A belated report from Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend

College Park Quarterly Meeting held its winter session on Seventh Day, 1/14. There were two important parts to Quarterly Meeting for me.

Part I

I am the clerk of the children's program committee for the Quarter. As some avid readers may remember, I didn't think that the fall session went very well. I learned that I can not clerk the committee, run the program and be a parent, all at the same time.

Well, I can't stop being a parent and I did say that I'd clerk the committee this year. But I can choose not to run the program. Which I did this time. Which leaves me better able to support the people who are actually working in the program. Which leaves me more time to be a better clerk. I think it all went pretty well this time around. (Thank you to everyone who volunteered, in case you're reading this!)

Part II

The theme for the Winter Quarter was "Taking Risks in a Time of Peacemaking." In the morning panel, three Friends talked about how they have taken risks for peacemaking. David Hartsough, a member of my Meeting and a founder of the International Non-violent Peace Force, spoke of a vigil that takes place in SF every Friday night at the entrance to the Sunnydale housing project. I used to work for the Red Cross in Sunnydale, running a homelessness prevention program. Anyway, the vigil is organized by the San Francisco Peacemakers - not a Quaker group, but families of young people who've been killed, largely through gang violence. They hold this vigil for peace and safety at one of the most notorious intersections in our city. I had heard about this vigil when it started three years ago. But I had a new baby then and I just said, "I ought to go. Ugh. I can't do it." But that's not such a problem anymore. I could do it. Mental wheels start turning.

For some time now, I've said that marches up and down Market Street in San Francisco are nearly useless. If we want to make a difference, we should march for peace through Sunnydale, or Bogota or Baghdad, where the presence of 100,000 Americans for peace might have an impact. And then another possibility occured to me.

Last year, 100 people or so from San Francisco Monthly Meeting and San Francisco Friends School joined the MLK Day Parade. (I know they called it a march, but really it had the atmosphere of a parade. A Peace Parade.) Anyway, this year there won't be a MLK Parade in SF. There's going to be some kind of a bus ride, to commemorate Rosa Parks. I doubt there will be nearly as many people, but I don't really know.

Anyway. It occurred to me, "What if 100 people from SFFM and SFFS showed up on a Friday night in Sunnydale?" Now, SFFS, like many Friends schools elsewhere, largely reflects the demographics of families who can afford $17,000 a year tuition. The Meeting's demographics aren't much different. What would it be like if 100 of us showed up for the vigil in Sunnydale? How would that change things? What if we did it regularly? But even as I'm spinning this fantasy, I already know that most folks wouldn't come. "It wouldn't be safe." "What about my children?" "The school couldn't accept that kind of liability risk," I hear in my mind. Their fear would not be ungrounded. But then I hear David's other story of Brian Wilson, an activist who lost his legs from sitting on the railroad tracks in front of the Concord Naval Weapons Station to protest the shipments of arms to Central America in the 1980's. Brian Wilson said, "Our lives are not more important than theirs; their lives are not less important than ours." Are our children worth more than those who live in Sunnydale every day? Is our safety more important than our fellow citizens who face the danger in Sunnydale every week? Would their safety be increased or decreased if 100 relatively rich, mostly white folks showed up on a Friday night? It's worth thinking about.

So then in worship-sharing in the afternoon, one of the queries was, "At what point will I drop my own concerns and dedicate myself to peacemaking?" Most of the folks in my group were talking about changing their lives to dedicate themselves fully to peacemaking and whether or not and when that might be possible. But to me, I realized that this could be a small change. I could drop my own fears and work to have the school folks come to vigil in Sunnydale. Could I do that? Would it work? Could I really drop my own concerns and dedicate myself to this act of peacemaking? I'm still wrestling with this question. I know I'll have to go myself before I can do any more. But I am inspired by the idea. I could take a risk for peacemaking right here, with people I know. It won't be safe. It will involve some risk. But Martin Luther King wasn't marching in safe places either. Will I have the small piece of courage to take this step? I hope so.

It's worth thinking about. But the first step is for me to go this Friday night. Please hold me and all the folks who live in Sunnydale in the Light.


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Blogger Liz Opp said...


Thanks for sharing these leadings and nudges with us. It sounds like you are doing some important discernment around your participation in the children's program committee for the Quarter.

As for the vigil, you write:

It's worth thinking about. But the first step is for me to go this Friday night. Please hold me and all the folks who live in Sunnydale in the Light.

I would question you about what your "first step" really is. Is God asking you to go alone, or is that a decision you've made on the spot? Might there be a seasoned Friend to accompany you, if you sought their support?

What if by inviting another to attend the vigil with you, you are offering an Opportunity for another Friend to step into her or his Light as well?

I hope I am making sense. ...Perhaps, in fact, you have already gone through these questions and are being led to go on your own.

Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us. I look forward to reading more about your experience in a few days!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

1/25/2006 12:34 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Actually, I'm already planning to go with the member of the AFSC staff who first told me about the vigil, some years ago, who went regularly for a while, but hasn't lately - so it's good for her too.

I told another friend from the school about this, and she expressed her support but it conflicts with her shabbat observance, so she can't go with me (at least not until it starts getting dark later...) but will also be willing to process the experience with me afterwards.

However, even if no one was available to go with me, I think I would go anyway. I will also call the organizer, who I used to work with in Sunnydale almost ten years ago, to let her know I'm coming. There are several levels on which I think this is important.

1/25/2006 2:05 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Glad to hear you will have support in more ways than one!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

1/25/2006 6:07 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Sullivan said...


it is good to hear another view of what was said during the panel. i was having a little bit of a problem of not being settled so decerning what it ment for me was hard.

i am glad to hear that you are taking the next step as Elizabeth would say. i will hold you in the light as i staff the Gandhi agian workshop.


1/25/2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Rebecca, it was hard for me too in several ways. At least I had a personal interest in the Sunnydale vigil.

The panel was fine, as a panel. Nice people with interesting stories. But I'm not sure how much it helped most people to see what they could do in their lives. Okay, I found a new opening. Maybe there are others too. But did any of us speak about that in the closing session when adults were asked to tell the children what they learned or how they changed during the session? No. There were a lot of platitudes and really learning lite, the stuff that people think children should hear, but not the stuff that really matters to them. How do we get real, honest, open with each other? Is that possible in Quarterly Meeting? I think it could be, but how do we break through the veneer?

My worship sharing was very typical of most Quakers' attitude toward peacemaking I think. Admiring the big, important stuff, but not so much really ready to do anything different than what they've been doing for twenty-forty years. Which, granted, is more than most of the citizens around them have been doing. But where are they still growing? How are they still being transformed by their experience in Meeting? That's what I want to know.

OK. Taking a deep breath now. Today has been my most pessimistic day in a long time. Some might say realistic, but it feels a lot like cranky.

One of the cheesier songs by the Dixie Chicks is called More Love, but tonight it speaks to me: "More love, I know that's all we need, more love, to flow in between us, to take us and hold us and lift us above. If there's ever an answer, it's more love."

1/26/2006 12:41 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Okay, I realize I probably owe anybody reading this the news that I did go last Friday, it was good for me and good for the vigil, and I have much more to say about it, but not enough time to write it out well yet. Maybe next week.

2/01/2006 10:52 AM  

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