Inspired Faith: Action in a Time of Conflict
Executive Secretary Diane Randall's November 3, 2011 keynote address at FCNL's Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
Good evening. Thank you for your presence at FCNL’s annual meeting. I have been eagerly anticipating this opportunity to be with you and to speak to you. Before I begin, I want to give a special welcome to my predecessors, Ed Snyder and Joe Volk whose leadership and stewardship here at FCNL--along with the significant investment of devotion and imagination that so many of you have given to FCNL-- have helped shape a remarkable organization.
A year ago when you approved my appointment as the new executive secretary, I was a bit anxious to come before this General Committee to make remarks—as clearly as I felt led by God and embraced by the search committee and warmly welcomed by all of you, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. And now, after living in Washington for eight months and coming to know FCNL, I can tell you that I’m still a bit anxious—not about FCNL, nor about coming into the role of executive secretary, not about speaking to you tonight, nor the annual meeting we began today. My anxiety, like much of the rest of the country's, is about Washington.
It’s not news to you that the partisan divide is deep, entrenched and ideological. After a New York Times that came out a couple of weeks ago showed that the approval rating of Congress was at 8 %, one member of Congress asked who were the 8% who thought Congress was doing well. Even the members realize they have a deficient process! But it’s not even the partisan conflict that makes me anxious.
Rather what gives me agita, what makes me realize the monumental call for FCNL, is the acquiescence and often bi-partisan agreement on a militarized federal budget, a militarized foreign policy, a militarized economic policy and a militarized energy policy that gravely troubles me. It is not only an acquiescence among members of Congress, it is a structural way of operating; and it's a situation that we the people have allowed. This acceptance of virtually unchecked military growth with profits for contractors, this faith that the military has all the solutions to make our country great is a broken system.
We have a Congress that, for the last decade, through both Republican and Democratic leadership has increased military spending to such a level that every plan for “cutting” the military budget, essentially is just slowing its growth.
We have a Congress that has given virtually a blank check to the military to promote generals, to launch new military strategies, to secure new weapons, yet is willing to waste $35 Billion every year on fraud and mismanagement in the Pentagon.
We have a Congress that is willing to cut healthcare and human services for children and families but fails to realize the veterans who’ve sacrificed their lives are facing rising levels of mental illness, homelessness and suicide among our veterans
We have a Congress that is willing to send American troops to foreign countries to fight, but often unwilling to invest in the long view of a changing globe by establishing an energy policy that is based on renewable sources, an environmental policy that recognizes climate change, and a foreign policy that prevents wars.
I know it’s not very Quakerly of me, but I find this outrageous.
Fortunately, my better angels prevail most of the time, and I'm able to control the outrage. And even better for me—I have the right job—a job at FCNL that allows me, that allows all of us who are part of FCNL to ground our work in the power that takes away the occasion for all wars.
That power that takes away the occasion of all wars, that Light, which brings us hope and daily renewal is the inspired faith that drives us to seek a world free of war and the threat of war, to seek a society with equity and justice for all, to seek a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled and to seek an earth restored.
What does it mean to work from inspired faith in a time of conflict? It means recognizing that our work is walking into the conflict and staying clear about our call. It means that to realize the world we seek, we must be bold, strategic and relentless.
"Bold," "Strategic" "Relentless." How do we do that? What do we need?
This is no small task we have in front of us, and while we often focus on what's current and the immediate legislation pending, we have to also take a long view and consider how we will sustain our witness, our Quaker lobby in the public interest. We need to fortify ourselves.
The Bible verse that came to mind is the "full armor of God"-- Paul's letter to the Ephesians that urges them to become strong against the spiritual forces of evil by putting on "the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit." Although this language and the warrior imagery is jarring for us at FCNL, the notion of girding ourselves is very valid.
So let me tell you how I conceive of FCNL's work to equip ourselves for this inspired faith, how we are bold, strategic and relentless:
- Policies and priorities that are grounded in the Religious Society of Friends, discerned through listening worship
- A governing body that is led, centered and devoted
- A staff that is wise, persistent and persuasive
- A young adult presence that is passionate, energetic and smart
- A network of donors and grassroots activists who are dedicated and caring
With this kind of equipment, we can move mountains!
During our time together over the next few days, we'll talk about our immediate work; you'll meet our brilliant new program assistants; you'll learn about the integration of our foreign policy and peaceful prevention work under Bridget Moix; you'll hear from Kate Gould the latest updates of Congressional response on Israel/Palestine and Iran; you'll have the opportunity to see the renewed witness of FCNL's green building with sustainable energy; you'll be coached, encouraged and lobbied to weigh in on the federal budget debate by Ruth Flower; you'll hear about efforts to restrict oil and gas subsidies and promote renewable energy by Marcia Cleveland; you'll learn what we're doing on immigration despite Congress's slow pace; you'll be urged to think forward to 2013 for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty debate by David Culp; you'll report back to Mary Stata on lobby visits that will help us take the next steps on genocide prevention; and you'll be asked by Matt Southworth to go home and recruit five young adults to come to our Spring Lobby Weekend to lobby against the war in Afghanistan.
