Peace & Social Concerns Committee Annual Reports
Every spring, each Committee of the Yearly Meeting is requested to prepare a report of their activities over the prior 12 months. These reports are gathered and shared during Annual Session, and then are printed in the Yearbook for that year.
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At BYM’s 2015 Annual Session, our Peace & Social Concerns Committee decided to renew a “Networking Day” program that would invite monthly meeting representatives to gather and share insights and experiences from our respective meetings. We also wanted to offer a focus on how to involve Young Friends in peace & social concerns.
After many email interest surveys and much planning, Networking Day took place at Sandy Spring Friends School on Sat. morning , 4/2/16, and drew 42 Friends representing 15 different monthly meetings in Md., Virginia and West Virginia.
After coffee, pastries and brief silence, we were welcomed by 5 young Friends holding a simultaneous peace conference with Muslim neighbors from nearby high schools & by inspiring remarks from peace educator Colman McCarthy.
Then, participants selected among 4 workgroups: 1) how to respond to climate change, 2) refugees' & immigrants' problems - how can Friends help, 3) alternatives to mass incarceration / racial injustice, & 4) how to start and improved community service programs (e.g., homeless shelters, mediation / alternatives to violence, tutoring – mentoring, etc.)
Post-Networking-Day surveys showed that participants considered the event “useful” so plans now are underway for a second, April 2017 Networking Day.
Also, during the past year, our committee has attempted to improve communications between meetings by means of an email newsletter and our committee’s BYM “Peace and Justice Exchange” Facebook page. (We have laid down another group-discussion-webpage due to lack of active use.)
Via our email newsletter and Facebook page, we also have shared information with monthly meetings including:
- Various Meetings’ options to their follow “Black-Lives-Matter” campaigns
- FCNL, Md. and Virginia criminal justice initiatives;
- Reconciliation with Muslims programs, an AFSC Mideast tour & info. on the “Tent of Nations” Palestinian olive oil ministry; and
- Responses to the Syrian refugee crisis.
We thank Susannah Rose for becoming BYM’s new representative to the federal Prisoner Visitation and Support program. (Her report is attached.) And we appreciate Denna Joy representing us on the board of Quaker House in North Carolina and Malachy Kilbridge representing us on the National Religious Coalition Against Torture. While BYM-PSC officially acts as a liaison for Right Sharing of World Resources (RSWR), this program actually is an independent 501(c )(3) organization. We defer to their separate report.
In conclusion, BYM-PSC thanks Friends for their energy participating in this year’s Networking Day and for your suggestions on improving next year’s intended program!
During the past year the BYM Peace and Social Concerns Committee has focused almost exclusively on a project that we took up the year before and described in our 2014 report to Annual Session. This is a digital initiative for enhancing the inter-connection of Monthly Meetings’ peace and justic work. Having set up last year a rough version of a web-based forum, we have devoted our energies to refining, ramifying, and testing it via multiple email correspondence, conference calls by telephone, and face to face meetings over laptops at such venues as Interim Meeting in March, a Friend’s home, and a couple of urban wi-fi cafes. We have worked steadily with a view to developing a resource ready to introduce to BYM Friends at Annual Session, in the hope that they will embrace and test it during the year that follows. We have sought to combine the advantages of a highly familiar web platform (Facebook) for rapid and easily accessible publication of MM projects and events, with those of a more structured web platform (Free Forum) with such features as a calendar and organization of entries by topic (e.g., Militarism, Immigration) and by individual MMs, with some attention to the political jurisdictions in which they operate.
Such tunnel vision as ours has had the benefit of producing this year’s result. It has also entailed, as a demerit we must acknowledge, our neglecting what have often in past years been primary concerns of this committee: discernment and sifting of the very numerous specific programs and actions that we know Quakers are called to pursue in the world. We have proceeded, however, on the strength of our understanding – also expressed in last year’s report – that such programs and actions are far likelier to succeed at the Monthly Meeting than at the Yearly Meeting level; and that, therefore, PSSC’s energies within BYM are best spent fostering what MMs are already doing on their own, and encouraging them to take better informed advantage of a range of Quaker resources that includes, most importantly, each other.
