Quaker Universalist Conversations

Passionate Integrity: Quaker Youth in Action

Young people often have a passion for acts of integrity in support of core spiritual and social values. They are willing and able to look past the cautious pragmatism of adult activists into the living heart of need, of want, of sorrow and of joy.

It’s not that they are idealistic or impractical. It is that they see directly what many of us have grown weary of seeing, what we have chosen to compromise on, what we have rationalized as being beyond the reach of possibility.

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My helpmate Jim and I have been deeply moved recently by David Levithan’s teen novel Two Boys Kissing (2013).

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan (2013) It tells “the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.”

The power of this story lies in the changes these boys bring about in those around them, all while they are personally focused on maintaining the integrity of their public witness.

I want to share two contemporary examples of such acts of faith by Quaker Youth. I know of these actions due to the leadership and participation of young Friends from Southeastern Yearly Meeting. In both cases these Florida folks joined with their peers across the nation to have real impact on national corporate policies.

The Fair Food Program

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers Fair Food Program is a unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms.

Quaker youth to Wendy’s: “What does your heart call upon you to do?”
SEYM Quaker Youth embraced this campaign after a 2012 immersion visit in Immokalee, FL, during which they “learned first hand about the Fair Food Campaign from a tomato picker and translator and saw the living conditions of farm workers.”

In “SEYM Teens bring the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Campaign to National Quaker Gathering,” they describe how they moved from local action in Miami to the spurring of national action during the Friends General Conference 2013 Gathering in Colorado. They have since participated in other actions and marches.

See these additional stories:

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

On Earth Day, April 22, 2014, at the PNC Bank Shareholders’ meeting in Tampa, SEYM Young Friends joined with Earth Quaker Action Team in an effort to persuade the shareholders to stop financing mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. They tell their story in “Quakers Peacefully Protest Mountain Top Removal Mining.”

Quakers Peacefully Protest Mountaintop Removal Mining
EQAT focused its first campaign on PNC because

PNC Bank…has an historical connection to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). PNC positions itself as an engaged corporate citizen committed to the environment.

PNC is also one of the top financiers for companies that practice mountaintop removal coal mining. EQAT is challenging PNC to bring its investment practices into integrity with its publicly stated environmental values.

Later in 2014, several SEYM young people attended the FGC Gathering near Pittsburgh and joined EQAT and others in peaceful protest of PNC Bank’s financing of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

Finally, in 2015, PNC Bank changed its position. On March 9th, Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times published “A New Tack in the War on Mining Mountains: PNC Joins Banks Not Financing Mountaintop Coal Removal.”

Last week, with little fanfare, PNC Financial…disclosed a significant strategic shift. The bank said it would no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue mountaintop removal of coal in Appalachia….

“In our early encounters with PNC, they didn’t take us or this issue seriously,” [said] George Lakey, [a co-founder of EQAT] who was arrested twice during the campaign.

“We showed them evidence, delivered them Appalachian water poisoned by mountaintop removal, and brought them face to face with residents hurt by this practice. We had to take direct action for them to see the light.”

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I am very grateful to all of these young people. They demonstrate the powerful truth voiced by Mitri Raheb in his 2014 book, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes :

Resistance is action, not reaction. Resistance requires faith, so it can stop being caught in the vicious cycle of retaliation that favors the powerful and tries to mirror it.

Faith is nothing less than developing the bold vision of a new reality and mobilizing the needed resources to make it happen. (102)

And so it is.
Blessèd Be,
Mike Shell

Comments

Thanks for this wonderfully uplifting report on the actions being taken by young Friends that actually have resulted in measurable changes. Older Friends need to address businesspeople as though there is that of God in them, too! I hope that by their example Quaker youth can help us older Friends to do the same.

I recently read a story of a girl (age 9?) who is building small shelters for the homeless in her community. Stories such as this and the ones you share remind me of the idealism that comes so easily to youth. What we too easily dismiss as “impractical,” they embrace and make happen.