OPINION: by David PerrinNews Weekly
William Wilberforce's lessons for us today
, December 8, 2007
Those who wish to change society must be as cunning as foxes, writes David Perrin.The great English anti-slavery campaigner William Wilber-force (1759-1833) can teach current-day social change campaigners a thing or two about tactics.
Wilberforce was spectacularly unsuccessful with his legislation to abolish slavery until his companions came up with a brilliant idea to disable the slave-trade by having slave-ships confiscated by Britain's Royal Navy, at the time the most powerful navy on the high seas.
England was then at war with France, and it was common practice for the Royal Navy to commandeer any ships at war with England.
Because slave-trader ships all flew under foreign flags of convenience, Wilberforce's allies in the British parliament passed a seemingly innocuous law that allowed the Royal Navy to commandeer any vessel flying a foreign flag.
This meant that, over a period of time, English slave-traders were deprived of their ships and profits. This severely hampered the slave trade.Real intent
There is a delightful scene in Amazing Grace
, the recent movie about Wilberforce, in which one of the pro-slavery members of parliament looks up to the near-empty public gallery in the near-empty parliament and spies a supporter of Wilberforce observing the debate for the law change. The MP immediately looks at the commandeering legislation being boringly debated and understands the real intent of the laws.
Running through the corridors of the parliament to summon his pro-slavery allies, the MP can find no-one because they have all gone to the races for the day.
Needless to say, the legislation passes with a solid vote from the Wilberforce camp, and the die is cast.
No doubt, over the ensuing months and years, the slave ships are slowly commandeered and the traders go broke.
This disabling of the slave trade meant that they could not pay off their supporter-MPs. Hence, Wilberforce's legislation to abolish the slave trade eventually passes in 1807.
There are many issues today that pro-family and pro-life groups are seeking to change.
Take, for example, legalised prostitution. With such powerful vested interests being funded by the prostitution industry, it will be very hard to change the current culture.
However, Wilber-force has shown that different tactics can work to suppress or reverse the culture.
It is well known that many prostitutes are addicted to illicit drugs and that the addiction has pushed them into the sex trade.
By getting prostitutes free of their drug addiction, we can cut the supply of prostitutes to the industry and remove some of the money that funds the political agitation for further legalisation of prostitution.
As well, there is considerable evidence that many prostitutes are from overseas, being induced here by the sex-slave industry.
A concerted campaign to detect these sex slaves, prosecute the brothel-owners and repatriate the prostitutes will severely restrict the sex industry.
The confiscation of assets of brothel-owners involved in sex slavery, similar to the confiscation of assets of drug-pushers, could cut the supply of money to the prostitution industry.
Wilberforce's tactics could also be used to tackle abortion.
Private abortionists make big money from the abortion industry. Any restrictions placed on abortionists can deprive their industry of considerable profits.
Any obstacle that can be placed in the way of abortionists - such as cooling-off periods, warnings of likely health risks, law suits, mandatory counselling and cost increases - all work as disincentives.
Wilberforce's tactics can also be used to restrict and reduce pornography and its impact in Australia.
This can be done by implementing children-impact statements on all films, publications and digital media.
Alternatively, a total review of the current classification system for films, media and advertising, accompanied by a tightening up of the administration and classification criteria, would gradually reduce the impact that pornography is having on our community.
Wilberforce showed that patience and persistence are crucial to achieve social policy objectives.
Those who wish to change the social direction of our community must be as cunning as foxes and discover means to remove sources of profit from those industries that have established themselves to the detriment of our society.
By tackling the vested interests and hitting them in their hip-pockets, we can achieve desirable social change.
My point is to not give up hope on any change in the culture, but realise that change can come by various means.- David Perrin is national president of the Australian Family Association.