We find our efforts this year to have been consonant with certain recommendations made to us by the ad hoc Vision Implementation Committee, in a report to which we have been specifically asked in this report to respond. The VIC urges that we “facilitate MMs’ sharing their experience of carrying out the work of peace and social concerns” – which aptly describes the primary purpose of our web resource – and that we “link MMs with specific concerns about things happening in the world to the Quaker organizations that deal with that concern”: a secondary concern but a real one for us in creating digital links on our site to just such organizations.” We have not paid attention to the two recommendations that precede these in the VIC report, which direct us respectively to facilitate the “discernment processes” behind individual MMs’ peace work and to help guide them to a “spiritual grounding” for that work. For one thing, we have had our hands full with a range of practical questions and technical details; for another, in jointly pondering these recommendations we have encountered doubts in ourselves whether such interventions have a proper place in the remit of a YM committee such as ours.
While we have not been consistently attentive to the several Working Groups and organizational liaisons that it forms part of our charter to oversee, we do have a variety of reports to make about each.
Right Sharing of World Resources [www.rswr.org] is a Quaker 501(c)3 organization that supports grassroots income-generating projects that are found compatible with three guiding principles: (1) local self-reliance, (2) sustainability, and (3) mutual support and accountability among group members. Most recently RSWR has been on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone by coordinating a special collection to fund educational and preventative materials. The ongoing micro-loan projects also address root causes of disease by strengthening the country’s economic fabric. RSWR operates largely through donations, including those from BYM and many of its individuals and monthly meetings. At a time when the organization has welcomed a new General Secretary, Jacqueline Stillwell (now clerk of New England Yearly Meeting), BYM Friends are encouraged to give all they can, and to consider joining the WG. Its clerk Karen Grisez, who is a RSWR board member, will host an Interest Group at BYM Annual Session.
Israel / Palestine Working Group has become inactive this year, and has in effect laid itself down. WG participants were deeply disappointed by the response of Friends at the 2014 Annual Session to the proposed minute on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Much work needs to be done to counter the lack of awareness to the oppression of the persecuted Palestinian people. At present Friends continue their work individually outside of a Quaker context and in their local meetings. It is unclear if BYM can respond to the central query which created the working group two years ago.
Prisoner Visitation and Support, based in Philadelphia, has lacked a BYM liaison this year, but we are glad to report that the Nominating Committee is ready with an appointee, Susannah Rose, for Annual Session to consider.
At Quaker House in Fayetteville NC, likewise, the board representative from BYM moved away this year. His vacated place will be filled, we hope, as the nomination of Denna Joy goes forward at Annual Session.
For the National Religious Coalition Against Torture no report has been received as this PSCC report goes to press in Sandy Spring.
Nationally nowadays, if not indeed globally, these are not propitious times for peace and social justice movements. On one hand, the clarity of vision that many movement veterans can remember from decades past is more elusive than it once was; imagining new modes of understanding a changing world and acting within it poses steep challenges; how to balance local with planetary perspectives, and where to apply our energies, are problems that seem to defy satisfactory solution. That such times call especially upon Quakers, and need the leadings of the Spirit, may be truisms here, but they bear repeating. We strongly hope that our endeavors this year to get Friends connected to each other will help them share those leadings and heed that call.
In Peace and Light
Chip Tucker (Charlottesville), Clerk
The BYM Peace and Social Concerns Committee’s work for the past year has been unglamorous but essential. Meeting over the past year in Frostburg, Hopewell and Annapolis, and through phone conference calls, we focused on different ways to network with Monthly Meetings and their Peace committees, following the Manual of Procedure’s direction to “gathe[r] and disseminat[e] information” across the Yearly Meeting, and to “stimulate and coordinate activities of Monthly Meeting Peace and Social Concerns Committees” (p. 16).
