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28.06.2019 – US, United States – Waging Nonviolence

The Antiwar Movement No One Can See

This story was first published by Tom Dispatch.

By Allegra Harpootlian

When Donald Trump entered the Oval Office in January 2017, Americans took to the streets all across the country to protest their instantly endangered rights. Conspicuously absent from the newfound civic engagement, despite more than a decade and a half of this country’s fruitless, destructive wars across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, was antiwar sentiment, much less an actual movement.

Those like me working against America’s seemingly endless wars wondered why the subject merited so little discussion, attention, or protest. Was it because the still-spreading war on terror remained shrouded in government secrecy? Was the lack of media coverage about what America was doing overseas to blame? Or was it simply that most Americans didn’t care about what was happening past the water’s edge? If you had asked me two years ago, I would have chosen “all of the above.” Now, I’m not so sure.

After the enormous demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the antiwar movement disappeared almost as suddenly as it began, with some even openly declaring it dead. Critics noted the long-term absence of significant protests against those wars, a lack of political will in Congress to deal with them, and ultimately, apathy on matters of war and peace when compared to issues like health care, gun control, or recently even climate change.

The pessimists have been right to point out that none of the plethora of marches on Washington since Donald Trump was elected have had even a secondary focus on America’s fruitless wars. They’re certainly right to question why Congress, with the constitutional duty to declare war, has until recently allowed both presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump to wage war as they wished without even consulting them. They’re right to feel nervous when a national poll shows that more Americans think we’re fighting a war in Iran (we’re not) than a war in Somalia (we are).

But here’s what I’ve been wondering recently: What if there’s an antiwar movement growing right under our noses and we just haven’t noticed? What if we don’t see it, in part, because it doesn’t look like any antiwar movement we’ve even imagined?

If a movement is only a movement when people fill the streets, then maybe the critics are right. It might also be fair to say, however, that protest marches do not always a movement make. Movements are defined by their ability to challenge the status quo and, right now, that’s what might be beginning to happen when it comes to America’s wars.

What if it’s Parkland students condemning American imperialism or groups fighting the Muslim Ban that are also fighting the war on terror? It’s veterans not only trying to take on the wars they fought in, but putting themselves on the front lines of the gun controlclimate change, and police brutality debates. It’s Congress passing the first War Powers Resolution in almost 50 years. It’s Democratic presidential candidates signing a pledge to end America’s endless wars.

For the last decade and a half, Americans — and their elected representatives — looked at our endless wars and essentially shrugged. In 2019, however, an antiwar movement seems to be brewing. It just doesn’t look like the ones that some remember from the Vietnam era and others from the pre-invasion-of-Iraq moment. Instead, it’s a movement that’s being woven into just about every other issue that Americans are fighting for right now — which is exactly why it might actually work.

A Veteran’s Antiwar Movement in the Making?

During the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s, protests began with religious groups and peace organizations morally opposed to war. As that conflict intensified, however, students began to join the movement, then civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. got involved, then war veterans who had witnessed the horror firsthand stepped in — until, with a seemingly constant storm of protest in the streets, Washington eventually withdrew from Indochina.

You might look at the lack of public outrage now, or perhaps the exhaustion of having been outraged and nothing changing, and think an antiwar movement doesn’t exist. Certainly, there’s nothing like the active one that fought against America’s involvement in Vietnam for so long and so persistently. Yet it’s important to notice that, among some of the very same groups (like veterans, students, and even politicians) that fought against that war, a healthy skepticism about America’s 21st-century wars, the Pentagon, the military industrial complex, and even the very idea of American exceptionalism is finally on the rise — or so the polls tell us.

Right after the midterms last year, an organization named Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness reported mournfully that younger Americans were “turning on the country and forgetting its ideals,” with nearly half believing that this country isn’t “great” and many eyeing the U.S. flag as “a sign of intolerance and hatred.” With millennials and Generation Z rapidly becoming the largest voting bloc in America for the next 20 years, their priorities are taking center stage. When it comes to foreign policy and war, as it happens, they’re quite different from the generations that preceded them. According to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs,

“Each successor generation is less likely than the previous to prioritize maintaining superior military power worldwide as a goal of U.S. foreign policy, to see U.S. military superiority as a very effective way of achieving U.S. foreign policy goals, and to support expanding defense spending. At the same time, support for international cooperation and free trade remains high across the generations. In fact, younger Americans are more inclined to support cooperative approaches to U.S. foreign policy and more likely to feel favorably towards trade and globalization.”

Although marches are the most public way to protest, another striking but understated way is simply not to engage with the systems one doesn’t agree with. For instance, the vast majority of today’s teenagers aren’t at all interested in joining the all-volunteer military. Last year, for the first time since the height of the Iraq war 13 years ago, the Army fell thousands of troops short of its recruiting goals. That trend was emphasized in a 2017 Department of Defense poll that found only 14 percent of respondents ages 16 to 24 said it was likely they’d serve in the military in the coming years. This has the Army so worried that it has been refocusing its recruitment efforts on creating an entirely new strategy aimed specifically at Generation Z.