So let me talk tonight about FCNL's work that takes us beyond this fall, beyond the election year and ask you to look at FCNL within the arc of history and the future, look at how FCNL is squarely in the procession of Friends who have been bold, strategic and relentless in their advocacy for peace and justice.
Most of you in this room tonight have a broad understanding of FCNL's historic work--because many of you have lived it. You've seen the importance of FCNL's role in successful initiatives that have advanced policies and programs for peace.
I want to highlight three initiatives that have been part of our history and that I hope will grow in the coming years.
- Young Adult Program
- Friend in Washington
- Growing our Network: Presence Among Friends and friends
The internship program which has operated for over 35 years has provided FCNL with young, energetic workers who have assisted our programs on foreign policy, Native American affairs, immigration, federal budget, environment, peaceful prevention of deadly conflict, nuclear disarmament and communications and campaigns. I've had the opportunity to work with two classes of program assistants and have seen firsthand the vitality they bring to FCNL and the knowledge and skills they carry with them when they leave. Moreover, we have realized the benefit of many former program assistants who now serve on FCNL's staff and on our general committee. Some have gone on to lead policy operations for members of congress, within the Administration or other non-profit organizations. All of them have been affected in positive ways; many have been transformed by their experience.
FCNL has so much to gain by fortifying this program--by guranteeing that we have a solid cadre of interns each year, by assuring that the young adults who give a year's time have the opportunities and experiences that make them bold, strategic and relentless in their quest for peace and justice in whatever profession they choose or whevever they live. These program assistants, who are so much more than interns, are the FCNL alumni; they are our field team; they are inspirational. Staying engaged with our former program associates creates a network for them and us.
Another opportunity to expand our work with young adults is through our Spring Lobby Weekend, which has grown each of the past seven years. It provides those who come from Quaker schools like Haverford, Wilmington and Earlham as well as those who have a passion for peace and justice and want a taste of effective advocacy to be in Washington to learn an issue and learn how to lobby and to practice lobbying. How many young adults could we get to Washington DC in March, 2012 for FCNL's spring lobby weekend and for the each of the next 5 years? 150, 250, 1000?? Let's be bold about this. What if 1,000 young adults gathered under FCNL's training each spring to lobby against the war in Afghanistan or for immigration reform or for real climate change legislation? Moreover, what if these 19 and 20 year olds who participated determined that whatever they do in life, they would work to build relationships with elected officials to relentlessly press for positive policy changes? What if some of them decide that the most strategic way to effect change is to run for public office?
What are the possibilities for engaging youth and young adults in the ways that FCNL speaks to Quaker concerns on Capitol Hill? How will we recruit interns so that we have a more diverse constituency in the young adult program? Are there ways to work with high school age students who want to learn lobbying ?--perhaps with other Quaker organizations like William Penn House or Yearly Meeting Young Friends groups
Diane extemporaneously told a brief story about a 13 year old at George Fox University wanting to attend lobby weekend.
Our boldness is not only in our prophetic witness, it is in creatively imagining the possibilities for our work ahead.
While my admiration for the energy and engagement of the young adults who work with FCNL as staff and in our governance is well-known, allow me to share my hopes about the wisdom of experience in our midst.
Many of you on the General Committee are familiar with the Friend in Washington program--some of you have been Friends in Washington working for FCNL; and others have supported the Friend in Washington program. The groundbreaking work of Sam and Miriam Levering over 35 years ago on behalf of FCNL for the Law-of-the-Seas is well-known. A few months ago, David Culp got a call from Senator Kerry's staff looking to build a network of people who would help organize efforts to seek ratification of that treaty.
We've begun thinking about the possibilities of how we might once again operate a Friend in Washington program, examining how this has worked in the past--how we could tap our Quaker network for the wisdom and focused dedication that Friends would bring to FCNL priorities through a short-term residency program at FCNL. These opportunities might include a range of activities: research, mentoring young adults, offering spiritual support, writing policy briefs, educational opportunities for colleagues and Hill staffers. It is exciting to consider the possibilities for strategically using our Quaker network to bring intelligence and influence both for a time in Washington; moreover, it's exciting to consider how these Friends in Washington return home to their local communities with inspiration to engage others.