These functions—linkage and communication—rather than work that promotes particular causes or public actions, may be the best role for a Yearly Meeting Peace committee that spans several states and serves dozens of Monthly Meetings impressively diverse in the size and focus of their peace and justice activities. Seeking to help Quaker peace workers within BYM become more integrated and mutually aware, we have employed two methods:
First, we traveled to visit Monthly Meetings’ Peace committees for traditional face-to-face discussions to learn what various committees do, how they go about it, and where the Yearly Meeting might assist. Visiting maybe a third of the constituent Monthly Meetings, we were struck both by differences among them and by similarities. At some Meetings, peace work is done by a “committee of the whole”; at others, it is referred or wholly delegated to a standing committee; at larger Meetings, multiple subgroups pursue specific issues. At the same time, most Monthly Meetings hold steady in their witness against war and in the practice of local benevolence. New trends emerge as well: in recent months, awareness in many Quaker places has quickened about the injustice of mass incarceration. Our Monthly Meeting hosts have seemed grateful for the Yearly Meeting’s interest, as expressed by our visits and those by BYM’s Vision Implementation Committee, in which peace concerns have been prominently raised. Together with that committee, we also held a conference day at Alexandria Meetinghouse in Third Month that affirmed our mutual leadings.
That conference also affirmed our resolve to proceed with a second branch of our plans to put BYM Peace committees in touch with each other: This is a digital initiative to solicit and publish on the BYM web site ongoing news of Monthly Meetings’ peace and justice activities. We plan an online format to let Friends learn what is going on in other Monthly Meetings:
- what has and hasn’t worked,
- how Monthly Meetings may collaborate locally with like-minded community allies, and
- how we may bring such local efforts into relationship with state and national movements.
This BYM digital space also could offer a forum where Monthly Meetings may read each others’ posts and conduct conversations; where Meetings large and small, far-flung and metropolitan, can enrich understanding, share energy, and broaden their sense, not just of what Quaker activism can become, but – just as important – what it already is.
Your Monthly Meeting’s Peace committee should have received by now an email survey about your local activities. We urge you to complete and return the survey to us promptly, if you haven’t done so already. Also, here in Frostburg, an early beta-version of our web forum is available for your inspection and comment. If you haven’t seen it, please see Josh Wilson.
We have high hopes for this digital initiative: If we get it right, moderate it discerningly, and keep Friends across Yearly Meeting involved, we believe it may alleviate some of the unease in isolation and stagnation in routine that our travels this year have disclosed here and there in the Yearly Meeting.
Two Working Groups report to BYM’s Peace & Social Concerns Committee: 1) The newly established Working Group on Israel-Palestine sends a report, appended here. 2) The Working Group on Right Sharing of World Resources has not provided a current report as yet.
PSCC also has oversight of some other organizations associated with BYM. Here is a brief summary of their activity this year:
Prisoner Visitation and Support, whose board meets in Philadelphia, now is the only organization permitted to place visitors in federal prisons and detention centers – this, in a country increasingly reliant on prisons to address serious social problems. While PVS has recently struggled to raise funds, volunteer recruitment and Board involvement this year have increased. As a result, at a few facilities, prisoner waiting lists are down in the past 6 months.
Quaker House in Fayetteville NC remains viable amid mounting demand for its services from service men and women who question, or seek to terminate, their relationship with the military.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture council meets monthly by phone conference, typically for its national headquarters to brief localities about emerging and ongoing initiatives. BYM’s member delegate has sent out action alerts to Monthly Meeting Peace committees about matters such as the long-standing incarcerations at Guantanamo and CIA interrogation practices.
Each of these organizations, we note in closing, like the BYM Working Groups, exemplifies activities we effectively may share through the expanded web page we are eager to see BYM develop.
In regretted absence, but in the Light, Herbert "Chip" Tucker (Charlottesville), Clerk
In August 2012, the Peace and Social Concerns Committee embraced the issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as our work for the year. This commitment came out of the request by Sandy Spring Meeting that we consider their minute about Friends withholding investment in some companies profiting from Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Recognizing that Friends (as well as many others) passionately share the hope for an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as part of a broader peace with justice, the Committee embarked upon a broader look at efforts to resolve conflict in the Middle East.
At the outset it is important to recognize the steps taken by the American Friends Service Committee, Friends Fiduciary Fund and the Friends Committee on National Legislation concerning peace in the Middle East. In December, 2012, AFSC and FCNL joined other religious organizations in asking Congress to require that Israel conform to international and humanitarian and human rights laws if it is to receive US military assistance. (The letter transmitting their request called attention to persistent illegal Israeli acts reported extensively in US government publications.) AFSC has published Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace, a study of the issues that must be addressed if lasting peace is to be achieved, and has also worked with other organizations to stop investing in companies associated with Israel's occupation of the West Bank. At the same time, both within the Quaker world and among other faith and social action groups, other voices for peace regard some of the above-mentioned efforts in different and sometimes opposing ways. These can at times be contentious issues; creating a safe place to talk about them has been a goal of our Committee’s work this year.
This summer Secretary of State Kerry is making frequent trips to Israel and the West Bank, meeting with political and business leaders, and re-energizing some hope that renewed talks may lead to peace. Such peace talks would include Israel’s recognition of Palestine roughly along the 1967 borders (with land-swaps where this is not practical), and reviving the Arab Peace Accord of 2002, which accepts, as a condition for an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement, that the Arab states in the region will recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
During the past year, we realized that we had much to learn, and we have learned much. After a year, while we do not necessarily have answers, we do have better questions. Friends are often called “Seekers”, and to refine the questions that guide our seeking is part of the work of building peace. Laboring under the weight of this concern, and trying to discern and nurture the leadings of individuals, and at the same time to understand what it may be ours to do collectively at a Yearly Meeting level, our Committee has been preoccupied with clarifying procedural matters that we have regarded as essential preliminaries to more perceptible motion forward. As a result we have seemed at times, even to ourselves, stuck at a preliminary stage.
The longstanding conditions in the Middle East create an understandable prompting to take action, issue position statements, and look for opportunities to make BYM a visible public presence. But within BYM there are also Friends for whom deep and loving listening to others itself constitutes a significant act, albeit one that can look outwardly like doing nothing. Thus our committee has developed relations with groups such as Telos Group and J-Street, two very liberal groups who are vocal in promoting peace but are not supportive of the BDS (Boycott/Disinvestment/Sanctions) movement. We have a relationship with a Rabbi from Rockville who passionately wants peace as well, and wants to have a relationship with Quakers but has been troubled by things he has read coming from Quaker circles. We have met with BDS leaders in DC, and had great conversations exploring ways to support each other. We have come to appreciate that BDS has many moving parts – political, economic, geographic, even cultural – and in our communities each of these has different implications and meanings for people. To choose a side can be a part of speaking truth to power; by the same token it can be a source of community division. The goal of promoting peace that is grounded in equality and justice for all challenges us as Friends not only to support each others’ leadings to speak and act, but to do so in a way that fosters safe space for the expression of diverse opinions and doubts. If we cannot create and exercise this safe space among ourselves, how can we expect others to find their way to peace?
We have accordingly considered, and forwarded to Interim Meeting in 6/2013, a request from six Friends for the establishment of a Working Group that undertakes to consider “how Baltimore Yearly Meeting, its monthly meetings and individual Friends could respond to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in ways which shall promote peace with justice for the two peoples and end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.” We firmly hope that during the next three years this Working Group will bring to our Committee reports of progress in its tasks of shedding light, promoting discussion within the Yearly Meeting, and discerning recommendations for collective action.