In addition, we’re finally seeing what happens when soldiers from America’s post-9/11 wars come home infused with a sense of hopelessness in relation to those conflicts. These days, significant numbers of young veterans have been returning disillusioned and ready to lobby Congress against wars they once, however unknowingly, bought into. Look no farther than a new left-right alliance between two influential veterans groups, VoteVets and Concerned Veterans for America, to stop those forever wars. Their campaign, aimed specifically at getting Congress to weigh in on issues of war and peace, is emblematic of what may be a diverse potential movement coming together to oppose America’s conflicts. Another veterans group, Common Defense, is similarly asking politicians to sign a pledge to end those wars. In just a couple of months, they’ve gotten on board 10 congressional sponsors, including freshmen heavyweights in the House of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

And this may just be the tip of a growing antiwar iceberg. A misconception about movement-building is that everyone is there for the same reason, however broadly defined. That’s often not the case and sometimes it’s possible that you’re in a movement and don’t even know it. If, for instance, I asked a room full of climate change activists whether they also considered themselves part of an antiwar movement, I can imagine the denials I’d get. And yet, whether they know it or not, sooner or later fighting climate change will mean taking on the Pentagon’s global footprint, too.

Think about it: not only is the U.S. military the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels but, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War Project, between 2001 and 2017, it released more than 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (400 million of which were related to the war on terror). That’s equivalent to the emissions of 257 million passenger cars, more than double the number currently on the road in the United States.

A Growing Antiwar Movement in Congress

One way to sense the growth of antiwar sentiment in this country is to look not at the empty streets or even at veterans organizations or recruitment polls, but at Congress. After all, one indicator of a successful movement, however incipient, is its power to influence and change those making the decisions in Washington. Since Donald Trump was elected, the most visible evidence of growing antiwar sentiment is the way America’s congressional policymakers have increasingly become engaged with issues of war and peace. Politicians, after all, tend to follow the voters and, right now, growing numbers of them seem to be following rising antiwar sentiment back home into an expanding set of debates about war and peace in the age of Trump.

In campaign season 2016, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, political scientist Elizabeth Saunders wondered whether foreign policy would play a significant role in the presidential election. “Not likely,” she concluded. “Voters do not pay much attention to foreign policy.” And at the time, she was on to something. For instance, Senator Bernie Sanders, then competing for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton, didn’t even prepare stock answers to basic national security questions, choosing instead, if asked at all, to quickly pivot back to more familiar topics. In a debate with Clinton, for instance, he was asked whether he would keep troops in Afghanistan to deal with the growing success of the Taliban. In his answer, he skipped Afghanistan entirely, while warning only vaguely against a “quagmire” in Iraq and Syria.

Heading for 2020, Sanders is once again competing for the nomination, but instead of shying away from foreign policy, starting in 2017, he became the face of what could be a new American way of thinking when it comes to how we see our role in the world.

In February 2018, Sanders also became the first senator to risk introducing a war powers resolution to end American support for the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen. In April 2019, with the sponsorship of other senators added to his, the bill ultimately passed the House and the Senate in an extremely rare showing of bipartisanship, only to be vetoed by President Trump. That such a bill might pass the House, no less a still-Republican Senate, even if not by a veto-proof majority, would have been unthinkable in 2016. So much has changed since the last election that support for the Yemen resolution has now become what Tara Golshan at Vox termed “a litmus test of the Democratic Party’s progressive shift on foreign policy.”

Nor, strikingly enough, is Sanders the only Democratic presidential candidate now running on what is essentially an antiwar platform. One of the main aspects of Elizabeth Warren’s foreign policy plan, for instance, is to “seriously review the country’s military commitments overseas, and that includes bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.” Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel have joined Sanders and Warren in signing a pledge to end America’s forever wars if elected. Beto O’Rourke has called for the repeal of Congress’s 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force that presidents have cited ever since whenever they’ve sent American forces into battle. Marianne Williamson, one of the many (unlikely) Democratic candidates seeking the nomination, has even proposed a plan to transform America’s “wartime economy into a peace-time economy, repurposing the tremendous talents and infrastructure of [America’s] military industrial complex … to the work of promoting life instead of death.”

And for the first time ever, three veterans of America’s post-9/11 wars — Seth Moulton and Tulsi Gabbard of the House of Representatives, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — are running for president, bringing their skepticism about American interventionism with them. The very inclusion of such viewpoints in the presidential race is bound to change the conversation, putting a spotlight on America’s wars in the months to come.

Get on Board or Get Out of the Way

When trying to create a movement, there are three likely outcomes: you will be accepted by the establishment, or rejected for your efforts, or the establishment will be replaced, in part or in whole, by those who agree with you. That last point is exactly what we’ve been seeing, at least among Democrats, in the Trump years. While 2020 Democratic candidates for president, some of whom have been in the political arena for decades, are gradually hopping on the end-the-endless-wars bandwagon, the real antiwar momentum in Washington has begun to come from new members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar who are unwilling to accept business as usual when it comes to either the Pentagon or the country’s forever wars. In doing so, moreover, they are responding to what their constituents actually want.

As far back as 2014, when a University of Texas-Austin Energy Poll asked people where the U.S. government should spend their tax dollars, only 7 percent of respondents under 35 said it should go toward military and defense spending. Instead, in a “pretty significant political shift” at the time, they overwhelmingly opted for their tax dollars to go toward job creation and education. Such a trend has only become more apparent as those calling for free public college, Medicare-for-all, or a Green New Deal have come to realize that they could pay for such ideas if America would stop pouring trillions of dollars into wars that never should have been launched.

The new members of the House of Representatives, in particular, part of the youngest, most diverse crew to date, have begun to replace the old guard and are increasingly signalling their readiness to throw out policies that don’t work for the American people, especially those reinforcing the American war machine. They understand that by ending the wars and beginning to scale back the military-industrial complex, this country could once again have the resources it needs to fix so many other problems.

In May, for instance, Omar tweeted, “We have to recognize that foreign policy IS domestic policy. We can’t invest in health care, climate resilience, or education if we continue to spend more than half of discretionary spending on endless wars and Pentagon contracts. When I say we need something equivalent to the Green New Deal for foreign policy, it’s this.”

A few days before that, at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, Ocasio-Cortez confronted executives from military contractor TransDigm about the way they were price-gouging the American taxpayer by selling a $32 “non-vehicular clutch disc” to the Department of Defense for $1,443 per disc. “A pair of jeans can cost $32; imagine paying over $1,000 for that,” she said. “Are you aware of how many doses of insulin we could get for that margin? I could’ve gotten over 1,500 people insulin for the cost of the margin of your price gouging for these vehicular discs alone.”

And while such ridiculous waste isn’t news to those of us who follow Pentagon spending closely, this was undoubtedly something many of her millions of supporters hadn’t thought about before. After the hearing, Teen Vogue created a list of the “5 most ridiculous things the United States military has spent money on,” comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted out the Ocasio-Cortez hearing clip to her 12.6 million followers, Will and Grace actress Debra Messing publicly expressed her gratitude to Ocasio-Cortez, and according to Crowdtangle, a social media analytics tool, the NowThis clip of her in that congressional hearing garnered more than 20 million impressions.

Not only are members of Congress beginning to call attention to such undercovered issues, but perhaps they’re even starting to accomplish something. Just two weeks after that contentious hearing, TransDigm agreed to return $16.1 million in excess profits to the Department of Defense. “We saved more money today for the American people than our committee’s entire budget for the year,” said House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings.

Of course, antiwar demonstrators have yet to pour into the streets, even though the wars we’re already involved in continue to drag on and a possible new one with Iran looms on the horizon. Still, there seems to be a notable trend in antiwar opinion and activism. Somewhere just under the surface of American life lurks a genuine, diverse antiwar movement that appears to be coalescing around a common goal: getting Washington politicians to believe that antiwar policies are supportable, even potentially popular. Call me an eternal optimist, but someday I can imagine such a movement helping end those disastrous wars.

28.06.2019 – Pressenza New York

On The Importance of Pride
First Gay Pride Parade in Boston

By Patricia Smith

June. LGBTQ Pride Month. For years, as a young teacher in Boston, I looked forward to Gay Pride Day (what we called it back then), celebrated in Boston on the first Saturday in June. I went in the early years with my very first girlfriend and I wore, as I saw others had, a paper bag on my head with the word “TEACHER” scrawled on the front. I knew I could get fired if anyone saw me there, if anyone suspected I was gay. I went first to revel in the midst of hundreds of LGBTQ people, of folks who wouldn’t mind if I held my girlfriend’s hand, if we sat in each other’s arms at the festival following the parade. What a comfort to know that at least that many LGBTQ people lived nearby, because growing up in suburban Boston in the 1970’s and ‘80s, I had no clue. I didn’t even have the knowledge that such people existed. Maybe in high school I knew that LGBTQ people existed, but I didn’t know much.

I went to Pride in the following years with my first long-term partner, gathering courage to march in the parade, to be part of the throng of out, proud, LGBTQ people. I marched with fellow members of the Gay and Lesbian Helpline at the Fenway Community Health Center, and I marched with GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. For them, I helped carry our banner—“Together, For a Change”—buoyed on with the shouts of the crowd. “Look! Gay teachers!” followed by thunderous applause, smiles, camera flashes. Back then, Pride to me was a sort of Gay Christmas, as much about the celebration as it was about visibility and well, pride. It’s heady stuff to find yourself suddenly with a large tribe when previously you just weren’t sure if there were any other people like you. And then imagine you find yourself with a vibrant, colorful tribe, exuberant in their celebration. Who wouldn’t want to be part?

