Today I leave the end of a week with more than 1,200 Quakers at the Friends General Conference and head home. I have had a week of living in a culture of peace and justice, so heading back into our less peaceful general US society is easier in some ways and harder in others.
Care for others is a high cultural value here at the gathering. I have only experienced this at peace camps, a few peace educators conferences (not all of them!) and at some folk festivals. Yes, my town, Portland, Oregon, is a generally caring town, but missing so much of the relatively smooth rounded edges of a Friends General Conference.
This was my first time at FGC. This year it is in Greeley, Colorado, so special attention was paid to two groups and their issues, Native Americans and immigrants. Colorado has an inglorious history in both cases, generally speaking, and one event that I attended here focused on the history in general of Native peoples on Turtle Island, actually beginning from the issuance of the Doctrine of Discovery in 1452. A good explanation of that papal decree and its terrible effects is available from the Unitarians, who repudiated it. Yes, it matters. Native rights have been attacked using case law that is traceable back to that decree by Pope Nicolas V. The US finally signed and ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an aspirational declaration passed by the United Nations in 2007 and to which the United States became a signatory in 2010, finally, after the Bush regime had decided to make the US one of only four nations on Earth to vote against this overwhelmingly popular declaration.
Another special meaningful part of the week for me was a workshop on how Friends can help support nonviolent movements around the world. We brainstormed, led by David Hartsough, a student volunteer during the Freedom Rides in the 1960s in the South and co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a transnational collective nonviolent accompaniment organization operating in hot spots from the Philippines to South America. I think we ultimately listed perhaps 30 ways and the production of good thinking was impressive.
Quakers have been on the nonviolent side of debates dating back long before America included the US, and even in the indigenous rights workshop I attended, they acknowledged that the letter of mark granting land to William Penn by the king of England was based on that illegitimate Doctrine of Discovery. Penn avowed pacific, friendly relationships with the Delaware and they indeed signed a pre-emptive peace agreement (the direct opposite of our current idea of pre-emptive war). This eliminated the violence, but Quakers never had the right to even share the land without approaching the native peoples first, asking, not offering, and they recognized this in this event. I, for one, find that strikingly opposite of Euro-Native relations as almost all our history painfully reveals.
I'm not a Quaker, just a hippie peacenik pantheist, but I learned a great deal about some people I greatly admire, the Quakers. Miigwetch, peace culture Friends.