student Action’s campaigns, I never had an opportunity to actually go with them. I thought how exciting it would be to engage in hot debates on campus and live a bit of their adventurous life on the road. When their campaign in Rochester, N. Y. coincided with a speaking engagement, I jumped at the chance to join with the students and confront liberal academia.
The issue was a protest-mourning of the starvation death of Terri Schiavo. The first university was the University of Rochester. On April 4, we set off. Literally, rain, hail, sleet and snow could not keep us away.
In fact, the forecast could not have been worse. Snow and rain pelted our van the whole way up and the rivers were swollen out of their banks. Expect snow showers was the word. It didn’t seem to faze the veteran student action members.
Thanks be to God and not a few prayers, there was no snow or rain, but a blustery wind off Lake Ontario that made the going rough. The TFP signature red standard was raised on the main quadrangle and more often than not the wind whipped it into horizontal position. The cry, Tradition, Family, Property echoed over the commons.
TFP Student Action went into action. Two bagpipers started piping. We all started handing out the flyer, “Mourning Terri Schiavo,” and taking surveys on the issue. Soon the whole campus came alive to the issue. Not all of it was favorable.
We had expected controversy on this liberal campus and it was not long in coming. Soon students began engaging in debates affirming Terri’s involuntary right to die.
In answer to the survey question as to whether every human being has the right to life there were many who checked “no” or an enigmatic “undecided.”
To many of the students, Terri Schiavo was no longer human as if her tragic accident deprived her of her human nature and therefore her human rights. No compassion could be found in those who seemed to equate life with one’s ability to experience pleasure.
“I am sorry she died, but she was already dead” said one student who seemed to think people experience several deaths instead of just one.
“You have no right to make an objective judgment on this case,” remarked one religion major who nevertheless categorically judged our position wrong.
“For all practical purposes, she was already dead,” said another who really did not want to be bothered with the matter.
Looking around the quadrangle, student action members could be seen debating and distributing our statement. The bagpipers were piping away. The wind kept up its buffeting. This was more than what I had expected.
Of course, there were also favorable students who liked the campaign and thanked us for coming. They had felt their own outrage over the case and supported our efforts.
“It was a travesty,” said one graduate student who helped with the campaign. “What a terrible injustice” commented another. Others became part of our student network with members on 375 campuses nationwide.
For such a secular campus, debate of a philosophical or religious nature was surprisingly common. “We have no end or purpose in life,” remarked one passerby. Another student asked that we look at the matter from the cultural perspective of Tibetan faith traditions where they would see the death of Terri Schiavo (a Catholic) as a liberation from the body to join the god in us all.
The campaign ended as it began as the members of TFP Student Action quickly packed up. Each had his adventures over the course of the day that made for lively conversation at our three o’clock lunch.
My participation proved to be very fortuitous. I was invited to give a talk at Rochester’s Call to Holiness Chapter at the vibrant St. Jude the Apostle parish. The topic was Death by Starvation which highlighted the Terri Schiavo case. The day’s experiences provided abundant examples of the mentality and arguments behind the practice of death by starvation.
The principle points of the meeting stressed the Catholic position that every human being has a right to life that cannot be delegated to another. This right is based on natural law which should be the basis for all law. Finally, human life cannot be quantified. The so-called Persistent Vegetative State does not make a person less human and does not allow a person to deny basic human rights such as nutrition and hydration.
From a cultural perspective, the Schiavo case represents a clash of mentalities. One mentality is that of Hollywood, where life is seen as a valley of intense pleasures with accidental and bitterly accepted moments of suffering The other is the Catholic position where life is a vale of tears with its moments of intense Christian joy.
Student Action members were not idle at the talk. They gave their own lively accounts of the events of the day. The pipers got out their pipes once again – playing this time to a much friendlier audience.
The next day, we were on the road once again. Nearby Cornell University was the target. It was a short campaign set up near one of the busy intersections with lunchtime pedestrians. Soon the pipes were piping as one more campus came alive to the case. Liberals were surprised to find others on “their” campus and conservatives were glad to find others who think like them.
My short adventure, like all adventures, eventually came to an end. I was thrilled to have the opportunity… and look forward to the next time I can be on the road with TFP Student Action.