Quakers Converse about Peace in Violent Times
“It’s hard to be creative when you’re fearful,” said the woman.
That’s it! I thought. That’s why we’re Fearless. Creatively Fearless.
But I kept this realization to myself, for I doubted that the other participants in the Friends Committee on National Legislation conference would understand. We were in a workshop trying to answer the question: “Once the killing starts, what can Quakers do?” In other words, how do we stick to pacifism in situations of genocide?
The woman’s comment addressed the common response to violence with violence. When confronted with situations that threaten lives, it is perhaps human nature to go on the defensive. At the FCNL conference, Quakers from all around the nation attempted to find answers to this and other difficult questions so that we would propose our ideas in the form of a nonpartisan lobby on national legislation.
Held at the Georgetown University Conference Center, the yearly event seemed un-Quakerly on a superficial level. An important Quaker principle is that of simplicity yet the venue tended to feed and water us better than I ever eat in my day-to-day life. But our posh surroundings did not seem to dampen the Quaker spirit still alive and stubborn in those who attended. Nearly every session in which the large group met ended with a question and answer session, usually with more questions than there was time to answer.
The group, nearing 300 in number, was mostly made up of participants older than 50, but in recent years a push for a young adult membership has surfaced. Since I have been attending, the young adult group has grown from roughly ten people to something more like 30.
I have been to FCNL four times now, flying out to Washington DC and coming out of a largely sheltered and apolitical life. While I don’t consider myself to be politically apathetic, I do consider myself to be uninvolved for the most part. I vote, but I don’t watch or read the news regularly. And so I am the atypical participant in FCNL, having arrived at the conference center as if for a round of shock therapy.
Among workshops and worship, the gathering included several speakers, who explicated issues near and dear to those present. Friday night brought David Goldstein, co-director of Natural Resources Defense Council Energy program and author of Saving Energy, Growing Jobs, who offered ideas for environmental sustainability in his address, “Saving Energy Requires Policy Change.”
“If I want to buy organic vegetables, it matters whether my neighbors do, too,” said Goldstein.
Goldstein based his push for environmental sustainability on the hypothesis that protecting the environment will not be costly, but rather will promote economic growth. The need to develop new technology for environmental causes would promote innovation and progress for society at large.
According to Goldstein, big business has taken the “just say no” approach to going green, assuming that it will cost more money when really it will turn out in its own self-interest. Furthermore, if such firms were to compete to meet energy standards, then a wider variety of companies would participate.
Saturday night, November 9, FCNL awarded Representative John Lewis (D-GA) with the Edward F. Snyder Award for National Legislative Leadership in Advancing Disarmament and Building Peace. Rep. Lewis accepted the award in person and spoke about “Bringing Active Non-Violence to Congress.”
Lewis called the war in Iraq a “war of choice,” going on to say that war “tends not just to hide the truth, but to sacrifice the truth.” Relating many of the stories and ideas put to paper in his memoir, Walking with the Wind, Lewis spoke with passion and considerable volume regarding this issue and others, most notably the continuing struggle against racism in the United States.
“You must continue to be a headlight,” Lewis told the FCNL gathering. “Maybe our ancestors came in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”