Growing our network among Friends and friends is an endeavor that has become increasingly important to get the attention of members of Congress and FCNL has made important strides in this area. We ask a lot of our network; our Campaigns team and Field Committee can vouch for that. We ask them to read a lot of e-mail and we ask them to respond to a lot of action alerts. We ask them to give money. We ask our general committee to add an extra day onto annual meeting so you can lobby, and we ask people to set up meetings in your local members' offices to lobby. We ask people to climb the ladder of engagement--to develop ongoing relationships with their members' offices on behalf of the key FCNL priorities. You might even say we are bold, strategic and relentless in what we ask of our network. But I think we can do more, and given our vision of the world we seek, we must do more.
What if there were an FCNL person in every members' district so when we need to lobby Rep. Granger of Texas on the Complex Crises Fund or get to Rep. Camp of Michigan on renewable energy subsidies, we can pick up the phone and have a constituent who knows the member and can make the call and can engage others in the district to influence the members. And if we want to get 100 letters to Senator Leahy who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee within 48 hours to ask for his support on an immigration issue, we want the network and resources that are big enough and quick enough to turn around. Consistent voices make a difference and we aim to grow the number of voices. My hope is to have an FCNL network that includes contacts in each of the 435 congressional districts. It is to have grassroots lobbyists in every state who are trained in Quaker lobbying and who are willing to encourage others in their communities to join them in being in regular, consistent contact with their members.
These grassroots contacts bolster the work of our Hill team. There is no substitution for effective, ongoing relationships with members of Congress and their staffs that happens through the repeated contacts and expertise of our lobbyists. The inside knowledge that comes from our presence on Capitol Hill--from participating in coalitions, sharing information and ideas with other lobbyists and staff is at the heart of FCNL. It is why we need steady support for our C4 organization. We will continue to invest in fielding a full lobbying team that has the capacity to represent our priorities effectively. This core function of FCNL that advances the priorities and policies that come through our meetings and churches and are established through the discernment of this body will continue. Fortifying our lobbying through a robust young adult program, a focused Friend in Washington program and a dynamic network of engaged Friends will make FCNL even stronger than it is today.
Friends, you are here because of your faithfulness at a time of conflict. Conflict that includes:
- Congress and political leaders who have accepted a militarized framework for too many of our public policies
- Partisan divide over whether the role of government should benefit the common good
- Continuous growth of economic disparity between the very rich--the 1% and the shrinking middle class and poor--the 99%
- Non-violent movements for change in North Africa and the Middle East
Some of our faithfulness in a time of conflict is to welcome the conflict--as a means of shifting a paradigm, as a way of reframing our world view. The acceleration of news and information to an instantaneous timeframe means that we are in constant motion; it also has lifted up and connected people who might not have considered themselves allies through their recognition of shared values, aspirations and demands. We see people re-thinking the status quo. In this year alone, we've seen the emergence of dynamic changes in the Arab Spring actions; in the Occupy movement, in the opposition to Tar Sands pipeline that now has the President's attention. These eruptions of democracy in action are encouraging, particularly as we see our fellow travelers exercising tools of non-violence and decision-making that we value so deeply as ways to address conflict. This is inspired faith.
Thank you for your faithfulness in this time of conflict. Thank you for your lobbying, for your dedication to FCNL, for making time to be here, for your financial support, for your moral support of staff, for your prayers. Thank you for your inspired faith.
Before I end, let me be bold and ask for this. I want you to do something that we don't normally associate with Quakerism these days, but some of you already do it.
I want you to proselytize for FCNL. When you go back to Denver and Olympia and Ann Arbor and Wilmington or wherever your home is, tell you own meetings and churches how you spent the weekend and tell them why they ought to get involved with FCNL. Tell them how easy it is to take action if they sign up for our e-mails (and tell them they don't have to take action on everything). Your help in explaining who FCNL is and why its work is important to the Religious Society of Friends and to friends who want to create a better world is essential to advancing the world we seek. Your representation in your monthly meetings and churches, in your yearly meetings, to you family and friends speaks volumes.
In addition to relying on so many of you as living historians of FCNL, I have been reading E. Raymond Wilson's Uphill for Peace, published in 1974. I leave you with the words that open his book:
Why try to work uphill for peace, justice and freedom on Capitol Hill at a time when cynicism about the character and operation of government and government officials is widespread, and when disillusionment about the church and organized religion is so common and so vocal? Because religion should be vital and relevant and because the health and the future of democracy rests upon responsible participation by informed and concerned citizens. A world without war, without conscription and militarism has still to be achieved. Even in the United States the price of liberty is still eternal vigilance. The battle for justice is never-ending. A world dominated by military, economic and political power easily forgets fairness and compassion for the disadvantaged and dispossessed at home and abroad. To strive for these and similar goals has been the role of Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Friends: there is such ripeness for our work, for our bold, strategic and relentless exercise of our democracy, for our persistent, persuasive, prophetic and pragmatic operation on Capitol Hill and throughout the country known as Friends Committee on National Legislation.