By Chris Stefanick
In many ways, coolness wasn’t a big help to adolescent development in the ‘80s and ‘90s. As a member of “generation Jeff Spicoli” (see “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”—or better yet, don’t see it!), drinking, messing around with girls, and skating by in school with a C- would have all been socially acceptable for me.
The ever-shifting parameters of “cool” drove hordes of teens to put grease in their hair in the ‘50s, sleep outdoors for three days in the mud at Woodstock in the ‘60s, wear bellbottoms in the ‘70s, and popularized disturbingly neon clothing in the ‘80s. Much like the wind, “cool” is hard to pin down, but its effects on youth culture are hard to miss.
Thanks to an early conversion to the Catholic faith, I wasn’t a casualty of cool. In high school I wore baggy pants, had long hair and had a rosary dangling visibly from my pocket. I could rip on electric guitar and knew every John Michael Talbot (a Catholic quasi-monk musician) song ever written. I wasn’t the norm. The fact that I was deeply religious and regarded as cool by my peers was an anomaly. And as a teenager I stood out like a sore thumb at pro-life demonstrations.
Such demonstrations didn't fit within the parameters of cool in the early '90s for teenagers. It's not that I was surrounded by octogenarians (80-somethings) at pro-life events, it's just that other teens were hard to find. And the media did its best to ignore us in order to perpetuate the notion that being pro-choice was cooler than being pro-life.
I specifically remember one march in New York City, tens of thousands strong. I was marching next to a saintly, elderly woman. She was alone, struggling to walk in the cold, rosary in hand. She pressed on, keeping the world turning with her prayers.
A reporter brushed passed me and the 30- and 40-somethings around me, held her camera high above the woman’s head, and got her shot—a woman hunched over, gray hair, praying her rosary—the portrait of a pro-life movement without youth, a movement destined to pass with our grandparent’s generation. I remember thinking, “Didn’t you see the young man walking next to your camera?” She did, of course. She chose to ignore me.
But the boundaries of cool are shifting in the abortion debate, and it’s becoming harder for the world to ignore. Approximately 40,000 people were drawn to the San Francisco March for Life Jan. 21. The march stretched well over a mile through the heart of the city. Live Action leaders estimate that 60 percent of the crowd was less than 30 years old, with many thousands of high school youth present.
According to one participant, Charbel Semaan: “You couldn’t overlook the huge number of youths. They were everywhere. And the pro-choice protestors have been shrinking yearly. They just don’t have much to say. One group of protestors was simply dancing around with a few signs.” (Doesn’t sound very cool, does it?)
Another group of protestors tried to infiltrate the pro-life crowd carrying banners and chanting: “A fetus is not a baby! Women are not incubators!” The young pro-life crowd decided to drown them out by praying a Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The pro-choice protestors left the scene, frustrated and obviously outnumbered.
The D.C. March for Life was attended by about 400,000. Walking through the crowd it was clear that the pro-life movement is young. The pro-life office of the Archdiocese of Washington organizes a pre-march rally for high school youths. They have to turn away countless groups because the Verizon Center, among the largest arenas in D.C., can only fit 20,000 people!
In the oft-fragile psyche of teenagers, large numbers help define what is and isn’t cool. The growing number of vocal, pro-life teenagers is bringing that movement to a tipping point. It’s already deemed “normal” for a teen to be pro-life, and with each passing March for Life, it’s clear that pro-life is getting ever cooler.
Given the power of the cool factor in youth culture, this should make the pro-choice movement very nervous.
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