Dear Friend,

This summer I had the privilege of co-leading a workshop with AFSC's new Northeast Regional Director Keith Harvey and Pennsylvania Program Director Scilla Wahrhaftig at a Quaker gathering. We facilitators and the participants told stories of our experiences of spirit-led activism and talked about the qualities we felt were common to the stories told. Keith told of the development of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Maine to address the injustices done to Wabanaki people in the child welfare system. The movement for a reconciliation process began when AFSC staff Denise Altvater told the story of her experience:

“When we were little, state workers came onto the reservation. My five sisters and I were home. My mother was not home. They took all of our belongings and they put them in garbage bags. They herded us into station wagons and drove us away for a long, long time. I was seven years old at the time. They took us to a state foster home in the Old Town area and left us there for four years. During those four years, our foster parents sexually assaulted us. They starved us. They did some horrific things to us.”

Denise’s story inspired others to tell their own, and a movement was built around the healing power of telling these stories, by both the Wabanaki victims and the child welfare workers who were implementing the misguided policies of the system. This is the first truth and reconciliation process dealing with the child welfare system in the United States. It’s also the first between a government of the United States and a sovereign tribal nation. Denise believes the process can help the Wabanaki and the child welfare workers “move forward to a place of love and forgiveness.”

In all of the stories told about spirit-led action, the condition of the heart seemed central—that in order to create lasting resolution to hurts and conflict, listening, telling the truth about people’s experiences of injustice, and having the courage to love beyond assumptions and societal constructs are all central.

This is just one of many stories that were shared this summer. I’d love to hear your stories and what you have identified as the qualities of spirit-guided activism. Please share your thoughts at this query post at Acting in Faith.

In Peace,

Interviews with Quaker Activists at Acting in Faith

In the last three months, I’ve posted three interviews with Quaker activists at Acting in Faith. In each there are many rich lessons about spirit-guided activism.

We Are One: an Interview with Niyonu Spann

“I asked myself, ‘Why would you, Niyonu, be able to love people more than God would? Why would God have less ability to do that?’ That moment of understanding was the door to receiving the work of Beyond Diversity 101 which is grounded in we, in 'you are me.’ How people feel about justice shifts how people operate. Instead of looking to find guilt and punishment, we recognize the truth of what we've done and honor that. When you bring that to the conscious level that shifts how people see.”

Motivated by Great Love: Michael Gagné on Activism and the Spirit

“A primary lens through which I look at our culture is …the ‘triangle and the circle’. Do we have institutions that are based on hierarchy and nonstop competition, that are rooted in scarcity and control and the idea that by excelling and rising to the top of the pyramid you become more safe -  even if it requires stepping on other species, cultures, ethnicities, sexes etc.? Or do we build our culture around a circle, which is my shorthand for a worldview that is rooted in equality and interdependence.”

On a Mission to Heal the Planet: an Interview with Dr. Amanda Kemp

“For me, forgiveness is not about forgiving someone else, it’s about looking at me. … I know it is possible to forgive, to heal. There are generations of betrayal, anger, hatred, and shame in this country, particularly between black people and white people. It doesn’t just disappear; you have to uncover different layers of it.”

Job Announcement: Friends Relations Fellow

AFSC is seeking candidates familiar with Quaker faith for a new position, the Friends Relations Fellow. Letters of application and resumes are due Aug. 21. Please circulate the job listing widely. You can find it here.

Activism in the Meeting House

In April, Germantown Monthly Meeting’s Mass Incarceration Working Group sponsored a screening of Broken on All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration, and New Visions for Criminal Justice followed by a panel presentation that included the filmmaker Matthew Pillischer, several formerly incarcerated men, and a Quaker prison chaplain who works in Philadelphia.

I reviewed the film for the July/August issue of Western Friend:

Broken on All Sides documents the devastating conditions, causes, and impacts of mass incarceration. The film alternates interview clips with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and other prison activists and sobering statistics with photographs and incisive commentary in drawings by Leonard C. Jefferson, a man incarcerated in Pennsylvania…. [Broken on All Sides] is an effective tool in demonstrating the way mass incarceration has replicated enslavement in the United States and offers practical steps for what individuals and groups, including meetings, can do about it.”