We invite all within this body to hold in the light the work of the many peacemakers working to bring peace to this troubled region. As our Committee turns to other matters arising, while we continue to labor with the issue that has absorbed our energies during the year just past, we will explore what we can and should do to promote peace, an exploration that entails not only seeking facts, but operating from the loving spirit of the quiet peacemakers. To quote Quaker peacemaker John Lampen, “True listening is not just a matter of informing ourselves. It is an act of love.” As we have struggled to put our faith in practicing this act of love, we will continue to hold in the light the work that goes forward, and put our faith in the power of that love to bring peace.
This committee has these items to report:
• We committed to having items in each edition of the Interchange newsletter, and we met this goal 2 out of 3 times. There were articles about Prison Ministry and about ending torture. The missed article was supposed to be about HIV and the potential for self-testing. The clerk of the committee will be presenting on this at Annual Sessions. There will also be more about this throughout the fall.
• The committee has been charged with finding a replacement to serve on the Board of Directors for Quaker House. To date, no one has been found.
• From the Prisoner Visitation and Support board representative David Connell there is this: “In the past year Prisoner Visitation Service (PVS) has continued to focus on growing it’s volunteer base and maintaining fiscal stability. Volunteer recruiters are focusing on several priority areas where there are either no visitors or long waiting lists. They are also working to form relationships with local coordinators and encourage them to view PVS as a resource for support. They also made an effort to follow up in a timely manner with all new applicants, attempting to shorten the interval between when a prison volunteer submits an application to the time when she/ he is officially appointed. Please contact David Connell (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities with the only nationally based organization that facilitates volunteer visitors in federal detention facilities.
The committee has also had challenges. We are learning what it means to be a working committee in the 21st century. Many committee members have passions and knowledge about a wide range of issues, as well as busy schedules. We are still on a learning curve about how to communicate more fluidly via e-mail and other new technologies so we can remain informed and get more educated about issues, while being mindful of the importance of not mistaking this exchange of information with the tried-and-true practice of coming together, seeking unity and harmony in the presence of each other as we make decisions. This report is in itself a reflection of the changing process as the inclusion of work that happened via e-mail is new and perhaps not something all are comfortable with. Even the content of this report—which has been shared with the committee—has only had input from a few members and, as such, should be held in that light.
Just as there will not be peace without justice, there will not be peace without harmony. If we cannot be practitioners of justice AND harmony within our own spiritual body and in our wider circles, can we realistically expect peace in the larger world? This is the tension we are learning to hold and will continue to be a part of our upcoming work, and ask for the loving support of the Yearly Meeting as we proceed.
As has been our tradition the past few years, we listened to concerns brought by committee members and others about international events, and helped season them into letters to government officials that were then presented to Yearly Meeting for approval of the message. These messages were then sent from BYM and also shared with all the monthly meetings with a request for them to also send a similar message if so led. We have no formal feedback mechanism to learn what other meetings may have done with those letters or recommendations.
- In June 2010, a letter to President Obama calling for his action after Israeli response to the flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza was drafted.
- In August 2010, another letter to Barack Obama concerning a House Resolution supporting Israel’s use of any means necessary to eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran was drafted.
- In March 2011, we heard a presentation from members of Annapolis Friends about the “Fund the Community: Bring the War Dollars Home” campaign that they are involved in. The committee agreed that this is a great campaign but, because of the political and geographic nature of the work of this campaign, it would be good for Monthly Meeting PSCC’s to individually connect and coordinate. As a committee, we are exploring ways to better connect with FCNL as a resource for helping to nurture this kind of effort since the action called for is political lobbying and advocacy.
