Powerful Beyond Measure: Trusting the Call to Leadership Exercising Our Citizenship
Plenary Address to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Thursday, July 28, 2011
By Diane Randall, Executive Secretary
I want to begin by thanking Margaret Mansfield for the introduction and the Sessions Committee for inviting me to speak tonight. Thanks to all of you for coming with hearts and minds prepared for openings of the Spirit. May the words I offer help us trust our call to leadership.
This is such a rich subject--the idea of powerful beyond measure and trusting our call to leadership. In preparing for this evening, I've tried to figure out whether I talk about power, about leadership, about Quakers, about Friends Committee on National Legislation or about love.
So, prepare yourself for a little about all of the above. And I will try to be simple and plain spoken.
Powerful Beyond Measure: Trusting the Call to Leadership/Exercising Our Citizenship . Let me give you the alternate name I came up with: Everything I Needed to Know About Leadership, I Learned from Quakers
Assuming there may be people in this Meeting who might find dissonance between Quakerism and leadership, l want to ask you to consider three key practices of both our faith and of leadership:
These three practices or qualities of listening, trusting and acting are so common for most Quakers as to be second nature. We don't think of these as leadership qualities, just as we probably don't think of practicing citizenship as a form of leadership. But exercising our citizenship is a way of exercising leadership. And these disciplines--listening, trusting and acting--which aren't unique to Quakers but are pervasive throughout Quakerdom are disciplines that we must intentionally practice daily.
And the result of good exercise is that we get stronger when we practice. We become more powerful.
ListeningI am a convinced Quaker—convinced that the Spirit of the Divine is present in my life, convinced that the powerful love of God is meant for me and for every person, convinced that the discipline and practice of the Religious Society of Friends offers me a way to be in the world.
I had an early sense of believing in justice, not unnatural for a child--children who are loved usually have a strong instinct for fairness. In my childhood, the images I watched on the evening news-- the war in Vietnam and the struggle for racial equality during the civil rights era—moved me. The idea that our country's soldiers were killing people and being killed in a war halfway across the world for an unclear cause just wasn't rational to me and it still isn’t. People being denied equal rights based on skin color just didn't correspond with what I was learning in my Lutheran Sunday School. It was pretty clear to me that the teachings of Jesus had an answer for these injustices, and that the answer was to love our neighbors, regardless of race, nationality, religion or creed.
To be fair, the real title of these remarks should be: Everything I Needed to Know About Leadership, I Learned from Quakers and My Mom because she taught me the truths that are effective in leading and in lobbying. Truths like "you can win more flies with honey than with vinegar" and "treat others like you would like to be treated."
We weren't a politically active family. My parents voted--one a Republican and the other a Democrat and I sometimes heard them talk about current affairs, but it wasn't until I became an adult, really until I became a mother myself that I became active politically—joining the Nuclear Freeze movement. Hanging around peace activists is a good way to become an engaged citizen. From those peace activists, I learned that being a good citizen was more than simply voting (of course, ALL Quakers know that), but that it included being informed, being public about our beliefs and persuading others.
But it wasn't until I became a Friend that I learned to listen deeply, to listen to silence, to listen to the context of the speaker, and I began to understand that this type of listening is an act of love. As Friends, our practice of listening--to one another, to the Still Small Voice, to the silence--in honed through our discipline. The discipline of deep listening is how we discern, how we hear beyond the words, how we know God's presence. This is a power beyond measure.
In fact, this quality of listening that we have is what makes Friends Committee on National Legislation a powerful force for advocacy. In my first week at FCNL back at the beginning of March, I participated in a lobby visit in Senator Reid's office with a group of eight advocates and two of Senator Reid's key staff. The advocates were frustrated with what they perceived as lack of commitment by the Senate Democrats to protect vital human services in the Continuing Resolution of the budget, and they wanted Senator Reid to move his caucus to a stronger position. Voices grew tighter and the tension in the room became thicker; than Ruth Flower, FCNL's legislative director spoke up in her clear, knowledgeable direct way that not only diffused the tension in the room but also got the issue of cuts to the military budget on the table as part of the solution.
I need to take a sidebar here to share FCNL's recommendations that Ruth wrote for the six steps Mr. Boehner and Mr. Reid could take to move us forward in the deficit reduction discussion and through the debt ceiling debate.
- 1. Reduce discretionary spending with at least half coming from military spending, which has doubled in the last decade. The bi-partisan Sustainable Defense Task Force has identified nearly a trillion dollars in military spending reductions that could be adopted over the next ten years without affecting the security of the U.S.
