A highlight of my first months at Quaker House has been visiting communities in Florida, South Carolina, Vermont, New York, Virginia, and across North Carolina. Two topics came up with every visit: reactions to the conflict in Ukraine and how can we be effective advocates in 2022.
The standard in the military for conscientious objection continues to be opposition to participation in any form of war. Many people thought this described their own beliefs. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine raises questions about whether opposition to all wars is always right. They found that they can identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Others still think all wars are wrong, but are torn over a sense that “there isn’t another solution.” Finally, others reject these views.
From the first days of the conflict, Quaker House received phone calls and emails from friends struggling with these issues. In response, we hosted two online sessions that provided people an opportunity to share their feelings and attempts to discern a response to these issues. People from across the nation participated online, and I continued face-to-face and hybrid conversations during my visits. I led workshops at Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association, North Carolina Yearly Meeting–Conservative, Palmetto Friends Gathering, and North Carolina Fellowship of Friends. Each of these workshops included people who were thinking and struggling with their pacifism and discovering questions they hadn’t ever considered during the endless wars of the last decades.
No solutions were found, of course. The discernment has to be individual and continual for each of us. Talking about peace, pacifism in the face of war, and what is right and wrong is one of the founding elements of Quaker House. That work continues today. The GI Rights Hotline receives hundreds of calls each month nationwide from active-duty service people. At the same time, Quaker House gets calls from young adults worried about being drafted, and the counseling service works to directly respond to the injuries suffered from participation in the military here in North Carolina.
Saying “yes to the troops” is going to become even harder in the coming years. The military is being forced into social issues from abortion to the environment to the economic struggles. Will pregnant people be able to travel to obtain care if they are posted in a state that has limited access? Will medical providers on bases or at VA facilities who provide lifesaving treatment (still legal despite the Hyde Amendment limits)? It is impossible to avoid advertisements on every media from attorneys offering to “help” people file claims for toxic exposures at Camp Lejeune. Following a Quaker House website article discussing the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in late June, we have received a stream of comments seeking information about health issues at other bases, especially Fort Bragg. Despite recruitment goals being reduced for coming years shortfalls are expected in reaching those lower goals. These shortfalls will put even more pressure on those who do enlist.
This has been the opening for the conversations about what advocacy means in 2022. Activism and protest are still critical to seek peace and pursue it. The challenges and adaptations forced on us during the pandemic changed how we do things. Added to the complexities that Quaker House faced when organizing rallies to protest the wars of the early 2000s are social distancing, masking, and vaccination standards. Each person must calculate their personal safety in ways that few contemplated previously.
Quaker House is finding new ways to advocate for a world without war. Just as online tools allowed Quakers from across the country to join together to discuss their responses to the Ukraine conflict, we can reach out broadly without having to travel everywhere. In recent months, we teamed with groups in North Carolina working to finally expand Medicaid coverage in the state which will benefit more than 14,000 recent veterans. We participated in demonstrations in Fayetteville calling for the protection of reproductive rights in the state. Prior to September 21, we encouraged Quakers across the country to consider how they could commemorate the International Day of Peace with a specific emphasis on taking action. The coming months will bring more new efforts that can reach far beyond Fayetteville and North Carolina. We hope that the advocacy and energy of everyone who supports Quaker House will be part of those efforts to advocate for peace and to say “no to war.”