“Quakers, it’s time to get back into the public square. If you believe that there’s life above the snake line, it’s time to get back in the public square.” Rev. William Barber, The Third Reconstruction, Friends Journal, September 1, 2016.
More from the article: “That’s what Quakers were doing when they stood against slavery. They said slavery was below the snake line. Hate is below the snake line. Racism is below the snake line. Homophobia and xenophobia are below the snake line. Greed is below the snake line. Injustice is below the snake line. It’s time for us to raise the moral standard above the snake line.”
I have great respect for Rev. Barber. I had followed his work with the NAACP and the creation of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. I was there when he came to spend the weekend with us to launch Indiana Moral Mondays, with the march to the Capitol building and his speech there. His excellent speech at the Democratic National Convention articulated his call for a moral revolution. And I was very grateful to get to spend the day with him recently at the MPOLIS (Moral Political Organizing Leadership Institute Summit) to organize faith leaders for the a moral revolution of values.
For this moral revolution to succeed it will take masses of people going to the streets to let the world know that our society needs to move above the snake line.
One of my first experiences with this was standing in front of the old Capitol building with Don Laughlin for the weekly peace vigil during the Vietnam War (1969). I remember feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what the public reaction might be. But I also felt grounded in the spirit, and the support of those I was standing with. It became easier with time.
Sadly, peace vigils are still needed, and I go to our weekly vigil in front of the Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis.
I almost always carry my camera wherever I go, which has an FCNL War is not the Answer button on the strap.
After a while, I replaced my War is not the Answer sign with a Stop Keystone Pipeline sign. Destroying our environment with fossil fuels is also below the snake line.
When the Iran deal looked like it might be rejected by Congress, we took to the streets to support it.
These days I have a new sign, Quakers Know Black Lives Matter. Jenny, a Bear Creek Friend, made the sticker below, another way to make a public statement.
Taking that sign out in public renewed those old feelings of discomfort. I was really unsure of what the reaction of either white people or people of color would be. The second time I used the sign, I ended up in the middle of thousands of Black people who were downtown for the annual Black Expo event. I was really unsure of how that would go, but was surprised by the numerous indications of support.
Yesterday a very articulate young Black man stopped and said “a white man holding a Black Lives Matter sign”. I said, “yes, a white man holding a Black Lives Matter Sign”. He started to go away, but returned and asked “why are you doing it?” I told him about the Kheprw Institute (KI) that mentors Black youth that I had been involved with for several years now. And how those kids had become friends of mine. And I want a better life for them. He nodded, then said it was a brave thing to do. I only mention this to show how other people might see what you do in public. He went on to say how he felt justice had to be grounded in faith.
Also yesterday, an energetic young Black man came and said “Quakers, Black Lives Matter”, and began to take a video of us, then had a friend take more video as he stood with his arms around our shoulders, narrating all the time–“Quakers”, “Black Lives Matter”.
Last night I was at the White Pine Wilderness Academy making signs to use when we take to the streets next Friday to support those who are resisting the Dakota Access (Bakken) Pipeline.
I am so glad that Quakers in Iowa were at the civil disobedience action against the pipeline at Pilot Mound, Iowa, earlier this week.
Then there are the possibilities for participation in the digital public square, with blogs, Facebook, letters to the editor, etc. I wrote another blog post about that.
To repeat what Rev. Barber said: “Quakers, it’s time to get back into the public square. If you believe that there’s life above the snake line, it’s time to get back in the public square.”
In the public square: