A scruffy young man wearing a knapsack approached Martha Yager at a rally. “How do I get to world peace,” he asked?
“Practice,” said Martha.
Okay, that didn’t really happen. But it’s a pretty good summary of Martha’s message to a small group gathered at the Concord Friends Meeting House in Canterbury on September 23.
Martha, who used to live in New Hampshire but now coordinates the American Friends Service Committee’s South Eastern New England Program, was invited to make a return visit as part of NH Peace Action’s “Amazing Women for Peace” series. Acknowledging that the peace movement is in rough shape at the moment, Martha asked her audience to find a partner and answer the questions, “When I think about the state of the world, the thing that concerns me most is __________,” and “When I think about that, it makes me feel __________.”
“It’s all pretty overwhelming,” she said, as participants expressed concerns about apathy, resource depletion, climate change, inequality, and violence. And it’s no surprise that “people kinda’ zone out,” she said.
“It’s not an accident that people are being encouraged into isolation, disconnected from each other,” she observed. The powers that be use their power to silence people and keep people feeling powerless even when we’re not.
Martha recommended three types of action to pursue:
First, “holding actions,” or those that help people survive with dignity in a world where that can be difficult. Local examples might include volunteering at the seasonal homeless shelter at South Church in Concord, a project Martha started several years ago.
Second, actions that support life sustaining practices outside the status quo system. Examples include community gardens, time banks, food co-ops, anything that helps to create “a new society in the shell of the old.”
Third, Martha said we should support actions that lead to a change in consciousness, that help us shift from a paradigm of “power over” to “power with.”
And we need to practice, in two senses of the word. We need to put our ideas and values into practice, not leave them in our heads and hearts. And we need to try them out, try them over again, and see what works.
Martha finished up by asking pairs to fill in the blank: “The thing I’m most passionate about is __________.”
There was some discussion of whether “passion” was what we should strive for, but the point was clear: our capacity to make change will depend our willingness to put ourselves into it.