One nice thing about living in a small state? You run into the new President of the NH Citizens for Life while waiting for the deli man to slice your ham. Gail DeMasi has always been more than approachable, though. She and her husband Andy are down-to-earth, literally: they plow roads and cut wood in their rural neighborhood, as well as renovate and sell houses, raise purebred dogs, sell gelato, and teach the deaf, among other enterprises. Did you guess that DeMasi also home schools? Of her fourteen children, five are still at home, along with a few grandchildren. Her grown children have spread out around the country and the world.
Did I mention she’s taking a Criminology course, is a licensed day care provider, and is learning sign language? If you’re picturing a brash or intimidating woman who moves about in brisk gusts of fervor for her worthy causes, you’re not picturing Gail DeMasi. With soft white hair and penetrating green eyes, she is humble to a fault about her abilities. When Citizens for Life asked her to be their president, she said, “I tried to find someone else to take the leadership role, but to no avail. I have felt inept, dumb in politics, not knowing how to grow a grassroots organization. Well, I couldn’t give it away. So, here I am.”
There she was, and she jumped right in: At the House hearing on parental notification last week, she noted dryly, “I did have the opportunity to testify that, according to the law and definition (let alone common sense), Planned Parenthood performed abortions on 90 children.” But her heart goes out to her opponents. “People have been duped,” she says. “At the hearing last week in Concord on parental notification, the Planned Parenthood women looked angry, worn and overall very miserable. I have compassion for them. I think they are losing the battle.” Most people, even pro-choicers, favor parental notification, she says, and she has high hopes that a good bill will pass in NH this time around.
DeMasi is making her small-town, newcomer’s status into an asset: When asked about the future of the pro-life movement, she said:
I actually feel very encouraged. The majority of America is leaning pro-life, and there is a ripeness in the air for a rally cry. My hope is to create a grassroots movement towards local action, towards each person’s back yard, their place. I don’t think folks are apathetic, so much as they have a fear of anything political ... almost as if they can’t do it, they don’t know enough.
But DeMasi didn’t let herself dodge her responsibility, and asks the same courage of fellow pro-lifers:
We need to know our representatives, whether they represent us well or not. We need to know how our local and state government work. What we need to know of politics is easily learned: The basic Knowing is already on our hearts. People know what is right and wrong; that has not been lost. It may be stifled, it may be on pause or mute, but it surely is not lost.
In the meantime, DeMasi is losing sleep over the details: She dreams of a mailbox overflowing with donors for her first big project, raising money to advertise a signature campaign in the newspaper. These small steps, she says, are what will make the difference, one name at a time. We can groan with frustration that Planned Parenthood has all the money and political sway it wants, while pro-lifers are less wealthy, less powerful, less well-connected in Washington.
Or we can, like Gail DeMasi, start working from where we are. Our ordinariness is an asset, she seems to be telling me. She approaches her new role as president of CFL the same way she has approached her personal life, throughout its many wild twists and trials:
Whenever something happens, we ask ourselves, ‘Who’s to say it’s bad news?’ We are in God’s hands, and he is in charge. Sometimes we cannot see around the corner, but in the end—it has always been true for me—everything works out according to a divine plan, one that is far better than anything I could create ... or dream! Accepting responsibility for Citizens for Life is a faith step, and I have to trust. Every day, we take them, sometimes we have to pick one foot up and place it in front of the other ... but we do it.
She says, “The whole book of Genesis is our story. And in the end, it is mercy and forgiveness that sets the tone for our lives.”