The question that has been put to me recently relates to how we decide which public events to support.
Quakers believe that the spirit of God is present in all of us, and guides our way each day. And it is our purpose to live our lives as closely as possible to that continued guidance. What we say and do should be as faithful to that as possible.
Friends extend that to believe that we accept responsibility for groups that we participate in. We join and are active with organizations that are working to put our faith into action. Quakers have created and support Quaker oriented organizations for this purpose, such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
The opening question concerns how we deal with organizations that support some of the things we agree on, but believe and work on additional things that we do not agree with. I had not thought about this much before I became involved in the Moral Mondays movement in Indiana. Prior to that I had just been involved with Quaker organizations. This was one of the fundamental things that had to be worked out when the Moral Mondays movement began in North Carolina. This diverse, faith based movement realized that they were never going to make any progress if everyone had to agree on everything.
Instead, they adopted the idea they call “fusion” politics, which means diverse organizations come together to work on their common goals, while at the same time acknowledging they have differences in other areas.
When we began organizing Indiana Moral Mondays, those of us in Indiana had to grapple with this idea, as well. North Meadow Friends decided not to join Indiana Moral Mondays primarily because they were uncomfortable with that idea.
Similar concerns were raised in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), when I began to encourage Friends to join the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. People questioned whether others participating in the Resistance would have the knowledge and discipline to act appropriately if a situation began to escalate. Those discussions made me even more aware of the importance of training those who might participate in nonviolent direct actions. I studied more about nonviolence, direct action, and civil disobedience. Then I always volunteered to teach that part of the training sessions we offered here. I guess I made my point when one student jokingly said “you’ll get mad at me if I get violent.”
Thus I was comfortable being engaged with the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. Training related to nonviolent civil disobedience was a large part of the training every person who wanted to participate in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance received. People from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), who themselves had experience with this, went to 25 cities in the U.S. to do this training for local Action Leaders, who then trained local activists. There was always the possibility that someone would react inappropriately. But we made a commitment that this was a nonviolent campaign, and we could only trust that each person would do their best to be true to that goal. Fortunately the direct actions were not triggered because President Obama made the decision to deny the permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, in part because of the pressure brought to bear by efforts like the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. Nonviolent campaigns are successful when what they are supporting happens because the decision makers are made aware of what will happen otherwise.
The reason the opening question is being asked today relates to a similar situation, i.e. the nonviolent campaign to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NODAPL). Since April, Native American and other water protectors have camped near the point where the pipeline would be built along the bottom of the Missouri River. They are praying and committed to nonviolence. Hundreds of Native Americans were trained in nonviolent direct action during the Keystone campaign. Nearly 300 tribes and thousands of people have come to these camps.
The governor of North Dakota has aggressively reacted to these peaceful protests, employing the National Guard, and law enforcement officers from surrounding states. Even journalists have been illegally arrested. Helicopters, drones, militarized vehicles, and hundreds of law enforcement officers in riot gear have acted aggressively toward the peaceful gatherings, sometimes using pepper spray and attack dogs. First amendment rights have been violated over and over again. Just today USA Today published an article entitled “Dakota Access pipeline protests continue as questions of fairness emerge“.
Things escalated last Thursday when over 300 law enforcement officers moved in to forcibly remove people from where they were camping. Some tires and construction vehicles were set afire. Although authorities claimed one women fired three shots from a gun at officers, Native American Robbie Romero stated “the only gunshots that were fired would have come from them. They are armed. We are unarmed. They are trying to spin the narrative. They are using an increasingly vast military operation to respond to our spiritual resistance.”
This caused at least one Friend to state that Quakers should not be supporting these efforts. They feel that is condoning violence.
I disagree, but admit I am still praying about this. I believe we are responsible for our own actions. I also believe that if we are to support and engage in nonviolent direct actions, especially because of our study and participation in such actions ourselves, we have a responsibility to make sure everyone else involved knows as much as possible about this. There is a significant spiritual component to this that Friends can help others with. If one or two people fail to live up to the ideals of nonviolence, that definitely tarnishes the image of the campaign. The whole thing is founded on the principle of not returning violence with violence, and if one person does, that both decreases the effectiveness of the campaign as a whole, and is often used to justify violence by those opposing the campaign.
But I do not think that means we have to disengage from the campaign ourselves, though I know other Quakers disagree with this. I do not believe violence is ever justified. But I don’t think the failure of one person to show restraint invalidates the entire campaign. That failure needs to be addressed in the strongest possible terms, and used as an example of what not to do.
To me, when one chooses not to act, not to engage, that is an active decision. We are saying we have decided not to participate. I can respect those Friends who do not believe they can support the water protectors in North Dakota. But if environmental destruction is a concern for you, you know we have to stop mining and burning fossil fuels right away. That is why the Dakota Access pipeline is an urgent issue for me. I believe those in North Dakota who are camping there to oppose the pipeline are committed to the principles of nonviolent direct action to try to stop it, and I continue to support them, and related efforts of support here in Indianapolis.