This week marks the 20th Anniversary of the Hague Appeal for Peace.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Hague Appeal for Peace and everything that happened (and didn’t) as part of that event and since, I decided to post some of my pictures from that adventure.
In my post on being an activist back in March I mentioned attending the Hague Appeal and the peace walk that followed. I was part of a delegation from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting; a group mostly made up of college students and a few older high school students, along with a few adults who handled the logistics and kept us on track more or less.
I have ten boxes of slides, and a few years ago I scanned them as best I could but frankly the scans aren’t great. The slides, which were more than ten years old at the time, had already started to fade and color shift as a result of their age. I did some color correction as I prepped them for this, but I also like the feel of some being somewhat faded and shifted with time. There are shared here full frame, and some are roughly cropped, but none carefully realigned. Since they are now pushing twenty I decided that I wanted to leave them all at or near full size and try to capture a bit of the way I saw the world then, and less of how I would edit it now. I like the rough visual feel they have as part of reflected on partially faded memories.
That trip was an important few weeks in my life, and I’ve been having a great time going back through the pictures. If you were with me on that trip and wonder if I have other pictures of you kicking around I might so send me a note and I’ll try to see what’s around and sent some your way.
When someone tries to insult you with what you often see as a compliment it is worth stopping to reflect. Am I an activist? If I’m not, should I be?
On Valentines Day this year my wife and I spent a few hours at DSS for a meeting related to some of the children we work with in the Guardian ad Litem program. In the course of a rather tense conversation a caseworker tossed out “Well, I am not an activist.” with the clear intention of implying that I am, and that activists are a problem.
It is the first time I can recall being called an Activist as an insult, and I’ve been a bit hung up on the topic ever since.
At AFSC I had colleagues who would argue if you haven’t been arrested for a cause you aren’t really an activist. We had critics who argued that because AFSC staff were paid they couldn’t be true activists. I didn’t then, nor now, fully agree with those arguments, but my point is that when someone calls me an “activist” those are the comparisons they are drawing in my mind.
My credentials as an activist on that scale are weak at best. The first time I spent a lot of time with activists was in 1999 during the Hague Appeal for Peace and a peace walk that followed. The group walked from the Peace Palace – home of the international criminal court – in The Hague, Netherlands to Nato Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. That picture of the water cannon firing on a crowd at the top of the page is mine, although I wasn’t willing to risk arrest that day (my sister was getting married the next week and my mother would have killed me if I’d missed it because I had been arrested in Europe – would a true activist be deterred by such things?). It was a great experience, but didn’t do a thing toward our goal of nuclear disarmament – I now live in a town supported by nuclear weapons maintenance (and soon pit production too).
After college I took a job at AFSC which consisted of largely back office functions of one type or another – while defining for my career and personally gratifying work there is an important difference between building the tools activists need to communicate and being the activist. In 2008 I was part of planning a peace conference in Philadelphia as part of the Peace and Concerns standing committee, but it is important to note that I objected to the civil disobedience that was part of that event (being a consensus driven process people feared I would block it entirely – but I stood aside so they could move forward).
Having spent much of my professional life supporting back office functions on nonprofits, and now interacting with DSS as a volunteer who has to be careful about what I share since I have to maintain the privacy of the kids we work with, I struggle to envision myself as an activist. I support activists sure, but I don’t see myself as one.
But when someone tries to insult you with what you often see as a compliment it is worth stopping to reflect. Am I an activist? If I’m not, should I be?
It occurred to me this case worker has a much lower standard of what it means to be an activist than I do – anyone who simply speaks against the status quo in favor of well established laws and precedents are activists in his book. To be fair he’s not far off the suggestion Bayard Rustin, and the committee who helped him write Speak Truth to Power, were making. And as much as I am sure they would deny it, the caseworkers are the most powerful people in the lives of children in foster care: they dictate where the children live, who they can talk to, if/when they see siblings, when they buy clothes, where they go to school, what doctors they see, and without an active advocate they shape how the courts see the children. And right now in South Carolina their power is being tested and reigned in because a group of Guardians ad Litem stood up a few years ago to the rampant systemic abuses. The ramifications of that class action are still being determined, and no one really knows what the lasting effect will be. But this case worker has inspired me to make sure we honor the sacrifices they made (all were forced to stop fighting for the named children because they were “distractions”).
I’m not sure I am an activist, but I promised those kids I would stay with them until the judge ordered me to stop. No matter what taunting I get from the case workers, their bosses, and others within the power structure I can speak truth to power as long as I must.
Yesterday my wife and I realized that there was a March for Our Lives being held here in Aiken. When we saw a friend of ours describe her 3-year-old’s first pre-school experience with an active shooter drill we realized that if the local teens could get up early on a Saturday to speak up for themselves, we could not justify staying home.
So I charged the camera battery, cleared the memory cards, and made sure I’d have pictures to share. Aiken is a small city in a state that’s hostile to gun control, so even a small crowd is an impressive turn out. The turn out was good, the people were energized, and the kids were clear in their ask: they want to be safe at school and they don’t think that should mean they have to be surrounded by armed guards (police or teachers).
