By John F. Triolo, Director of Communications
Maya Angelou, deceased May 28, 2014, was known primarily as a poet, a writer, a conspicuously (sometimes self-consciously and almost ridiculously) dignified voice of minorities in America, and a public figure closely associated with several left-wing causes and was not to everyone’s taste. I can’t abide her poetry and must admit that I never quite made it far enough to learn why the caged bird sings. It is perhaps a symptom of my own perversity rather than any legitimate criticism of Ms. Angelou that it seemed to me that someone who had written no fewer than seven autobiographies and preferred to be addressed as “Doctor,” apparently on the strength of honorary degrees, had no need for one more person to take her seriously.
Any negative feelings I might have had about her as an artist or intellectual aside, however, Ms. Angelou did possess a certain moral seriousness. A compliment which may be honestly be paid to depressingly few public figures, and only after death, is that they said what they meant. Of course, such a statement can only be based upon appearances and is thus conditional, but frequent readers and auditors of public statements generally develop a talent for spotting the inconsistencies that arise when a “great man” is speaking to flatter the crowd. Ms. Angelou, whatever one might think of her opinions or the advisability of sharing them, seemed to be striving to speak the truth as she believed it.
One area where she occasionally shared her opinions, opinions which radically disappointed the expectations of many of her leftist admirers, was Life Issues. Maya Angelou was gently but unapologetically pro-life. Writing in Family Circle Magazine in 2001 Ms. Angelou said:
When I was 16, a boy in high school evinced interest in me, so I had sex with him — just once. And after I came out of that room, I thought, Is that all there is to it? My goodness, I’ll never do that again! Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I went to the boy and asked him for help, but he said it wasn’t his baby and he didn’t want any part of it.
I was scared to pieces. Back then, if you had money, there were some girls who got abortions, but I couldn’t deal with that idea. Oh, no. No. I knew there was somebody inside me. So I decided to keep the baby.
A more clear affirmation of the humanity of the unborn child is hard to imagine. Angleou is not mincing words here. It is important to consider the potential effect of these words, coming from the source they do. Statements like that above from notable progressives give uneasy members of the rank and file on the left a sort of permission to fully believe what they already know to be true without forcing a radical reorientation of their entire outlook .
“if Maya Angelou thinks the unborn child is a person, then maybe it’s OK that I think it too.” Anyone being honest with himself knows that arguments and justifications like this are made almost daily by people engaged even slightly with controversial issues. This shadowy intersection of emotion, fear, and reason is where the battle to convince is most often won. Ms. Angelou, is seems, understood the potential significance and was willing to lend her name to pro-life statements aimed at protecting and cultivating a true pro-life ethic on the left of the American political spectrum.
Another example is a 1994 political statement which Angelou, among many prominent leftists, signed partly in the hope of giving encouragement to pro-lifers on the left:
We, the undersigned, are committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today’s world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, the arms race, the death penalty and euthanasia.
This is clearly an attempt to situate life issues in the same political space as many popular “social justice” type causes. It is a worthwhile attempt largely because Life Issues are, or should be, fundamental to the essentials concerns of all major strains of political thought in this country. To the extent that any political group forgets that, it departs from reality. In the peculiar realm of politics, however, disconnection from reality is not necessarily a weakness. Since the 1990s, the most radically pro-abortion forces on the left have systematically worked to destroy leftist pro-life thought. In the National Democratic Party, for example holding pro-life views on abortion is a first class thought crime. Even at the level of state parties, pro-lifers are tolerated rather than fully embraced. In the institutions of the American Left support for legal abortion has, in many cases, become the one irreducible requirement for advancement– the so-called “litmus test.”
Why this should be is inexplicable except that the anti-life forces on the left fought to make it so. With their victory they seriously damaged the pro-life cause in our republic. Pro-lifers, especially those on the left must seek to repair the damage and build a political community tolerant enough to at least listen to the idea that killing the most helpless among us might be unworthy of a great society dedicated to justice and equality. Those on the right must be willing to help without allowing our less important political antagonisms to interfere too much. We need to make the pro-life issue a bipartisan one once more. Perhaps to do that, we can draw in part on the example of Maya Angelou, writer, speaker, leftist, pro-lifer.
Maya Angelou RIP.