As the oldest registered religious lobby in Washington, D.C., it would be easy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to celebrate its accomplishments and ride off into the sunset. After all, the organization has done a lot in 80 years.
But that is not FCNL’s way. Since 1943, FCNL has been at the forefront of many important social movements, faithfully lobbying Congress and 15 successive presidential administrations to advance peace, justice, and environmental stewardship.
Since 1943, FCNL has been at the forefront of many important social movements, faithfully lobbying Congress and 15 successive presidential administrations to advance peace, justice, and environmental stewardship.
Today, FCNL, the FCNL Education Fund, and Friends Place on Capitol Hill form one of the most effective change agents in Washington, D.C. Its efforts to speak truth to power are deeply rooted in Quaker peace testimony and the belief that there is that of God in everyone—the foundation of its legislative policy and work for 80 years.
From defeating mandatory military training to helping thaw relations with China, FCNL’s first 30 years were marked by efforts to stop violent conflict around the world and address their root causes. FCNL’s advocacy resulted in laws that provided relief to Europe during and after World War II and played a significant role in creating the Peace Corps in 1961 and preventing future wars.
In the 1970s, then-FCNL Executive Secretary Ed Snyder led efforts to cancel the appropriations of $474 million to the South Vietnamese military, expediting an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam.
A decade later, FCNL helped thaw relations with the Soviet Union and built congressional support for a series of international treaties to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and lessen the threat of war.
Then, in the 1990s, FCNL helped to ratify the UN Convention on Chemical Weapons and advocated for the United States to adopt a code of conduct on arms transfers.
It was 9/11, however, that would catalyze a pivotal, lasting shift in U.S. foreign policy.
Inspired by the leadership of Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-12)—the sole member of Congress to speak out against retaliation and going to war—FCNL sprang into action. It issued a statement urging accountability under international law and cautioning against actions that would spark additional violence, fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, and lead to more suffering.
Although FCNL believed (and still believes) war is not the answer, President George W. Bush, and almost everyone else in Congress, thought otherwise. That turning point ignited more than two decades of endless wars, with innumerable lives violently taken.
Throughout, FCNL’s grounding in Quaker faith practice remains steadfast. Its strength lies in its agility and perseverance. The organization is committed to the long game, often working for years to move policy through Congress. Along the way, FCNL evolved its processes to maximize its impact in catalyzing change. And the tirelessness of FCNL advocates and staff lobbyists achieved results.
Earlier this spring, that rang true as the Senate voted to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) and formally end the Gulf and Iraq Wars. The 2002 AUMF, considered a “blank check for war,” is one of the dangerous, outdated laws that green-lit one of the post-9/11 wars, and has been subject to abuse ever since. FCNL and its network of advocates have lobbied tirelessly for decades for Congress to repeal the zombie legislation.
But as Executive Secretary Emeritus Joe Volk says, “These things take time.”
Another hallmark of FCNL is its willingness to continually evolve. In the 1960s, FCNL’s lobbying approach and geographic location positioned it amid some of the most pivotal demonstrations in recent history. From the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City to multiple demonstrations against the Vietnam War, FCNL regularly hosted visiting Friends, planned seminars, and supported leaders in the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.
Through William Penn House, acquired in 2019 and renamed Friends Place on Capitol Hill, FCNL expanded its connection to and engagement with other organizers. It provided meals and showers, and helped to strategize effective advocacy tactics during some of the most tumultuous times our country has faced.
Today, FCNL is again at a pivotal point. Amid increasing political polarization, dangerous rhetoric, incessant gun violence, racial trauma, climate catastrophe, and rampant domestic and international injustice, FCNL adopted a new Statement of Anti-racism, Anti-bias, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (AJEDI).
FCNL approaches each of its issue areas through this lens, from acknowledging Quaker complicity in the horrors of the Indian Boarding School era and lobbying for legislation to address it, to recognizing growth opportunities within the organization that reflect these core beliefs.
At 80, FCNL’s work is far from over.
At 80, FCNL’s work is far from over. As Associate General Secretary for Development Stephen Donahoe reminds us, “80 years is just the beginning.” With an eye towards the future, FCNL continues to grow through its Advocacy Teams—now in 44 states—and its expanded civic education efforts to engage more young adults in peacemaking.
FCNL serves to empower advocates, no matter where they are on their journey, to understand and participate in the political process by realizing the power of their voices in a way that transcends partisan politics.
“We are now a powerhouse of a peace and justice lobby, still grounded with the Religious Society of Friends. We’re working with staff of 65 and a network of thousands of people people across the country, some Quakers, some not, who believe in the work that we’re doing and help build the power to make the change we’re seeking,” said Bridget Moix, FCNL general secretary.
FCNL’s work is far from over; it is in the process of discerning its 2024-2028 Strategic Plan.