But this was also the Regan era, the years so many in our communities died from lack of care and attention, the most devastating years of the AIDS crisis before funding and any effective treatments. And then Pride became more than a celebration. It became a way to make our voices heard and our bodies seen. Of course, Pride has always been about making our voices seen and our bodies heard; it was always a way to say “we’re here; we’re queer,” a way to claim the streets just for one day, to demonstrate and revel in our own beauty and strength, to honor and celebrate our lives and, perhaps, with our numbers proclaim our value, to demand attention and insist on our right to exist.

Today, in so many LGBTQ Pride Parades, school groups march. And churches. Employees of big-name corporations. Politicians and families. Straight allies. It’s easy to be cynical about it, all the corporate logos and sponsorships, the not-so-subtle competition for our money and loyalty, all the feel-good rainbows everywhere. But in the throng of now thousands who participate, we can see visible changes to society. We can see more inclusion and acceptance. We can see so many fabulous examples of what it means to be LGBTQ.

But what we can’t see are all the young people who still wonder if there is anyone else like them. We can’t see the harassment, the bullying, the terrorizing that continues—and in many instances has increased—lately. In 2018, EdSource reports that “LGBT young people ages 13-15 are 120 % more likely to become homeless,” even in places like San Francisco, a “gay mecca.” In their 2017 National School Climate Survey, GLSEN reports “fewer positive changes” for LGBTQ youth in schools. The statistics are stark: 98.5 % of LGBTQ youth report hearing gay used in a negative way; 56.6 % report hearing negative comments from teachers and staff. Over half of the LGBTQ students surveyed reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and more than three quarters of LGBTQ students surveyed admitted to avoiding school functions because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

The story gets even more grave for trans students. While a little more than half of students surveyed reported hearing anti-gay comments from teachers of staff, the number climbs to 71% who report hearing negative comments from teachers or staff about gender identity or gender expression. From 2013 to 2017, GLSEN reports a “steady increase in negative remarks about transgender people.” Perhaps not surprisingly, students in rural areas, especially in the South, reported the most difficulties in schools and had the fewest resources available to them.

And so—if in a small city nearby—as happened recently in Hendersonville, NC—there is a Pride March or celebration, if there is a visible presence of what it might mean to grow up LGBTQ, if young people can see that it can, indeed, ‘get better,’ that is reason enough to get out there and dance on floats, sing all the songs, march with rainbow stickers. As Harvey Milk said, “You’ve got to give them hope.”


Patricia Smith is the author of the novel The Year of Needy Girls (Kaylie Jones Books, 2017), a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her nonfiction has appeared most recently in the anthologies Older Queer Voices: The Intimacy of Survival and Nine Lives: A Life in Ten Minutes Anthology as well as Parhelion Literary Magazine, where it was nominated for Best of the Net. Her essay, “Border War,” which appeared in Broad Street Magazine, received a Special Mention by Pushcart. A teacher of American literature and Creative Writing at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, VA, she lives in Chester, VA with her partner.

“We want spiritual principles to be more than beautiful abstractions; we want them to actually transform our lives.”

Marianne Williamson quote #71

“We have to wage peace. That’s the law of the spirit is the waging of peace, because if we simply seek to manage the effects of hatred, which does need to be done, of course. But if all we do is manage the effects of hatred, then hatred will simply stalk us the next decade or the next generation. We need to dismantle hatred itself.”

Marianne Williamson quote #72

“You know what we need to heal are the thought forms and the feelings that cause us to create war and mass destruction on this kind of a level, because ultimately if we are to survive as a species, we have to become a human race for whom the thought of war is unthinkable.”

Marianne Williamson quote #73

“Children are happy because they don’t have all the “facts” yet.”

Marianne Williamson quote #74

“Unless we can be like children, we can’t be happy.”

Marianne Williamson quote #75

“We must relinquish our passive observation of the world outside; we can open the door to the world we want. In understanding ourselves, we come to understand the world. In allowing ourselves to heal, we become the healers of the world. In praying for peace, we become bringers of peace. Thus we actualize the power within us to remedy the psychic wounds of humanity.”

Marianne Williamson quote #76

“Life as we knew it is passing away, and something new is emerging to take its place, … The Gift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life.”

