Published April 28, 2023
There were over 300 attendees, almost all under the age of 30, from more than 30 states. I was attending alone, but the majority of participants were there in groups with their colleges.
While there were many historically Quaker colleges represented, very few people seemed to identify as Quaker, but the people I met shared a common interest in advocacy and the values of peace and justice.
The theme of the weekend was justice reform and, specifically, violence interruption programs. For those who do not know (like myself before the weekend), violence interruption programs are community-led efforts to mitigate violence before it happens. “Violence interrupters” are people who connect others to social services, build community connections by visiting school grounds and potential hotspots for violence, and host events to spread the message of nonviolence. Violence interrupters live in the communities they are working in and have often had personal experiences with the criminal justice system which makes them more effective advocates for non-violence. These programs work because they address root causes of violence; economic disinvestment and historical trauma stemming from systemic racism. Our lobbying “ask” for the weekend was for Congressmembers to “Provide at least $20 million in federal funding for violence interrupters in the upcoming year’s spending bill.” Click here to learn more about violence interruption programs and the legislative ask.
Participants got to hear moving stories from a panel of current violence interrupters working for Safe Streets in Baltimore, from Marcus Ellis, a board member of Cities United which is working with city mayors to implement “ a holistic public health approach to reducing gun violence and creating better lives for young Black men and boys, their families, and their communities” and from Representative McGovern, who emphasized the power in sharing stories with Congress members. We also got to practice and workshop exactly how we were going to make the ask to our representatives. The process we practiced was guided by Quaker principles and emphasized mutual respect, storytelling, and gratitude. Click here for the “Lobby Visit Roadmap” received by participants.
There was one other Montanan at the Lobby Weekend, Meryl, and on our last day, we met with staffers at both our senators' offices.
While violence interruption programs are not particularly applicable to Montana given our lack of urban spaces, the goals of reducing gun violence, addressing the harms of systemic racism, and using community knowledge to create solutions all apply to our community and state.
I am excited that FCNL is bringing people together to address pressing issues in a way that is guided by Quaker values. I am grateful they provided times for optional Worship over the weekend, that they attracted a diverse participant group that included people personally affected by gun violence, and that they worked to make the (intentionally) complicated legislative domain accessible to all. And I appreciate that the Spring Lobby Weekend coincided perfectly with the cherry blossoms blooming!
If you are interested in learning more about FCNL or its programming, click here.
by Georgia Walker-Keleher, Montana Gathering of Friends (4/27/2023)