Patriotism and the Goal of Global Peace

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Diane Randall has served as the Executive Secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation since March 2011. Before joining FCNL, Diane spent nine years in Connecticut as Executive Director of Partnership for Strong Communities, a non-profit working for solutions to homelessness. She is a member of Hartford Monthly Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting. Diane spoke by phone with Western Friend on December 10, 2013. The following text was drawn from a transcript of that interview.

WF: [After preliminary chatting . . . ] I’m interested in exploring the concept of patriotism and how it intersects with our hopes for creating a peaceful world. So I’m interested in how you see people’s sense of national identity being an influence on our search for global peace – as an obstacle or as a positive influence.

DR: The challenge with the term “patriotism” is that it is a word that has a lot of meanings. For some people it means fidelity to one’s country and a willingness to serve one’s country. That might mean serving in a military capacity, and for others, it might mean serving in a way that strengthens the country for human security, or for equality, or for many of the other noble ideals that define our aspirations as a democracy. When I think of patriotism, I think back to our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Of course it said all men are created equal, but I think of it as promoting ideals that are universal – equality and liberty.  The challenge is that for many people, patriotism gets caught up in a notion of national security interpreted as only military might. At FCNL, we look at security differently, not through the notion of military strength.

One of the projects that FCNL has worked on this past year is a publication with AFSC on the idea of “shared security.” We don’t directly talk about patriotism in that, but we do talk about the idea of human security, which goes right to the heart of one of the core tenets in the Religious Society of Friends, the idea of equality, the idea that God loves every person, and that every person has that of God in him or her. If in fact that is the case, then we need to regard our behavior in the world in the way that God might regard it.

WF: When you use the word “security” in that context, what do you mean?

DR: I think of liberty and equality and opportunity, ideas that, when effectively practiced, give people a sense of security. In the concept of human security, people can pursue their lives without fear of violence, in ways that are meaningful – they can worship, be educated, seek the kinds of human fulfillment that we all desire, without threat. So, even though it’s common for people to think of national security in terms of being “protected,” when we talk of human security, we’re talking about creating a condition of peace and opportunity, allowing for individuals and communities to come first, not countries first.

WF: My mind is going off in a direction now that’s different from the questions I have here. I can’t remember which book it was that I read right after the financial meltdown in 2008, but it became pretty darkly clear to me then that the powers of the nation-state are kind of puny now, compared to international capital. I’m interested in your reflections on the role of the nation-state and its weakness in protecting human security.

DR: FCNL’s mission is to influence U.S. public policy. But it became clear to us as we were working on the shared security project that there are many other powerful influences at work in the world in addition to governments that have bearing on people’s livelihoods and their sense of security.

We see that people focus their activism in a variety of ways to influence power or decision-makers. For example, people are choosing to develop stronger communities at a very local level, based on a sustainable living model. And we see it in shareholder activism, trying to influence corporate responsibility. When people want to change systems, they look at where power lies and clearly, there’s power in the global economic system, distinct from the power in the nation-state.

But there’s no question that when the President of the United States makes a statement or a decision the effect of that is felt – often around the globe. And when Congress takes action or doesn’t take action, the effect of that is felt. Nation-states have a huge impact on our lives, although I do think the centers of power are shifting.

WF: And I’m thinking, I don’t see international capital as being democratic. And so I wonder if part of patriotism is finding a way to reset the seat of power in our democratic institutions? And I wonder, on a global level, how possible is that?

DR: Institutions are made up of people, and people can change institutions. This comes back to the human heart. It comes back to the inward journey as well as the outward journey. As much as the work I do is this outward social action, I think that the question of how we live our lives and how we treat one another and how we want to be treated, is equally important. Relationships matter. Changing power structures – that’s done through relationship-building and through convincing people. Corporate powers aren’t necessarily democratic in terms of how they operate, but some of them are run by people who have social consciences. And so the question is, how do we as people of faith inject a moral way of being into our lives so that it can have bearing on our world?

WF: Does FCNL have sister organizations in other countries?

DR: We don’t have sister organizations that are focused on advocacy like we are. When I was in Kenya, at the Friends World Gathering, a couple people from Kenya talked to me about how they might influence their government, and particularly work with Quakers who are in elected office there. Britain Yearly Meeting does some lobbying of the Parliament. And the Quaker Council of European Affairs, based in Brussels works with the European Parliament; they are more like FCNL.

WF: What’s your sense of the particular place that Quakers have played in history, in terms of organizing a faith voice in government?

DR: I think it’s been huge. I’m not a student of history, but when you look back at the Declaration of Independence, you see that a number of Quakers signed it. And when you think about William Penn, coming to the Colonies to establish a utopian community – it’s an example of how Friends, from the time we were founded, have tried to make God’s love real in the world, in the most radical religious way of interpreting the Gospel of Jesus, in trying to personify agape love. So Friends have always seen that as part of their lives – not only in one-on-one relationships, it’s also been about systems.

John Woolman is one person that we all cite as the Friend who really lived out his testimony – against slavery and for the poor – but there have been others. When you think about the women’s suffragist movement, or the civil rights movement, or the disabilities movement, or the peace movement, it’s fascinating for me to think about all the organizations that have had Quakers in founding positions. Amnesty International had a Friend who was core to its beginning; Greenpeace did; I think Oxfam did; Bread for the World. They all had Friends in very early leadership positions, taking on the core issues. And even at FCNL, we have helped nurture the inception of other organizations like the Washington Office on Latin American Affairs or the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. When I think about the work that Quakers do, in many cases, it is to provide some early support and encouragement. And Friends as individuals have followed their leadings and do have a disproportionate impact, relative to our numbers, in addressing injustice at every level – environmental injustice, racial injustice, economic injustice.

When I talk to colleagues here in Washington and talk about our grassroots network – which includes both Quakers and non-Quakers – I can say with some certainty that when we ask our network to take action on an issue, they’ll take action!.

WF: This is reminding me, when I was thinking about calling you, one of the things that came to my mind was that bumper sticker, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

DR: I love that. And I agree. And it’s been fascinating to watch the coverage of Nelson Mandela, his death and the memorials to him. When we think about what we admire about him, it is the fact that he had a kind of courage of his convictions, along with some pretty remarkable political instincts. It’s not just that he was able to voice dissent and call for freedom, but that he lived his entire life with clarity and nobility; it’s just stunning.

I think that’s another hallmark of Friends, the notion of being able to be consistent and persistent for a cause. It’s one thing to react – we all have reactive responses to things we don’t like, across the political spectrum – but to take on an issue, to learn it thoroughly, to stay with it and not let it go – that’s how social change happens. That’s certainly what FCNL tries to do, and I’d say that’s true of Friends in many walks of life.

You know, not everyone responds to FCNL’s actions requests. Some people just don’t want to get engaged in politics. But the longer I work at FCNL, the more I see that we really do offer Friends – and others who care about these issues – a vital path for civic engagement, a way to act on beliefs about peace and justice. People trust us, and they use our resources to learn more about the issues that Friends have made priorities. Those are positive steps toward building a better world.

Readers can follow FCNL’s work on the web www.fcnl.org and can follow Diane Randall’s work on Twitter at @DianeFCNL.

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