- Annual Networking Day was held at Sandy Spring on Saturday, 9-11-2010, from 10 until 3. Lunch was provided by Sandy Spring’s Hospitality Committee. Speaker in the morning was Nathan Harrington, member of Sandy Spring and public school teacher who is creating an intentional community in the Congress Heights section of Anacostia in D.C. Nathan shared about the struggles, joys and realities of living in intentional community in DC, the realities of working in public schools in poor and often violent neighborhoods, and what he hopes can be accomplished. One reality he confronts, as an example pertinent to Friends, is that he struggles with military recruitment in the schools in poor neighborhoods, recognizing that there are increasingly less opportunities for youth to leave these communities and military enlistment presents itself as one of the few options.
- The Committee sponsored one workshop at 2010 Annual Session. Bethany Criss, executive director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund presented on her work.
In addition to these activities, members of this Committee have been involved in other work under the care of this Committee.
- Betty Brinson is leaving her role as BYM representative to the Board of Directors for Quaker House. We are seeking a replacement.
- The Criminal and Restorative Justice Committee is now a working group under the care of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, but we have not had any reports. John Fogarty had served on this Committee and informed us that the group is no longer active. The purpose of the Committee had been to address incarceration and criminal justice concerns. It sought to encourage prison ministry, find volunteers for visitation, to be a resource for Monthly Meetings, maintain a speaker’s bureau and act as a conscience to the YM on prison concerns and the death penalty. The Committee was also charged with naming a representative to serve on the Board of Directors of Prisoner Visitation and Support which meets in Philadelphia 2-3 times a year. This position also remains vacant.
- Right Sharing of World Resources Working Group: We have received regular and informative reports from Karen Grisez and Joan Gildemeister. Presentations were made at a number of monthly meetings and at Warrington Quarter in York. Joan purchased a laptop and loaded the Right Sharing DVD and presentation onto it. Karen has just joined the Board of Right Sharing. Karen and Joan will be giving a workshop about Right Sharing on Thurs., 8/4 at Annual Sessions. We encourage Friends to consider learning more about and supporting this work as best we can.
As we move forward, we are also looking at our charge in the Manual of Procedure and considering what our role should be in relationship to the Yearly Meeting and Monthly Meetings. We have identified three possible functions:
- Act as a delegated BYM clearinghouse with a special eye to discernment of the leadings of individual Friends who bring issues and projects before it,
- Act as a switchboard, keeping tabs on peace & justice activities undertaken by the YM and constituent MMs, and endeavor to make local initiatives aware of each other,
- Act as a resource so that we can offer support and stimulus to the Peace Committees of MMs.
This fits with the description in the Manual of Procedure, but how to do this in an effective and visible manner remains to be discerned, especially since several other committees are also involved with social issues. One challenge is how to support and cross fertilize each other instead of “staking out turf.”
We are aware that we live in challenging times with many worthy causes and callings among our collective body. We are compelled to find ways to nurture our collective efforts so that we are greater than the sum of our parts, and that our messages are grounded in the Testimonies. To do this we are called to look for ways we can serve the Yearly Meeting by exploring and developing opportunities for action that cut across the issues and the Testimonies. We may, at times, question Minutes and statement letters that are brought to us. In what ways are they divisive and definitive? In what ways are they effective? Are there other ways we can build relations in our communities to plant seeds of compassion and love so that our messages have a broader reach? In what way are we calling on others to change, but not calling on ourselves to change? In what ways can we break through the separations we have created along identity and issue lines so we can see and act on the bigger issues that underlie the causes?
These are also times of profound change, economically, politically, culturally and socially. It is our belief that these times are thirsting for the principles upon which Quakers have built our foundation. We Friends are challenged to find new ways in this changing landscape. For this Committee, we will continue to explore and nurture new ideas and new pathways that move us towards the kind of world we envision can be, recognizing that our journey may never get us there but can move us closer. We also ask that all the Friends in the Yearly Meeting join us in consciously trying to be that world when we gather so we can be stronger agents of change as loving and peaceful presences. As it is written in James 2:18, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” We look forward to being a part of Friends showing our faith through our works.