Posts Tagged ‘AFSC’

This article was published first on the website of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program on June 16, 2020. 

From what I heard later, my hiring in 1981 as the program coordinator for AFSC’s New Hampshire Program was not a sure thing. I was pretty well known already in the circles traveled by Quakers in New Hampshire due to my work with the Clamshell Alliance and the “No Nukes” movement. I had done some research for the NH Program on organizing possibilities relative to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a major industrial facility that overhauled nuclear submarines. When draft registration was reinstated by Jimmy Carter in 1980, I had participated in AFSC-sponsored draft counselor training and actions at post offices. But some people thought I might not be the right person for the job.

One factor affecting my reputation was an incident from the conclusion of the 1977 occupation of the Seabrook nuclear power plant construction site. More than 1,400 people had been arrested and sent to National Guard Armories scattered across southeastern New Hampshire. I was one of a couple hundred people held at the Concord Armory, my first trip to that city.

Refusing to pay bail until we were assured that everyone would be released on their own recognizance (a promise to show up in court for arraignment), we were in a principled stand-off for nearly two weeks with the state’s ultra-right wing and ultra-pro nuke governor, Meldrim Thomson. 

Finally, at the end of the second week of incarceration in the armories, the Clamshell lawyers reached a deal with the state. If everyone who was still being held would agree to accept a finding of guilty without going through arraignment and trial, we would be released without bail and able to appeal our convictions to the Superior Court, where we would get a trial by jury. It wasn’t a bad deal, but the idea that we would be marched in and out of the court and be found guilty without trial struck me as a “kangaroo court.” So, I decided to fashion a kangaroo outfit out of what little resources I had at the armory.  

First, I put my long hair up in pigtails to represent ears. I made a sock puppet baby kangaroo and stuffed it in a pouch made with a bandana sewed onto my t-shirt. Suitably kangaroo’d up, with my hands curled in front of my chest, I hopped up to the doorway of the Hampton District Court. “You’ll have to leave the kangaroo outside,” said the police officer guarding the door, with a straight face and his finger pointed at my pouch. With a sad look, I passed the sock puppet to an affinity group member outside and hopped into the court, where I was found guilty and entered my appeal.

Four years later, that was about the only thing AFSC people outside New Hampshire knew about me.  Some of them suspected I might not have the proper demeanor to represent the Service Committee.

In my first week on the job, we heard that the U.S. Air Force would be shipping military planes to Saudi Arabia from Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, and that Vice President George H. W. Bush was going to drive down from his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to see them off. Since a call for an end to arms sales to the Middle East was on the AFSC agenda, I organized a demonstration at the entrance to the base. When the vice president drove in, we were there with signs that said, “Stop Middle East Arms Sales” and made it into local news coverage. Doubts about my suitability for employment with AFSC began to fade.  

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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.

canterbury 9-23-12 004 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.”

We are small actors in the midst of a complex world, so we should think about how canterbury 9-23-12 006 our small actions can support changes that are likely to extend beyond our lifetimes to bear fruit. 

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. 

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