Nancy Milio has a long history with the Friends Committee on National Legislation—as a donor and a governor, General Committee member, Executive Committee member, and clerk of the Policy Committee. She has also had an impressive career in nursing, as a professor, and as a consultant.
Reflecting back on her adolescence, Nancy didn’t know what career she wanted to have, but she knew she wanted to support those in her community experiencing poverty. She began working as a nurse in her hometown of Detroit, MI, in a historically underserved and predominately Black neighborhood. There, Nancy started a health and daycare center that provided much-needed, easy access to quality health care.
From there, Nancy went on to receive her Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale. As a part of her studies, she traveled the world to learn about family planning, primary health care, childcare, and national health insurance. After a year of traveling, she landed in Boston, where she taught an international health class at Boston University. During this time, she led multiple trips to Washington, D.C., bringing medical students to lobby Congress for universal healthcare.
As the connections between her passion for health care and interest in public policy deepened, Nancy began a joint professorship at the University of North Carolina’s School of Nursing and School of Public Health, where she taught classes exploring how public policy affects public health. It was at UNC where Nancy first became introduced to FCNL.
She used FCNL’s newsletters as a classroom resource because she felt that they werethey were more “balanced” and “truer” than other advocacy newsletters, and because FCNL was willing to send her the sources that were used. During this time, Nancy also wrote two books, worked as an international consultant and lecturer, and completed policy studies for the World Health Organization.
Nancy began attending the Friends meeting in Chapel Hill in the year 2000 where she led forums on policy issues. The next year she was nominated to join FCNL’s Policy Committee—the segment of FCNL’s board of directors or General Committee tasked with discerning FCNL’s policy positions. There she served for eight years and clerked for three. She has also served on the General Committee for 20 years.
Nancy graciously took the time to speak with me about her experiences and beliefs, and how they have informed her life. Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
How do you think Quaker values support and correspond with advocacy?
The fundamentals of Quakerism connect to every moment in time and every political, economic, and environmental situation. It means that people seek truth and speak it as best as they can, in a respectful way; listening to sides that they might not be aware of to try to bring people together. All those things are in very short supply and have been for quite some years now. We keep thinking that it can’t get worse, but it does, and we’re in for such a big circus now.
The fundamentals of Quakerism connect to every moment in time and every political, economic, and environmental situation.
Quakerism also means that you meet other people along the way that think the same way, which forms a community, a collegiality, in which you can place trust. This makes advocacy work so much easier as there’s a certain joy in that even when you fail, you see the work of a long arc of history. Instead of feeling your failure if something doesn’t get done tomorrow, or even next year, there’s this wonderful long history of all those that came before. There’s a certain joy in following along with them and after them, then passing the torch to those who are younger to continue the struggle.
What issues do you think are most vital for the United States today?
There are so many critical issues, and two years ago I would have not expected to say this, but I have to say the most important issue is the climate crisis. I can’t see us solving other problems unless we are at least working on the climate crisis. It accentuates all these other problems, whether its war, inequality, or injustice.
I can’t see us solving other problems unless we are at least working on the climate crisis. It accentuates all these other problems, whether its war, inequality, or injustice.
The time, energy, and money that is going right now to repair the damage from so-called natural disasters is money that could be put to work in solving other problems. Even if you rebuild houses, climate change is at some point going to wash them away or burn them down. All the money, seemingly endless amounts of money, that we spend on war distracts and detracts from the funds that should be going toward the environment here and around the world. The very instrumental war on the climate, from the production of weapons using fossil fuels, to their use, and all the junk that goes into the environment, to cleaning up and doing the repairs on the land and in living habitats, will take a lot of fossil fuels and money to rebuild. Again, that is money that should be going to slow down climate change.
What can everyday people do to support the climate and other issues to make a meaningful difference?
Pay attention and be informed. I’m not sure that a lot of people are. Our media are not great educators. They’re having a great time because natural disasters have a lot of dramatic pictures and stories associated with them, and that gets a lot of eyeballs which is what they want, but there’s not much education there in the mainstream media, unfortunately. There are better sources, I use NPR.
Then, people have limited amounts of time, so whichever major issue hits you in the gut most, focus on that and find an organization that deals with that, but always keep climate change in mind. I really think that almost every piece of legislation ought to have a climate component to it, so that it’s always there to give direction to whatever other good things we want to get done.
People have limited amounts of time, so whichever major issue hits you in the gut most, focus on that.
Then, of course, there’s one’s personal life. To me, on one hand, what an individual does to conserve energy, write letters, and spread the word to their families and kids, well, the kids teach the adults now, but whatever one does on an individual level is not going to make a difference by itself. What I think it does do is keep us aware of what’s happening in the bigger picture.
Down here in North Carolina, we’ve been lucky. Today it’s 88 degrees. It’s hot, but we haven’t had any hurricanes, and we haven’t had any fires. We have had some haze, but compared to other parts of the country, we’re lucky. You could go along in your day-to-day life and not be too concerned. But, if you’re actively trying to recycle and do all kinds of energy saving activities, you’ll remember that even though it’s not hitting you right now, it will come to your family and your friends, so in that sense I think that it’s important for individuals to act as wisely as they can.