In early February, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting staff organized a series of conference calls with the rest of the PYM community. Each or the three calls had a different theme. The first call was centered around peace and social justice. There were around 20 different Meetings represented on the call (Princeton, Birmingham, Green Street, and Newtown, just to name a few) and three different Yearly Meetings (PYM, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and New England Yearly Meeting)
Christie Duncan-Tessmer, PYM General Secretary, asked for this call both as a way of sharing among the 10,000 Quakers and over 100 Monthly Meetings within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting but also in preparation for her attendance at meetings of the National Council of Churches and other Interfaith groups. One observation she made was that, in a shifting political climate, our Monthly Meetings are experiencing a significant growth in new attendees and the return of members who had been absent. Among the intentions of these conference calls were to share stories and insights around how Friends are engaging with and confronting the different issues that are surfacing in recent months.
The first speaker, Christine Ashley with Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), reported that through FCNL’s and other efforts Congressional Representatives are “hearing our stories:” The phones in Congress never stop ringing, they’re weeks behind in responding to letters, voice mail boxes are full, and they’re not even able to get to emails. She said that this sort of outcry from the public is changing the narrative. Christine used the Affordable Care Act as an example; the narrative was initially to remove it; but thanks to public outcry, the narrative shifted to remove and replace. Now it’s clear that it won’t be coming up for a vote anytime soon, FCNL plans to push to repair it (perhaps to get a single payer system). This is a demonstration of advocacy’s power. FCNL had 32 Advocacy Teams last year working on Criminal Justice reform and will soon have 52 Advocacy Teams working this year on Pentagon spending.
Several monthly meetings shared about their advocacy initiatives. Meghan Connelly from Schuylkill Meeting, a small Meeting with 15-20 regular First Day attendees, shared that her Meeting offered space for the community to come and talk about local issues, and 140 people showed up. They’ve created a mission and vision statement and broken up into sub-groups around specific issues like education and social justice. “Love, respect, and peace is our message,” she concluded.
Rich from Swarthmore Meeting spoke about the children in his meeting who engaged with their First Day School leaders in discussing the Inauguration and the Women’s March the following day. The children were lead to discuss the election process, the election, and the period before the Inauguration. Afterward, they made signs that were made into postcards and children who attended the Women’s March with their parents, handed out 300-400 postcards that spoke to incivility and rancor and asked for more adult-like behavior.
Sylvia from Haverford Quarter (6 Monthly Meetings) and Radnor Meeting reported that they issued a “call to action” in response to the election. Forty members of Haverford Quarter have now created a Google group for sharing resources among the different members within the quarter. An FCNL Lobbying Skills and Advocacy Training will be held at Haverford Friends Meeting at the end of February and is open to others by RSVP on the PYM website calendar.
As a transition from sharing one another’s stories, to Friends on the call sharing resources, Richie Schulz, PYM Community Engagement staff, mentioned the importance of longtime activists welcoming newcomers and being clear what we’re up against (both spiritual and political issues)—a “Lamb’s War” that will require courageous and bold actions and may ultimately require civil disobedience. He cited the following list of resource groups:
• Put People First – a cross-class, multi-ethnic advocacy group for single-payer health insurance
• New Sanctuary Movement
• Quaker Social Change Ministry an American Friends Service Committee program
• Women’s March (which is now planning a Women’s Strike)
• Training workshops offered by both Training for Change and AORTA
For these and other resources, visit PYM’s Take Action Page.
In response to a query raised by Marguerite Chandler of Newtown Monthly Meeting about standing in solidarity with area mosques, a member of Nicholson (NJ) Monthly Meeting is reaching out to their local Muslim and Jewish communities. This conversation could be the basis for a Conversation on the PYM website (there are already 15 different areas for Conversations) and might eventually lead to a Collaborative. PYM also stands ready to offer both meeting space and childcare. One idea was for PYM to offer training for individuals to learn to be a “Friendly presence” in places like mosques and synagogues where there may be the risk of harm or hateful rhetoric.
Information about what’s happening in the PA legislature is available in a weekly e-newsletter from the PA Council of Churches in Harrisburg (contact Public Advocacy coordinator Sandy Strouse or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get added to the e-newsletter distribution list).
Harrisburg has a very active FCNL Advocacy Team. FCNL is encouraging teams to also create state-focused groups to complement the FCNL Advocacy Groups that focus on national issues. Two issues of immediate concern are legislation that limits reproductive rights and the punishment of sanctuary cities by withdrawing state funding.
– Marguerite Chandler
Newtown Monthly Meeting