Feeling Light Within, I Walk: Tales, Adventures & Reflections of a Quaker Activist
by Peg Morton
Reviewed by Dorothy Blackcrow Mack
The city of Eugene, Oregon, just presented the Turtle Award to Peg Morton for “sticking her neck out” during her lifetime of service to the community. Peg has devoted her whole life to efforts for social justice – bearing witness that one person can make a difference. The key to Peg’s effectiveness is persistence. This book recounts that persistence in two parts: “Personal Memories and Thoughts” and “My Activist Life and Thoughts,” thus becoming part memoir and part a how-to guide for readers who would witness for peace and justice.
Part 1 of this book opens with Peg humbling herself. She was born to privilege, yet lonely, raised by caretakers. “I had never felt loved by or felt love for another person.”(p. 82) Standing aside from society, she questioned society: “Why does there have to be war?” During college, in her junior year abroad in post-war Europe, she asked: “What would I have done under fascism?” At Oberlin, she joined the Society of Friends and began practicing Quaker beliefs: that of God in every person, silent worship, and the testimonies of equality, simplicity, integrity and community.
Part 2, the major part of the book, humbles us. Some of us might protest once or twice at the Nevada Test Site or Ground Zero, or might put lilies on bombs, but few of us cross the line at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning to spend time in prison in Georgia or correspond endlessly with the IRS to educate its workers about the conscientious objection to paying for war. This section – a testimony to Peg’s relentless devotion to putting her spiritual beliefs into action – describes her life-long involvement in a wide range of social justice campaigns, including: Civil Rights; War Tax Resistance; Latin American Solidarity and Witness for Peace in Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, and Columbia; School of the Americans Watch; and a multitude of fasts and Walks for Peace, including some that concern social justice issues in Oregon. Wherever injustice arises, Peg Morton is there.
One shortcoming of this book is that Peg’s path from her “spiritual life” to “activism” – which the title suggests – is not woven together smoothly to explain why she chose a life of righting wrongs. With these two aspects of her life described separately in parts 1 and 2 of this book, many of us who stay in our small safe worlds will be left wondering. Although for us, too, our personal experiences shape our beliefs, we don’t always act on them. Why does Peg? She says she chooses a life of activism not out of duty, but because “that’s who I am.” For Peg, the personal truly is political.
Readers will enjoy Peg’s personal stories, like the one about a toddler who cries, “¡Mi huevo!” because Peg had been given his meal. Some of the stories will leave readers curious to learn more. For example, how do international visitors to war zones – with their cameras, cell phones and laptops – help as witnesses to prevent massacres?
In the final chapters of this book, Peg interweaves “how to” suggestions for challenging causes that demand bravery, such as war tax resistance, nonviolent accompaniment delegations in Latin America, and dying in the light. Peg has borne witness to how a life of privilege can be turned into a life of service. Few have provided such valuable guidelines for the wealthy on div divestments, inheritance and legacies.
Peg’s message is humility, persistence, and devotion. She writes, “Doing nothing…is not an option… I have loved this activist life.” Rather than feeling deprived, as in her childhood, Peg has enriched her life by finding families around the world. Praying and fasting have given her purpose, singing has given her joy. Now she shares her story: a walk full of light. ~~~
Feeling Light Within, I Walk was published in 2013 by Cedar Row Press. It can be purchased for $15 by contacting the publisher at 510 Van Buren, Eugene, Oregon 97404, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dorothy Blackcrow Mack is a member of Corvallis Monthly Meeting and is author of two books: The Fourth Wise One: A Native American Christmas Story (2008) and Anuk-Ité: Double-Face Woman Poems (2012).