I’ve been struggling with what to write about our new president, the protests he’s triggered, the ban on refugees he’s ordered, the families he’s dividing, the hateful things he has said about many groups, and all the related news. While this is mostly a technology blog and much more articulate people are already saying things worth hearing, these are not events I can allow to pass without comment.
For a variety of reasons I haven’t been able to attend the protests, except I accidentally attended part of a rally in Philadelphia (I thought the rally pictured above was over when I met a friend for dinner right in the middle of it), but it’s been exciting to watch the sustained energy the last few weeks.
Last week my wife paraphrased some of the memes that have been going around: Remember all those times in history class you thought “If I had been alive during ____ I would have ____”? What you are doing now is exactly what you would have done then.
She didn’t mean it as a direct challenge to me, but I haven’t been able to let it go. In part because while I’ve had good answers in the past, I’m not sure I have a good answer at the moment. Besides, the challenge takes on another level of importance when coming from a historian.
While I was in Philly I visited American Friends Service Committee’s Waging Peace exhibit marking their 100th year.
For four generations my family has spent time working and volunteering for AFSC, and there were markers of some of our work in the exhibit. Our widely different roles matched the times and events we were living through. As young adults my great grandparents worked in post-World War I Germany and France, and my great-grandfather later led the construction of a housing co-op. My grandfather and father served as conscience objector with AFSC during World War II and Vietnam. Most of my father’s siblings and their children have volunteered in various ways with some AFSC program or another, often packing donated clothing in the basement of Friends Center in Philadelphia. I spent ten years working in the IT and Communications departments in Philadelphia.
My great grandparents there was little formal training or planning. They both took on roles I can barely imagine doing now, let alone doing them at 22 in countries destroyed by war. Later in his life my great grandfather described part of his work after the armistice:
I was sent with an English boy to Bethlainville, near Verdun, none of the now returned owners knew who we were or why we were there. “To plow our land? Oh no! Americans come to take our land away from us?” My two high school years of French were put to a real test. We are here for Love. We are not the Americans you have met with during the war. We want no pay. But one young girl who had lost both her father and brothers, completely alone, said she would take a chance. “Oh but you’ll be raped said the others” O.K. she will have a gamble. So Jacoby plowed from day break until noon and then I plowed from noon until I couldn’t see at dark. Land all plowed, now we will see what these young men really want. Nothing? Nothing but love. Not the kind she expected. From then on everybody wanted their land plowed. Later on another crew of Americans came with seeds, tools, clothing, etc. So the people of Bethlainville were restored to almost normal living.
Relief work has grown a bit more formal in the last century.
He later returned to AFSC to support the self-help housing program, first in Ohio, and then leading the program in north Philadelphia which renovated a building to create a co-op that still functions today; my cousin, his wife, and daughter are members of the co-op.
My own work at AFSC was much less exciting: I sat in relatively comfortable offices and made sure the technology needed to support the programs worked. I supported mostly communications, and fundraising, and my program involvement tended to be limited to supporting their public facing functions. I was in entirely administrative roles: I was overhead.
Now I easily see what I couldn’t always see then: the value I contributed over 10 years. Too often we denigrate administrative functions at nonprofits as wasteful distractions from their true mission. But the truth is that well done administration is critical to the success of any good organization. They need money to pay the staff, they need web sites to inform people about their work, they advocate for systemic change, they post pictures of their own pets to grab your attention so you will help their work.
Now I’m struggling to find ways to help as the world seems to spin out of control and the US government does things even worse than we did while I was at AFSC (the US went to war twice, admitted torturing people, and openly spied on citizens, so this is a fairly high bar to cross).
While I’ve been pleased, and frankly surprised, at how effective the current protests appear to be, I believe over the next four years the resistance the administration’s fermentation of hatred and distrust will have to be a community by community movement. The lack of trust between communities, and the lack of political power make sustained broad-based movements hard to imagine. There are communities under new attack, and others that have been under assault for decades now starting to find their voices: many are voices of pain and anger. Even as we see mass protests we also see infighting within them and outside resistance from communities with shared interests.
I’ve written in the past about my sister-in-law’s students in Maryland. My wife and I posted similar messages to all our personal and social media networks, and hundreds of postcards and letters have poured in from all corners. The teachers read them to the kids, and sent them home so their families also know there are Americans who welcome them. Some of those letters came from other immigrant children, and her students are now writing back to share their warmth and stickers, with the other children. It doesn’t fix everything, but provides some of what that community needs: love, the kind my great grandparents carried to post-war France and Germany.
There need to be people in the world who are willing to go into the most dangerous places, but we can’t all be those people. We also need people working actively in their community to help spread love, respect, and basic dignity.
I’m still struggling to find ways to have a positive, and effective impact, but here are things I’m trying:
Making hats for a newly arrived Iraqi family I learned about from a woman at church this morning.
Calling and writing to my elected officials to thank them for the things I think they are doing right and asking them to change what I think they are doing wrong.
Writing and speaking openly about my concerns.
Attending rallies when I can, and supporting those who do when I cannot.
Donating to organizations taking the kinds of action we want to see in the world including Planned Parenthood and likely others (we’re still working on who all that will be).
Please share with me (and others) what you’re doing and what else you think can be done.
I believe that to work for positive change we all need to work in and with marginalized communities and help find positive solutions for their problems – even those expressing their frustration through hate toward others.