Marianne Williamson quote #77

 

BE OPEN

Be open

When you pray

And see life

In a whole new way

David Herr

Reading for June 29 from Praying for Justice. “For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life; in Your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.” Psalm 143: 11

On The Importance of Pride
28.06.2019 – Pressenza New York

First Gay Pride Parade in Boston
By Patricia Smith
June. LGBTQ Pride Month. For years, as a young teacher in Boston, I looked forward to Gay Pride Day (what we called it back then), celebrated in Boston on the first Saturday in June. I went in the early years with my very first girlfriend and I wore, as I saw others had, a paper bag on my head with the word “TEACHER” scrawled on the front. I knew I could get fired if anyone saw me there, if anyone suspected I was gay. I went first to revel in the midst of hundreds of LGBTQ people, of folks who wouldn’t mind if I held my girlfriend’s hand, if we sat in each other’s arms at the festival following the parade. What a comfort to know that at least that many LGBTQ people lived nearby, because growing up in suburban Boston in the 1970’s and ‘80s, I had no clue. I didn’t even have the knowledge that such people existed. Maybe in high school I knew that LGBTQ people existed, but I didn’t know much.
I went to Pride in the following years with my first long-term partner, gathering courage to march in the parade, to be part of the throng of out, proud, LGBTQ people. I marched with fellow members of the Gay and Lesbian Helpline at the Fenway Community Health Center, and I marched with GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. For them, I helped carry our banner—“Together, For a Change”—buoyed on with the shouts of the crowd. “Look! Gay teachers!” followed by thunderous applause, smiles, camera flashes. Back then, Pride to me was a sort of Gay Christmas, as much about the celebration as it was about visibility and well, pride. It’s heady stuff to find yourself suddenly with a large tribe when previously you just weren’t sure if there were any other people like you. And then imagine you find yourself with a vibrant, colorful tribe, exuberant in their celebration. Who wouldn’t want to be part?
But this was also the Regan era, the years so many in our communities died from lack of care and attention, the most devastating years of the AIDS crisis before funding and any effective treatments. And then Pride became more than a celebration. It became a way to make our voices heard and our bodies seen. Of course, Pride has always been about making our voices seen and our bodies heard; it was always a way to say “we’re here; we’re queer,” a way to claim the streets just for one day, to demonstrate and revel in our own beauty and strength, to honor and celebrate our lives and, perhaps, with our numbers proclaim our value, to demand attention and insist on our right to exist.
Today, in so many LGBTQ Pride Parades, school groups march. And churches. Employees of big-name corporations. Politicians and families. Straight allies. It’s easy to be cynical about it, all the corporate logos and sponsorships, the not-so-subtle competition for our money and loyalty, all the feel-good rainbows everywhere. But in the throng of now thousands who participate, we can see visible changes to society. We can see more inclusion and acceptance. We can see so many fabulous examples of what it means to be LGBTQ.
But what we can’t see are all the young people who still wonder if there is anyone else like them. We can’t see the harassment, the bullying, the terrorizing that continues—and in many instances has increased—lately. In 2018, EdSource reports that “LGBT young people ages 13-15 are 120 % more likely to become homeless,” even in places like San Francisco, a “gay mecca.” In their 2017 National School Climate Survey, GLSEN reports “fewer positive changes” for LGBTQ youth in schools. The statistics are stark: 98.5 % of LGBTQ youth report hearing gay used in a negative way; 56.6 % report hearing negative comments from teachers and staff. Over half of the LGBTQ students surveyed reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and more than three quarters of LGBTQ students surveyed admitted to avoiding school functions because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
The story gets even more grave for trans students. While a little more than half of students surveyed reported hearing anti-gay comments from teachers of staff, the number climbs to 71% who report hearing negative comments from teachers or staff about gender identity or gender expression. From 2013 to 2017, GLSEN reports a “steady increase in negative remarks about transgender people.” Perhaps not surprisingly, students in rural areas, especially in the South, reported the most difficulties in schools and had the fewest resources available to them.
And so—if in a small city nearby—as happened recently in Hendersonville, NC—there is a Pride March or celebration, if there is a visible presence of what it might mean to grow up LGBTQ, if young people can see that it can, indeed, ‘get better,’ that is reason enough to get out there and dance on floats, sing all the songs, march with rainbow stickers. As Harvey Milk said, “You’ve got to give them hope.”

Patricia Smith is the author of the novel The Year of Needy Girls (Kaylie Jones Books, 2017), a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her nonfiction has appeared most recently in the anthologies Older Queer Voices: The Intimacy of Survival and Nine Lives: A Life in Ten Minutes Anthology as well as Parhelion Literary Magazine, where it was nominated for Best of the Net. Her essay, “Border War,” which appeared in Broad Street Magazine, received a Special Mention by Pushcart. A teacher of American literature and Creative Writing at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, VA, she lives in Chester, VA with her partner.

PROBLEM
Got a problem
That needs solved ?
Then ask God
To get involved.
David Herr

Reading for June 27 from Praying for Justice. “Deliver me from my enemies, O God.” Psalm 59: 1a

 

Quakers and Equal Civil Partnership

A computer-generated render of two 'heart' shapes, one white and one read, fitting together as puzzle pieces.

