Westtown School’s Quaker Leadership Program (QLP) plays a significant role in nurturing Quaker identity and providing experience with faith and practice for students and adults in the school community. QLP students were part of the PYM Young Friends group who volunteered at the Bucks Peace Fair in September and a group from the school attended Fall Continuing Sessions. Over their spring break in March, three QLP students and two faculty members participated in the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s 2023 Spring Lobby Weekend.
Spring Lobby Weekend, which is FCNL’s young adult advocacy conference, brings hundreds of students from around the country to Washington, DC to lobby Congress for important policy change. This year, the weekend’s focus was to “take action together in support of violence interruption programs: community-centered solutions to address the root causes of violence.”
Participants in the Westtown School group included youth who are members of PYM local meetings:
The program opened up for me an experience where lobbying is taken seriously and is people-focused. I learned how to lobby effectively in a space focused on young voices, and it equips you to be a more engaged citizen in the future. There’s clearly a FCNL vision where issues are oriented in the testimonies and where the Quakerism and the activism mesh in a way that is also accessible to people who are non-Quakers.
— Will (West Chester Meeting)
It was a gift to watch these three young people stepping toward agency and possibility. Julian H. ’23 and Zeon W. ’24 went alone to lobby Julian’s representative, Susan Wild, to insert $20 million into this year’s appropriations bill to be specifically designated for violence interrupter programs. Will B. ’25 volunteered to be note-taker for a lobby visit of Haverford College students at Representative Scanlon’s office. All of us were part of a delegation to Senator Fetterman’s office, and Zeon wrote a personal story for Tuesday’s delegation to Representative Houlihan’s office to share with the representative’s staffer the day after we had to come home.
These students are full of thoughts and observations about the work of violence interrupters after hearing from two interrupters who work with Baltimore’s Safe Streets program. Their introduction to the Congressional funding process and some of the politics around spending at this time helped them shape their lobby visits. Their personal conversations with Congressional staffers has given them a richer perspective on the tools available to all of us to influence government policy in our democracy.
The van ride home was full of conversation and discussion of gun violence, workshops on moral foundations frameworks for bridging the empathy gap with conservative lawmakers, on the role of art in social change work, and on how to write effective LTEs and Op-Ed pieces to address the public and pressure representatives to take action. This week, I see them carrying themselves differently around school, taking initiative and organizing actions to follow up on issues they care about.
Parts of this story were first shared in a message by Veda R. Robinson, Upper School Principal at Westtown School in the April 1st “Message from the Principal.” Thanks to Westtown School for that text and accompanying images.