- 2. Reduce spending through the tax code by closing tax loopholes, especially those that do not promote good public policy as a fair way to raise revenues.
- 3. End the wars. Both major parties now seem to agree that ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will save about $1 trillion over the next decade.
- 4. Get a handle on health care spending. The Affordable Care Act is projected to decrease the deficit $210 billion over the next decade. Improvements to the system, such as removing for-profit insurance companies from the center of health care finance equation, would save even more. Short sighted changes, such as getting rid of the “CLASS Act” – a provision of the Affordable Care Act that subsidizes and promotes the purchase of home health care insurance – will just place more pressure on Medicaid and Medicare programs in the future.
- 5. Invest in direct job creation. Congress’s recent attention to job creation has been primarily on easing the tax burden of employers. Small business advocates emphasize that – more than anything else – they need customers able to buy their products and services. Unemployed people need jobs before they can be customers.
- 6. Protect the most vulnerable. The wealthiest one percent of all households lost about 20 percent of their income in 2008 but the record gap between high and low incomes grew and is still dramatic. Among middle income households, many lost everything – their jobs, their homes, their savings, their health care. And among the poorest, many became – and are – destitute. Thirty-five percent of African American households and thirty-one percent of Hispanic households had zero or negative income in 2009. Cutting the services and benefits for the poorest families and individuals is fundamentally unfair and short sighted.
TrustingIt's not surprising that a hallmark of vitality among Friends is the trust level within our monthly meetings and our yearly meetings. This trust doesn't come easily; we are all human and subject to the foibles of humanity and we sometimes offend each other. But the very nature of our corporate worship is based on trust, trust that in our worship we are led. This is power beyond measure. It is, for me, one of the most hopeful activities I do--to sit with others, intent on being still enough to listen--and to be guided within the Trust of the community.
One of the people I've had occasion to meet since coming to FCNL is Robert Levering, a Friend, who conducts Forbes Magazine 100 Best Companies to Work For. Major national companies vie to get listed, and Levering, along with Amy Lyman have created the Great Place to Work Institute. Robert has written books and is invited to speak to business audiences around the world. Perhaps it won't surprise you that the common factor that makes companies great places to work is Trust. "Trust-based relationships are at the heart of every great workplace" according to the Institute.
Count Levering among the list of Quakers who could bring wisdom to Washington.
Lack of trust is one of the problems driving the current political debates. There is a lack of trust among political parties, between the House and the Senate, between the White House and Congress, between the tea party and all of government--the divisions multiply. The media loves to amplify this lack of trust--it sells and it gives bombastic broadcasters and bloggers more to shout about.
And yet, FCNL successfully builds trust; moreover, we have a legacy of integrity that comes from generations of dedicated Friends governing the organization, from all of you and other activists who are engaged with FCNL, from our quality staff, from my predecessors—Joe Volk, Ed Snyder and E. Raymond Wilson, and because we are Quakers. Let me give you some examples of what's working right now in Washington that FCNL has helped move forward:
- • new resources for nuclear non-proliferation, last week $35 million was added to an account in the Energy/Water appropriations subcommittee through a bi-partisan amendment
- • unlikely suspects calling for cuts to the military budget, including Senator Coburn of OK
- • the voices of the faith community being heard in a new way for environmental advocacy--opening doors to more conservative members who won't talk to the Big Green lobbyists
- • growing bi-partisan support to end the war in Afghanistan--last month's vote on the McGovern-Jones bill drew significantly more votes than it had in the past two years AND approval of funding for the Afghanistan-Pakistan study group in the 2012 Defense Authorization Act
Behind the scenes, FCNL is shepherding the creation of a genocide prevention bill among a vital network of protection and prevention organizations and among staff of Republican and Democratic Senators who have agreed to co-sponsor the legislation. Mary Stata, Program Assistant in the Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict program, and our lead staff on the bill is with us at these sessions and will be talking for about this bill and other actions you can take to assist our work in peacemaking. We expect to see introduced before the end of the year. These very important steps are only part of what FCNL is working on right now.
ActingFCNL's call to act comes from the inspiration of Friends across the United States who give input to the policies and priorities put forward by Quaker meetings and churches. We bring a voice of hope and possibility for a world that is better than the one we inhabit:
- 1. We are lifting up the inspiring vision of a world without war and the threat of war, a society with equity and justice for all, a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled, and an earth restored.
- 2. We are imagining and working in pragmatic steps for the seemingly political impossibilities--a Congress and a foreign policy not wed to militarism, the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict, an end to nuclear weapons, reduction of greenhouse gases, an energy policy built on sustainable, renewable sources, a federal budget that is equitable and fair, protection of human rights for all.