In a legal development in which British Quakers were vocally involved, equal marriage has been achieved in Great Britain – with separate laws in Scotland and in England & Wales, of course. Since 2014, it has been possible for two people to marry regardless of gender. Northern Ireland, for complex cultural and political reasons, has yet to follow suit, although they recognise same-sex marriages as civil partnerships, and civil partnerships can be entered into in that part of the United Kingdom.

As well as the campaign on the long road to equal marriage, along which the introduction of civil partnerships is generally considered a stop, there have also been those arguing for opposite-sex civil partnerships. I have known Friends who have been involved in this action, including those who stated their wish to form a civil partnership rather than a marriage, despite not being a same-sex couple. That campaign has now, thanks in large part to a supreme court judgement (the Steinfeld-Keidan judgement), led to a change in law in England and Wales and opposite-sex civil partnerships are expected to be available before the end of the year.

Now, when civil partnerships were introduced in the various parts of Britain for same-sex couples, many Quaker Meetings got involved. Supporting equal marriage, or at least legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and not being able to record marriages for same-sex couples, many Meetings began to celebrate – or at least be willing to celebrate – or even record in Meeting for Worship these new civil partnerships. For many of us, this was supported as a sort of “best we can do”, though we religiously wished to report same-sex marriages, and since the summer of 2009 that has been in line with the discernment of Yearly Meeting in session. Given our organisational support for equal marriage, it is likely now possible in many Meetings to celebrate and record both civil partnerships (for same-sex couples) and marriages (for all couples).
The introduction of opposite-sex civil partnerships raises a question: do we wish to celebrate and record such civil partnerships as well?
The obvious and easy answer is ‘yes’, but we should stop a moment and think. If we were starting from a blank slate, with both marriages and civil partnerships available to all, would we wish to celebrate and record both, in a Meeting for Worship with due solemnity and so on and so forth? If you think the answer is still an obvious ‘yes’, without thought or reasoning, perhaps it is worth considering the following…
“Marriage” is not just a word, to Friends. It does not represent some contractual relationship, as the language around civil partnerships suggests for those unions, and indeed as some legal approaches to marriage around the world would indicate. Marriage is a sacred thing, and we recognised civil partnerships in similar manner to marriages because, essentially, we recognised that in our terms the relationship being recognised through civil partnership was, in fact, a marriage. Marriage is a state that exists between two people and that may exist even without recognition, and I have heard from Friends who participated in Meetings for Worship for, well, the terms varied, but Celebration of Commitment is one I’ve heard – meetings after the manner of Meetings for Worship for Solemnisation of Marriage but with no legal meaning and no claim to be marriages – that their experience of these meetings was that they had witnessed, participated in a marriage.
But if we can call all Meetings for Worship that recognise that commitment and that state marriages, even civil partnerships are no longer the “best that can be done” for some people, would we not be being truer to our testimony concerning marriage to say “that is it, we are done with civil partnerships entirely, for we call a spade a spade”? It could be argued that we should just conduct (or recognise, or more legally solemnise) marriages, for if all such relationships are marriages to us and we can call them all marriages, then to speak plainly would be to call them all marriages and record them all as marriages. Certainly it would be hard to defend continuing to support and recognise civil partnership for same-sex couples and refusing to do so for opposite-sex couples once the law allows for such. This would mean telling people who want their relationship registered as a civil partnership, rather than a marriage, that we can’t help them – but then, there are things we refuse to do. Indeed, while it’s not a general refusal there are cautions in Britain Yearly Meeting’s Quaker faith & practice regarding the marriage of those who have previously been divorced, in language that suggests we must suspect them of not believing in marriage as something that is intended to be life-long:

Area meetings should be sympathetic to and understanding of those who wish to be joined in marriage in a Friends’ meeting and who have been divorced or who have had a civil partnership dissolved (see 16.13). Many in this situation may regret that they have not been able to keep solemn promises they have made in the past. We should all be able to share these feelings, realising the occasions when we have not been able to fulfil the promises we have made. Whilst in no way departing from our corporate testimony as to the sanctity and lifelong nature of marriage, area meetings are given discretion whether or not to grant permission to those who wish to be re-married in a Friends’ meeting.

