Continuing to think about the Quaker queries we are considering regarding civic responsibility (Civic Responsibility and Civic Responsibility 2), I earlier wrote about peace vigils and marches. The primary query I am referring to is:
How do we share our convictions with others? Do we express our opinions with courage, yet with love, mindful of the Divine Spirit within everyone?
There are obviously many more ways to share our convictions, and on subjects other than war and peace. The consequences of environmental damage have been the main subject of concern in my life, so following are some examples of a number of ways I have tried to share my convictions related to this.
Writing on this blog (https://kislingjeff.wordpress.com/) has become one of the main ways since I began this a couple of years ago. From the early days (1650s) George Fox and many other Friends began to publish pamphlets about their beliefs, becoming known as “publishers of the truth”, a concept that has continued since. In this digital age, blogs and social media such as Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jeff.kisling.3) and twitter (https://twitter.com/jakislin) are ways we can share our thoughts and actions. To give an idea of the potential scope of these methods, I’ve published 619 blog posts that have been viewed over 21,000 times. Prior to that I got in trouble for often sending more than one email message a day to those unfortunate enough to be on my list.
There are a number of places (wordpress.com) where you can create and publish your own blog, free of charge. You just type the title, then your article, and click the publish button. When Rev William Barber urges Quakers to get back into the public square, this is one way you can do that.
Quakers believe how we live our own lives is how we express our convictions. I have been surprised, though, by how often people notice. The main witness of my life has been to try to do as little damage to the environment as possible, mainly by refusing to have a personal automobile. That has meant I have done a lot of running and bicycling. I was completely surprised one day to be sitting with friends, and to hear them start listing all the places around town they had seen me running, and how many different places they came up with. There have been numerous occasions when people I work with, but don’t spend time with outside work, will ask me things like “did you ride your bike to work today?” People know about these things.
This also becomes important when trying to convince others. The first thing people usually say to me when they try to defend pipelines or their own use of fossil fuels is “well you drive a car, don’t you?” Although I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anyone else to give up their car, this at least makes them take me seriously and often provides a chance to move a little deeper into the subject.
Going up against the tremendous wealth, power and pervasiveness of the fossil fuel industry was definitely a David and Goliath situation. Similar to pacifists taking on the war machine, or activists in the civil rights struggle, or Indians against the British Empire, or water protectors against the pipelines.
Such cases call for a moral response that is expressed as nonviolent civil disobedience and direct actions.
During the Vietnam War I was a draft resister.
Regarding the environment, the Keystone XL Pipeline permit was seen as a way to finally confront the fossil fuel industry. I’ve written a lot about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. This was a digital age, nonviolent direct action campaign. People could sign the Pledge on the Internet:
“I pledge, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”
This was a well designed campaign. The Pledge website had a way to gather the contact information for those who were interested in participating, as well as for those who indicated they were willing to be Action Leaders in their community. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) then went to 25 cities in the U.S. to train those Action Leaders how to organize direct actions and train others in their local communities how to participate in nonviolent actions. This training was essential because successful nonviolent actions require strict discipline. About 400 Action Leaders were trained, who in turn trained about 4,000 people in their communities. I was one of 4 Action Leaders in Indianapolis. We held 6 training sessions, training about 50 people. Our action was going to be to block the doors of the Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis. If the State Department recommended that the Keystone Pipeline permit be granted, actions like ours would be triggered all over the U.S. to try to persuade the President to reject that recommendation and the permit. President Obama accepted Secretary of State Kerry’s recommendation to reject the permit. Recently President Trump approved the permit, but the delays and changing energy market make it look like the pipeline may still not be built.
We held many vigils in downtown Indianapolis.
Other ways we shared this work in Indianapolis included writing a press release explaining to the public what we were doing. When Indiana U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly indicated he would vote for the pipeline, the Indianapolis Star published the following letter I wrote:
Another approach was to work on divestment campaigns against fossil fuel projects. Economic impacts get the attention of shareholders in banks that invest in fossil fuels. In Indianapolis we participated in the Rainforest Action Network campaign to get Morgan Stanley to stop investing in coal projects. We met with the manager of Morgan Stanley here, who politely listened to us and accepted the letter we brought with our demands. Similar actions occurred across the country on the same day. At a stockholders meeting shortly after, Morgan Stanley decided to stop investing in coal projects.
We also had several actions related to divestment related to the Dakota Access Pipeline here over the past year, including a day when $110,000 was withdrawn from the PNC and Chase banks in downtown Indianapolis.
North Meadow Circle of Friends Meeting closed their Chase bank account.
Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) published the story of my divestment efforts at Chase bank in the March-April, 2017, issue of Befriending Creation http://www.quakerearthcare.org/sites/quakerearthcare.org/files/bfc/bfc3002_small.pdf