Reading the letter I wrote to Senator Harold Hughes when I was a Senior at Scattergood Friends School in 1970 was both a little embarrassing and quite a bit discouraging. I had forgotten he gave the nominating speech for Eugene McCarthy at the 1968 Democratic convention.
Then in 1973 he announced that, after a long period of soul-searching, he would retire from the Senate when his term was completed. He said that, for “profoundly personal religious reasons” he would seek “a new kind of challenge and spiritual opportunity,” and would “continue efforts in alcoholism and drug treatment fields, working for social causes and world peace.” He said: “Rightly or wrongly, I believe that I can move more people through a spiritual approach more effectively than I have been able to achieve through the political approach.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Hughes
I had forgotten suggesting to him that we turn away from the military and instead develop a nonviolent approach to domestic and international policy. It is sad to think of how different things would be today if we had done that. If we had embraced nonviolence, not only would we have avoided the many terrible consequences of militarism, but we would be much better off regarding race relations and our environment. I must admit my enthusiasm for this has been dampened by our country’s relentless pursuit of militarism, materialism and racism.
Prior to the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) this summer (2017), I encouraged the members of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee to read the new book by Chris Moore-Backman, The Gandhian Iceberg, that calls for a national nonviolent movement. The following is from the report of that committee that was approved by the Yearly Meeting:
We grappled with what it means to be peacemakers in a violent society. U.S. politics have descended into deadlocked ideologies, neglecting real imperatives. Our country has expanded its military operations around the world and militarized its local police. State sanctioned violence has killed unarmed people. Denying basic needs for clean water and air, food, housing, education, safety and medical care is also violence.
The witness and commitment of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock inspire us, as does the support for them from Indigenous Peoples all over the world. Nahko Bear, a Native American activist and spiritual leader, told the gathering of youth who had been attacked by dogs the message he was given repeatedly as he traveled around the world: “remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution.” An Iowa Conservative Friend was arrested in nonviolent action protesting the Bakken pipeline in Iowa.
Stories collected by Don Laughlin remind us of the witness of Iowa Quakers who were imprisoned for refusing to participate in the military. We seek ways to share these stories with the wider community.
Members of our Committee were encouraged to study the new book calling for national nonviolent direct-action, The Gandhian Iceberg, by Chris Moore-Backman, who sent us the following message:
I pray that Quakers and others will move to hold bold action far above the careful crafting of right answers. In the end Jesus’ teaching is simple. Letting go of our attachments to our personal status quos is the catch. Intellectual rigor and discernment has its place, of course, but only – I believe – in service to direct, loving action and sacrifice.
We accept the admonition of the Rev. William Barber, who called for us to be the moral defibrillators of our time; to shock the nation with love and justice; to remember that Jesus was a brown skinned, Palestinian Jew; to return to the public square. We encourage Friends to provide witness with peace vigils in public squares and to speak out in print and social media and legislators’ offices.
In 2006 the Yearly Meeting approved the following Minute:
Basic to Quaker belief is the faith that the same Light we recognize in our own hearts illuminates the souls of all other people. This belief leads us to seek nonviolent means of resolving conflicts at all levels— interpersonally, within communities, among nations—and to work for justice as a basis for lasting peace. We find ourselves bound in many ways as citizens of the United States to policies of our government which are abhorrent to us and in violation of our most deeply held beliefs. Our efforts to encourage our government to establish policies that will lead to peace and justice here and around the world have not been adequate to bring about the change which is so urgently needed. The destructive forces unleashed in our world threaten the future of all people and the planet itself. Throughout our history, Quakers have at various times found ourselves called to suffer for beliefs which have placed us in opposition to our government. Based on this history of courageous witness, we challenge Friends to now consider participating in nonviolent civil disobedience.
This call is even more urgent today. We encourage Friends to discern how they are called to bear witness for peace and justice and to support each other in doing so.
The faith community has been working to build such a movement. The Rev. William Barber lead the Moral Mondays movement, using mass demonstrations and civil disobedience to bring about change in the North Carolina state government. That movement spread, and I was involved in Indiana Moral Mondays.
The Poor People’s Campaign has grown from that movement. Following are the principles of this campaign:
- We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.
- We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.
- We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.
- We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.
- We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.
- We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.
- We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from personal issues like prayer in school, abortion, sexuality, gun rights, property rights to systemic injustices like how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.
- We will build up the power of people and state-based movements to serve as a vehicle for a powerful moral movement in the country and to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society.
- We recognize the need to organize at the state and local level—many of the most regressive policies are being passed at the state level, and these policies will have long and lasting effect, past even executive orders. The movement is not from above but below.
- We will do our work in a non-partisan way—no elected officials or candidates get the stage or serve on the State Organizing Committee of the Campaign. This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.
- We uphold the need to do a season of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to break through the tweets and shift the moral narrative. We are demonstrating the power of people coming together across issues and geography and putting our bodies on the line to the issues that are affecting us all.
- The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.
You can sign up, as I did, to be involved in this campaign at https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/