In exercising such discretion, area meetings will need to be fully satisfied that those who wish to be remarried share this testimony and, except in rare cases, are well known to and associated with the meeting. Area meetings should appoint certain Friends of sound judgment and discretion to serve as a meeting for clearness (see 16.3716.39 & 12.2212.25) to consider each application and so assist the meeting in reaching a decision without undesirable discussion of details in the meeting itself. (Paragraph 16.40 of Quaker faith & practice)

It is subtle, but inescapable, that this indicates a suspicion of the divorcee. We mean it in the kindest way, I am sure, and we are asked to approach it sensitively, giving them every opportunity to explain their failure (for it is certainly phrased as one), or a change in their view of marriage. While we might record the marriage of those not already known to our Area Meeting, or indeed not Quakers but sharing in our view of marriage, we are cautioned strongly against doing so for divorcees. This is not a small thing – though how much it relates to current practice, I am unsure.
So, that’s it, isn’t it? All marriages are marriages, and call a spade a spade. Ah, but what do you call a small, portion-sized bread product? Is it a bun, a bap, a barm, a barmcake, a roll, a cob, a… well, you get the idea. That may be a matter of dialect, a regional thing, but there’s also a factor of intent to it, a matter of the other meanings associated with the word. I know people who will call a filled roll a barm (as in a “bacon barm”), unless it’s filled with a burger, in which case it’s a bun – but if served unfilled with soup it’s a roll. For some, it’s a bun or barm or bap if it’s soft-crusted, and a roll if it has a crisp crust. We need to think about intent and associated meaning here, because they are at the heart of the campaign for equal civil partnership.
Two people in normal clothes stand a short distance apart, visible from mid-torso down, holding hands. One is dressed in a typical feminine manner, and another in a typical masculine manner.

We have, as Quakers (at least in Britain), had for some time a view of marriage in which the parties are symmetric, with that symmetry in the words we say (except in terms of gendered words in a mixed-sex union, though in the latest revision that is now optional, with gender neutral options throughout) and in the expectations that we place on one another. To us, at least speaking ideally, marriage is an equal partnership and the only difference between husband and wife is that the words are used for people of different genders – and in our own statements, my wife and I avoided all gendered language, to make a point as much as anything else. However, we must accept that the wider society in which we are situated, and the history of that society and of many others that have become interwoven within it, does not see things that way. Oh, a lot of people are like us, idealists who say things as we do, and many are as sincere about it as we are. But they, and we, are still affected by our cultural environment in which the husband is seen, at a deep level and through much of our fiction, folk tales and history, as the protector and provider, while the wife is the supporter and home-maker. The deep cultural association of those words cannot be shaken off easily.