- 3. We are engaging Friends and others who agree with us in a network of 50,000 activists and we are determined to grow that network.
- 4. We are dedicated to grounding young adults in effective leadership, citizenship and Quaker lobbying.
FCNL is the most comprehensive faith-based peace and justice lobby in Washington DC. We have many colleagues who we work closely with--there are a lot of faith-based lobby activities; a lot of national security, human rights, peace, environmental lobbies—but I'm not aware of many that tie these issues altogether. I believe it is important for us in the future to even more effectively weave our witness in a way that makes the linkages among our programs stronger. Our world, our nation's capitol is hungry for the values we hold, for having solutions to move forward.
At the same time, it is incumbent on FCNL to continue our historic commitment to engaging young adults through our year long internship program and to build this program for the future. Our interns, whom we prefer to call program assistants to more accurately reflect their level of work at FCNL go on to become staffers to members of Congress; policy staff at FCNL and AFSC and other advocacy organizations; attorneys; business leaders; activists; parents; members of monthly meetings. We are considering additional ways to engage young adults, including our 2012 Young Adult Lobby Weekend in March. Based on our 2011 Young Adult Lobby weekend that included over 100 college age students who became informed on the war in Afghanistan, how to lobby and then lobbied, we believe this is a critical constituency and important role FCNL plays within the Religious Society of Friends and beyond.
Before I conclude, I want to tell you the advice and encouragement that I received during my trip to the Middle East when I was there in late May and early June. I traveled with Jonathan Evans, who has been our foreign policy legislative representative this past year. You probably know that our foreign policy program covers the world, but has a particular attention to Israel/Palestine. The 10 days we spent in Jordan, Iraq, and the occupied territories gave me a beginner’s understanding of life in those places and gave me a grounding for FCNL’s work I would have never had without being there.
We had the opportunity to visit Jim and Debbie Fine, members of this yearly meeting, who are now working in Iraq for the Mennonite Central Committee along with Ann Ward another Friend from this yearly meeting. They are based in Ankawa, Iraq, just outside of Erbil. Jim is the former foreign policy legislative secretary at FCNL, who knows the Middle East from decades of experience and who speaks Arabic. The visits that Jim and Debbie set up for us in Erbil and other parts of Kurdish Iraq gave us a snapshots of the fragile condition for democracy, freedom and opportunity that has captured our attention throughout the Middle East and North Africa over the past six months. Their work in peacemaking across fractious ethnic and religious divides inspired us, along with the painstaking work that local leaders are doing to build non-governmental organizations that promote effective civilian infrastructure.
Our time in Palestine—the West Bank and Gaza—was guided by Jonathan, who not only lived there with his family for several years, he has been leading Westtown school trips in the past couple of years. We spent time with Jean Zaru, Clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting; with Kathy Bergen of the Friends International Center and a number of others active in Ramallah Friends School, the play center, AFSC, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, and more. We visited Bethlehem and Hebron and saw the refugee camps, and we saw the separation wall—the 25 foot concrete barrier imposed throughout neighborhoods in the West Bank. We went through the extreme checkpoint at Eretz to cross into Gaza—a dusty, impoverished strip of land packed with 1.4 million Palestinians that is as different from Tel Aviv, just 40 kilometers away as night and day.
Palestinians and Israelis talked to us about human rights, about human dignity, about a “just peace,” And when we told them that our job at FCNL is to talk to the US Congress, and we asked what we should talk about—Nazim, a Palestinian in Gaza said: “tell them we’re human; tell them we’re human beings.”
Our visit came just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has addressed the US Congress and received 22 standing ovations. The Palestinians were in disbelief over the seeming adoration that Congress has for a governmental leader imposing a singular agenda that thwarts the opportunities for a two state solution for Israel and Palestine. Sam Bahour, a Palestinian business man said to us when we asked his advice about our work with Congress: “You have your work cut out for you. There is plenty for you to do in talking with Congress.”
I will end here by encouraging you to exercise your citizenship, to trust the call to leadership of being an engaged citizen and echo the words of my Palestinian friend: there is plenty of work in talking with Congress.
Don’t make the mistake of talking to each other about politics, the frustrations you may have or about your differences with members of Congress and think you’ve communicated with them. Your elected officials NEED to hear from you; they need to hear from Friends—even if they think they don’t, or even if they dismiss you. You are a constituent; they work for you.
Trust the call to leadership, to exercise your citizenship. Be powerful beyond measure.