More than 2 centuries ago we saw one of the very first social media campaigns. In a concerted effort, campaigners used a variety of methods of engagement to make their case. They recognised that those they wanted to appeal to simply weren’t engaged in the issue – the man and woman on the street had no idea of just what terrible things were happening nor how they were themselves contributing to them.
So the activists, led by one of my personal heroes William Wilberforce, made speeches and began to lobby parliamentarians. They started petitions and, most importantly, they used images.
Long before Instagram was a thing, they recognised that pictures have tremendous power to bring home just what was going on. So they distributed this:
The Campaigners also realised the importance of pictures and images. Cartoonists and artists, like JMW Turner and William Blake, provided pictures of slavery that reached audiences in ways the written word could not. However, the most important and powerful image came from a piece of evidence uncovered by Thomas Clarkson at Plymouth. It was a plan and section of a loaded slave ship. The ship was packed so full that it was hard to comprehend the sheer inhumanity.
The shocking diagram of the Brookes (a slave ship from Liverpool) became the defining image of the battle to end the slave trade. It showed 482 slaves lying shoulder to shoulder and, as Clarkson said, made “an instantaneous impression of horror on all who saw it”. The printer, James Phillips, copied and published the image in April, 1789, and it was widely distributed throughout the campaign.
The image seems tame to us today, perhaps because we are so familiar with it and we know that such things have been mostly eradicated. It seems inconceivable that such an industry could be allowed to exist in our modern enlightened age. But it wasn’t like that at the time:
When the campaign to abolish slavery began, around 250 years ago, there were no TV bulletins showing the terrible conditions on slave ships or newspapers reporting on the cruel treatment of chattel slaves on plantations. Newspapers that did exist tended to reflect the views of the ruling classes. Most people could not read them anyway.
This meant that the majority of people who used sugar to sweeten their tea and cakes, had no idea of how it was produced or the human cost. Those that did know tended to be the very people who were profiting from the trade and wanted to ensure things stayed just as they were. These people had the money and power to influence government.
Mainstream media not reporting the reality of what really happens and, instead, simply reinforcing the position of our elites? That’s a different world. Surely.
The Abolitionists circumvented the media of their day and went grassroots. It was the only way to bring to light the atrocities of the slave trade. They showed their fellow citizens the humanity of the slave and the appalling ways in which he was treated.
In addition to publicising the horror of the slave boat they also demonstrated the humanity of the slave by commissioning an iconic symbol from master potter Josiah Wedgwood, manufactured as a medallion and displayed in many ways.
Today there is an even more pressing need for the same thing to happen over an even greater evil where conversation is being suppressed in exactly the same way. As I write there is a film that hit #4 in the U.S. Box Office charts for the last weekend of March, well ahead of holiday classics such as the new How to Train Your Dragon flick or the latest in the LEGO Movie franchise. It achieved a greater average box office take than the Marvel Studios blockbuster Captain Marvel. But it’s highly likely you’ve never heard of it because none of the usual sources want to publicise it.
That movie is Unplanned, the story of a Planned Parenthood abortion manager who left the organisation after seeing what actually happened in a termination.
Despite this film’s surprising success, there’s been not a squeak from the press. Not that we’re surprised. The March for Life regularly gets over 1 million showing up and yet news outlets hardly stir even though they gush over other events such as the Women’s March.
And it gets worse. Last week we had the sudden unexplained removal of Unplanned’s twitter account. Even when it was reinstated people found that they couldn’t follow the account. Finally, the newspapers began to wake up when the story wasn’t about the film itself. In the meantime, Unplanned had reached number 4 in the charts despite most TV stations refusing to air ads and many distributors not wanting a piece of the pie.
There is now a campaign to bring the film to Australia. You would think that a film that was more cost effective that Captain Marvel and only one rung down from it on the chart would be marketable. So far, no interest. No surprise at that.
Like slavery before it, the abolition of abortion is going to need a subversive campaign. It will require courage because the images that are needed are going to be even more confronting than those needed to cripple the slave trade.
Humanising the unborn child isn’t so difficult. The more we know about neonatal medicine, the more obvious it is to any impartial observer that the child is human. Images from the womb have made the argument that it’s “just a bundle of cells” or “it has no feeling” almost laughable. We get regular ultrasounds during pregnancy. This afternoon I even drove past a private clinic offering ultrasound packages of Junior to play at home on your flatscreen.
You can see what a miscarried child of 14 weeks gestation looks like here. Again, the humanity is undeniable. Babies well past this stage are killed every day in Australia.
But the most powerful argument campaigners have is abortion’s equivalent of the Brookes slave ship. It would take courage to display because the image of an abortion is truly shocking. Having dismembered the child within the womb, often crushing the skull or even removing it from the torso, the abortionist then lays out all the pieces of the baby in order to confirm that everything has been removed. Such a picture is distressing to view but it is the most accurate representation we have of what happens, short of putting up a video on youtube.
I’ve published such a picture below. It’s behind a toggle so you can decide if you want to see it or not. I want to encourage you to be brave and look at it.
Typically 15% of the slaves on a boat like the Brookes would die during the voyage. That ratio was enough to turn the tide of public opinion in the U.K.
Abortion clinics work very hard to kill 100% of the babies brought to them. If the image of the Brookes stirs us then how much more the image of a child torn apart? The crime is far greater. But where are the Wilberforces of the 21st Century?
You can read more of David’s work at his website: davidould.net