The very institution of marriage is given association with that asymmetry by the use of these words, and by the fact that it has for much of history and across much of the world been an asymmetric institution. In England and Wales, the possible causes for divorce (once divorce was made regularly available without a Private Act of Parliament) were different for the husband and the wife. From 1857 to 1937, in England and Wales, a man could divorce his wife on the sole grounds of adultery, while a woman whose husband philandered while married could not do so unless she could show an additional cause, such as incest, sodomy or cruelty. Going back further, all the language and expectations around marriage in the dominant church in England at any given time was always unequal, and among those whose marriages were truly seen to matter by the state – the propertied and noble classes, and the wealthier burghers – marriages were often matters of complex and unbalanced contract that cold bear a striking resemblance to a commercial agreement of selling or leasing something, and one or both of the parties could be seen as part of the exchange. The party ‘changing hands’ was, of course, usually the woman (or, to be frank, girl). Whatever we say it means to us today, we cannot dismiss this historical baggage in the minds of those who take issue with it – and we cannot dismiss it entirely from its influence on ourselves, either. To make a point, when we married my wife and I avoided gendered terms, as I have mentioned, but do you think we keep using ‘spouse’ in our everyday speech? Of course not, we refer to one another using ‘wife’ and ‘husband’, like most people, and I know that in so doing we cannot escape what we have learned from our cultural environment about the different expectations that are placed on wives as compared to husbands.
It is for this reason that many of those who have campaigned for equal civil partnerships have done so. They wish to completely avoid the cultural associations of marriage, of husbands and wives, and of course they won’t do so even by not marrying; even if their relationship weren’t legally recognised, they would be impacted by the expectations of gender roles that are entwined so closely with the expectations of a husband or wife. I expect most of them would accept that. But they want to do what they can to push back against this cultural norm, to say publicly “we will not associate ourselves with this history”, to be able to actually argue with anyone who refers to their partner as their husband or wife. At the same time, they do want the legal status, the protection and rights, and the support of their community in their relationship, to establish their commitment.
There may be other differences, of course. We won’t know until the regulations are promulgated. If the rules for mixed-sex civil partnerships are the same as for same-sex civil partnerships, then there will be differences between it and marriage. The rules for annulment are different in small but very significant ways, and the facts to establish a breakdown such that a civil partnership can be dissolved are different to those which allow a marriage to be ended in divorce. Adultery is not a cause to dissolve a civil partnership, though it is cause for divorce; having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) at the time of marriage is grounds to annul a marriage, as is non consummation (except in a same-sex marriage), but neither is grounds to annul a civil partnership. Actually, the consummation and adultery examples are probably somewhat a product of the same-sex aspect, as the law as written would make it impossible for a same-sex couple to consummate the relationship, and impossible for a fully and completely homosexual person to commit adultery (and lawmakers often seem to forget about bisexual people, or any form of not-entirely-straight-or-entirely-gay identity). Frankly, to my mind the voidable nature of an ‘unconsummated’ marriage is something of a dark ages holdover.
Anyway, the fact the rules are (slightly) different for same-sex and opposite-sex marriages means that the regulations for opposite-sex civil partnerships may create some difference between such civil partnership and same-sex ones, but if they do not, then there will be legal differences that might matter to people. They may actually feel it more appropriate to them, as a couple, not to presume that adultery be forbidden. They may feel that the legally implied expectation of consummation isn’t appropriate, either to them personally or as a matter of principle. They may think that an undisclosed STI shouldn’t be grounds for annulment. All of this on top of the fact that they may wish to avoid association with the historical and still culturally pervasive idea of what marriage is, and what it means to be a husband or a wife.
Now, we as Quakers – as a whole Religious Society, or a whole Yearly Meeting – probably can’t form a view on those legal differences. I know some Quakers would support the idea that adultery shouldn’t be a cause for divorce in itself, while others would say that marriage is inherently exclusive so obviously adultery may be seen as a violation of that commitment (though I note that Britain Yearly Meeting’s form of words for marriage doesn’t include anything about exclusivity – the meaning of ‘faithful’ is very much a matter for the parties involved). Views on consummation are likely to be extremely varied. But when it comes to the equality, the partnership of equals without the social loading of terms like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, we are right there (at least among liberal Friends; the situation with pastoral and evangelical Friends is not contrary, as I understand it, but complicated, as might reflect the range of cultures in which you find such Meetings). In fact, you might even say that, in terms of those elements that cause discomfort with ‘marriage’, what we believe in is closer to civil partnership than to marriage.
And so we come down to my position on this. We believe in marriage, for its sacred meaning and the weight of the concept. We believe it is more than a contract, that it is something done by God and that we are “but witnesses”, as the much-loved quote goes. Some would even say, as do I, that a marriage may exist whether or not it has been recognised by a worshipping community or by the state. However, in terms of what a marriage is practically and socially, we believe in civil partnerships. We believe in equal and symmetric obligations and promises, and generally in a lack of set gender roles. We believe that no-one is in any sense property of another, and that there is nothing of the commercial in the union of two people, and would probably like to distance it from the historical reality that many marriages had a distinct whiff of the commercial, the diplomatic, or both.
Marriage. Civil partnership. They are, I argue, two sides of the same coin, two ways to look at the same thing, in terms of Quaker testimony. So let each couple call it whichever they will, and record them in more-or-less identical ways. Let us solemnise civil partnerships as we do marriages, if the state will let us, and let us understand that there is no spiritual difference between the two, regardless of the sexes and genders of those involved.
Love is love, partnership is partnership, commitment is commitment, and each couple should bear witness to theirs in the way that speaks their truth most strongly. Let us embrace equal civil partnership, and see it as a valid religious option for all, not in tension with our testimony concerning marriage but as an expression of it – and a reflection of our ability to allow all to express their truth their way.
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27.06.2019 – New York City – Pressenza New York

This post is also available in: Greek

New York City Moved to Divest and Ban Nuclear Weapons
From left to right: Mitchie Takeuchi, Anthony Donovan, Seth Sheldon, Brendan Fay (holding the Nobel Medal), Matthew Bolton, Kathleen Sullivan, Robert Croonquist and Rebecca Irby. (Image by Pressenza NYC)

By David Andersson

On Wednesday, June 9, New York City Council members Dromm, Rosenthal and Kallos introduced Resolution 976 to: 1) require the city to divest from financial institutions involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons; and 2) stand in support of the U.N. treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. NYC will be joining the city of Paris, which became the first French city – and the second capital of a nuclear-armed state – to support the treaty.

It is a very important step but just the beginning. Now individual council members will have to sign on to the resolution. There should be public hearings around September and after that the city council will vote on it, after which it goes to the mayor, who could either sign or veto it.

The text of the resolution reads: “Resolution calling on the New York City Comptroller to instruct the pension funds of public employees in New York City to divest from and avoid any financial exposure to companies involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons, reaffirming New York City as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, and joining the ICAN Cities Appeal and calling on the United States to support and join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. NYC committee on Civil Service and Labor .”

You can follow the process online and see the name of council members who have signed. To have any chance of passing, the resolution will need the support of at least 30 CM.

If NYC passes this resolution it will have limitless repercussions, nationally and internationally. If you want to learn more about the treaty, Pressenza has produced a documentary that will be screened by the Catholic Workers at Maryhouse on July 9 and by Brooklyn for Peace at Brooklyn Commons on September 5. For more details visit: http://theendofnuclearweapons.com/events/

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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