Note: This is a guest post by Madeline Schaefer, AFSC's Friends Relations Fellow. Scattergood School students organized and particpated in a peace march and art mob on Sept. 8, walking from West Branch to Iowa City, Iowa.  Scattergood School co-sponsored an exhibit of AFSC's  "Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War on Afghanistan" at a local library and was part of a group that organized programs and events connected to the exhibit. - Lucy

by Madeline Schaefer

Charlotte Schiller attended her first peace march as an infant, strapped to her father’s back. Now on her own two feet, she is learning the delicate dance of activism and compassion, of leading and listening.  

Scattergood Friends School in Iowa has given her an opportunity to dance: On Sept. 8, she and her classmates organized a 14-mile Peace Walk from their small boarding school in West Branch, Iowa, to a bustling pedestrian mall in Iowa City. It was the second annual Peace Walk, revived last year when head of school Christine Ashley learned of Scattergood’s first in 1984. Last year’s walk to the Iowa City Peace Center was an opportunity to build alliances with other local groups working for change. This year, the students had a new voice and a new message.

After hearing of the opening of the AFSC exhibit “Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan” at a local library, the students decided to bring awareness of the damaging effects of war directly to the citizens of Iowa City. 

Scattergood students, teachers, and local community members marched through the town of West Branch and down long prairie roads, holding signs that read “War is Costly, Peace is Priceless.” 

When they arrived at a busy pedestrian intersection in downtown Iowa City, an art mob erupted:  Each student held up a drawing created by an Afghan child depicting life in wartime. The human “wall” remained silent, while a “docent” handed out information about the local exhibit and the cost of the war in Afghanistan.

ScattergoodPeaceWalkIt was game-day in Iowa City. University students dressed in festive golds and reds passed by on their way to the football game between Iowa State and the University of Iowa; America’s involvement in Afghanistan was far from the minds of these tailgating crowds.  Scattergood’s somber demonstration elicited a host of reactions, from apathy to animosity, from mere curiosity to genuine enthusiasm. 

Several passers-by were angered by what they interpreted as a lack of support for America’s troops; one young man was so inspired, he decided to stand with them; another man shared with a docent that his friend had recently lost both legs during combat in Afghanistan. 

Students left the demonstration moved and a bit shaken.

How do you respond to each person’s story or personal truth, even if it is challenging? How do you find words to express the tragedy of war?

It is one thing to raise your voice; quite another to engage in meaningful dialogue, particularly with those whose truth and experience differs from your own.

But it was a good experience, overall. Working together to engage with issues of injustice has empowered the students to continue organizing for peace, both at Scattergood and in their town.

Christine hopes that these kinds of events will help her students build both skills for confronting injustice, as well as confidence in the power of dialogue. “It’s important for the students to recognize that their voice matters.”  Scattergood students are learning the steps for how and when to use that voice.

 

Photos by Scattergood Friends Art teacher, Helen Spielbauer Lindhorst.  To see more pictures from the day, view the entire album here.

Madeline SchaeferAbout the Author:  

Madeline Schaefer is the new Friends Relations Fellow at AFSC.  She grew up in Philadelphia, surrounded by Quakers of all shapes and sizes.  After searching for stories and adventure in distant, cooler climes, she returned home only to find the richest ones right in her backyard.  Over the past three years, she has been exploring Quaker thought and culture through audio, a medium she grew to love at Carleton college’s student-run radio station.  Madeline lives with five lovely people in West Philadelphia, and is involved with Quakers throughout the Philadelphia region.