Into the Public Square

I’ve been writing about the new Poor People’s Campaign. It is discouraging that more people haven’t been attending these public events, at least here in Des Moines.


A couple of years ago I wrote a series of articles about getting into the public square, which are summarized below. There are ongoing discussions about whether people of faith should be involved in public demonstrations. During my life I have been led to participate in public vigils and demonstrations as some ways to express my faith. Sharing our stories is how change happens, I believe. Especially listening deeply to other’s stories. We have to be among people in order to be able to do so.

Rev William Barber has been leading numerous public faith-based actions for years, including the newly launched Poor People’s Campaign.

If you aren’t already involved in this campaign, I encourage you to think and pray about doing so.

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 went to our weekly vigil in front of the Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis when I lived there.


Weekly peace vigil Indianapolis

I enjoy how Rev. Barber’s article begins. It’s always been one of my great dreams to come and be at a Quaker Friends meeting, even if it meant just sittin’ and bein’ quiet. And that’s because I know enough about history to know about the Religious Society of Friends and the abolition campaigns that began long before the end of slavery in Britain.”

I have been trying to express a spiritual, moral, Quaker voice in public.  I was hoping there might be some ideas there that you might use in your own efforts to speak out in public.  I might not have made it clear enough that I am hoping more of you will speak out more in the public square.

Some of the key issues are how comfortable you are in sharing what you have to say, who your intended audience is, and how we can identify what we are saying as coming from a Quaker viewpoint, if you want to include that.  It is my hope that more of us find ways to identify ourselves in public as being Quaker.  Is it time to bring back plain dress, the broad rimmed hats, and bonnets?

I would encourage the Quaker part for a couple of reasons.  One is that it sets an historic and spiritual context for what you are doing.  Your interested readers/listeners may be led to make a Quaker connection, to answer the spiritual seeking they are doing.  They may not live anywhere near you, but may look for a local Quaker connection as a result of your writing.

I believe a great number of people are trying to find a spiritual home right now, and that Quakerism may be an answer for many of them.  But they need a way to find us.  That means (1) sharing your work in a way that is identified as Quaker, and (2) sharing in places where seekers are looking.

Without overdoing it, you can mention that you are a Quaker when you write things.  When introductions are made at public meetings, you can include that you are a Quaker.  And consider various ways to use graphics/art for Quaker identification, like the ‘Quaker man’ icon I use to identify my blog posts.  Including photos and drawings in your writings often adds interest, and there are many Quaker related images you can use–meetinghouses, peace vigils, gatherings.

Social media seems to be where many seekers and others look for news and interest items.  Facebook is a quick and interactive way to engage.  Besides just following your friends on Facebook, look for Facebook groups, where you can find like minded people to share with.  Type the subject you are interested in in the search box, and a list of related groups will appear.

As I mentioned, I have found writing on a blog to be the best solution for me, thus far.  There are a number of places that will allow you to have your own blog, free of charge. is one of the most popular.

Listen to your inner light.  Are you being led to share?  Don’t hide your light under a bushel.

I had another personal experience with being in the public square at our weekly Peace Vigil in downtown Indianapolis.  During the Keystone Pipeline struggle, the sign I held there read “Stop Keystone Pipeline”.  Lately I’ve been using my new sign, “Quakers – Black Lives Matter”.  I think this is an example of what Rev. Barber is asking us to do.  In this case, how are people who are saying “Black Lives Matter” going to know we support that idea, if we don’t find ways to say so publicly?  Because there is an implied question, which is “do YOU believe Black Lives matter?”

That sign caught the attention of Keith Mitchell-Burnett, who has been working on issues of poverty and unemployment for twenty years.  He said those he works with in the Black community know these problems cannot be solved by Black people alone, and he has been looking for white allies.  So he stopped and we talked for over half an hour about these issues, and his work, and ours.  We gave him permission to do a short video interview of us, to be posted on his organization’s website.  We exchanged contact information, and will see how things develop.

This is why you need to be on the public square in your community.

This is a low time for social justice in the United States.  Conflicts related to racial injustice and human rights, economic injustice, foreign and domestic militarism, environmental injustice, and the infringement on civil liberties meant to protect those who work to address these issues is profoundly discouraging.

Friends recognize how interrelated these things are, and how ineffective it is to try to approach any of those things in an isolated manner.

Friends’ belief that the spirit of God continues to speak to all of us defines our approach.  The more we can express that in the world, the more we are able to connect to others working for peace and justice.  The more we can answer the spiritual longing felt by so many.  The more we can build the Beloved Community to embrace us all.  Those who join the Beloved Community naturally work to improve the conditions of everyone, and all of these separate concerns begin to be addressed from this central, spiritual core.

For this to happen, Friends need to find a public voice.  We need to practice expressing, by words and actions, how we see the spirit working today in the world, among all beings.  And we need to be working side by side with people outside our usual circles of Friends and friends.

It is encouraging to see Friends engage in the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, for example, by visiting the camps of Native Americans and others protecting our water in North Dakota, joining protests and actions against the pipeline in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana, and gathering resources needed by those at the camps.

I hope you will listen to your Inner Light.  Are there messages there that should be shared publicly?   Is there a still small voice that is encouraging you to speak?  Can your meeting find ways to encourage Friends to speak in public, and support each other in doing so?  If you don’t hold public peace vigils, might this be one way to start?

This series of articles about getting into the public square continues with this post about signs.

Then there is the post about vigils and demonstrations.

And the last post in this series is about how we decide which organizations to engage with.

This entry was posted in Indiana Moral Mondays, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, peace, Poor Peoples Campaign, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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