CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Warren Shinn will celebrate his 58th birthday on Wednesday in an unusual fashion: confronting visitors to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte with a giant photo of an aborted child.
The Charlotte resident and pro-life activist was already on the downtown streets on Tuesday, carrying the 4-foot poster showing an unborn child aborted in the third trimester.
Before I spoke with Shinn on a busy street corner, I walked behind him for two blocks and watched the reactions of passersby: Many of the well-dressed businessmen from nearby banks never glanced over. Some DNC delegates wearing credentials around their necks quickly looked away. Others rolled their eyes or shook their heads. But at least two young women showed a different reaction: One winced and another cringed.
That's the kind of reaction Shinn wants to evoke: "We're trying to raise an awareness of just how evil abortion is."
Here in downtown Charlotte, it's an unpopular message this week. As Democrats re-affirm a distinctly pro-abortion platform and run campaign ads decrying Republicans' pro-life positions, tension between the two sides is running high.
That tension reached an emotionally charged peak on Tuesday as dozens of supporters of Planned Parenthood - the nation's largest abortion provider - marched more than a mile through downtown Charlotte wearing pink T-shirts and carrying fans designed by the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America that read: "Vote pro-choice. Politicians make crappy doctors."
The group stopped when they reached a street corner manned by a handful of pro-life activists holding a sign similar to Shinn's poster. A man with a bullhorn decried abortion, telling the crowd that unborn children are alive. He urged them to repent of their sins and turn to Christ, using a street preacher's cadence.
The crowd booed and began chanting "Obama." More than two-dozen police officers descended on the scene, creating a buffer zone between the two groups. Both sides grew louder, and pro-abortion supporters chanted: "Right to life / You lie / You don't care if women die."
Michael Marcavage stood with the pro-life activists - including a handful of small children - and talked about traveling from Philadelphia to promote a pro-life message at the DNC. Marcavage, 33, is head of a group called Repent America, and said he participates in similar demonstrations at events across the country.
As the crowd grew angrier, I asked Marcavage about the effectiveness of his methods. He acknowledged the disagreement even in the pro-life community about street preaching and graphic photos, but said that a drastic problem like abortion calls for drastic action at times: "We go to Holocaust museums and see photos of murder," he said. "Abortion is a holocaust."
He added that the message wasn't political: "We're here to call both Democrats and Republicans to repentance, and to call them to Jesus Christ, who is our only hope."
Megan Wilson wasn't persuaded. The 17-year-old high school senior from Washington state had traveled here with a group called the Junior Statesmen of America. She and a handful of other student were attending DNC events and learning more about politics.
On this street corner, Wilson grew visibly shaken by the pro-life demonstration: "I think it's hypocrisy of the highest form to say a fetus matters more than a human life - a human being who is actually living and breathing and has a mind."
I asked Wilson what she thought of the pro-life message that a fetus is an unborn child. She replied, "No pro-choice person wants abortion to happen, but we need an alternative. If everybody had free access to birth control, if we were actually taught comprehensive sex-ed in schools, we wouldn't have this problem."
What seemed to bother Wilson most was a sense that pro-life advocates care more about unborn children than other people in need. "They only care about the fetus before it's born, but they won't support welfare or healthcare or Head Start or day care for women," she said. "This doesn't tell me that they're pro-life, it tells me that they're anti-women."
Elsewhere in Charlotte, the work of a handful of Christian groups sent a different message. Less than three miles from this street corner, pro-life advocates at the local pregnancy care center serve thousands of women, children, and men every year with counseling and material assistance.
Lois' Lodge - a local Christian maternity home - gives young women facing unplanned pregnancies a home. Brookstone School - a local Christian school - serves inner city children in grades K-6 with very low-cost education that produces far better results than nearby public schools.
Those groups aren't on the streets of downtown Charlotte this week, but beyond the protests and celebrities and high-end parties, their work is continuing quietly in other parts of the city. It's hard work that preaches in practical ways what the signs say on the streets downtown: "Every life matters."