1. Update

New Energy for Advocacy

By Alicia McBride, March 6, 2017

This month's staff gathering left me with a sense of excitement and possibility. Over and over again, I heard about new energy for advocacy in this challenging time, and a recognition that our community can sustain that energy for the long haul.

Spring Lobby Weekend participants smile

Jennifer Domenick

Every month, the FCNL staff breaks away from our task lists and individual priorities to come together as a community. These gatherings give us all a chance to share how we're furthering the work of this organization, whether we spend our days in congressional offices, traveling around the country, writing about what's happening on Capitol Hill, or managing finances.

I left the most recent gathering with a sense of excitement and possibility. That may sound strange in today's political climate, where the prospects for advancing peace and justice can seem dim. Yet, over and over again, I heard about new energy for engaging in politics and advocacy in this very challenging time, and a recognition that we are part of a community that can sustain that energy for the long haul.

Events Around the Country

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National Field Organizer Maiya Zwerling was just back from two weeks establishing new FCNL Advocacy Teams. Brunswick, Maine; Atlanta, Georgia; and Wichita, Kansas are just a few of the now-50 communities where hundreds of volunteer activists are building enduring relationships with their members of Congress over the next year. The challenge with these events is not in getting people to commit to spend hours learning about effective advocacy, it's in making sure that the workshop space is big enough to hold everyone who wants to participate.

Events around our capital campaign, too, have seen overflowing attendance. And more than 800 people are participating in our new online training to prepare people to go on their first lobby visit — four times more than we anticipated.

Spring Lobby Weekend is also shaping up to be our biggest yet. Our ambitious goal was to bring 450 college students and other young adults to Washington this spring to lobby on economic justice, especially protecting funding for Medicaid and SNAP. At least that many people will be joining us. They come from 42 states and the District of Columbia, representing more than 170 congressional districts, and they'll be lobbying just at the moment that Congress is considering far-reaching changes to these programs that help keep millions of people from economic distress every year.

Quakers and Civic Engagement

Across the country, people are looking for ways to be more politically engaged. They're asking what really works to influence their members of Congress, and they're trying to decide where to put their time.

Quakers have something to offer in our insistence that God is present in each of us.

Quakers, and FCNL, have something important to offer in this search. We see advocacy as an opportunity for active listening, not a chance to shout your point of view louder than someone else. Whether your members of Congress always agree with you or rarely do, there's always an opportunity to have a conversation and try to find common ground.

Quakers also have something to offer in our insistence that God is present in each of us. FCNL's Quaker Field Secretary Christine Ashley visited 14 Friends' meetings over three weekends and spoke at the staff gathering about the hunger she heard for constructive action that both stands up for our values and brings us closer to one another. She shared Friends' gratitude for FCNL and the framework we provide for people to live out their faith in the world.

Real Impact

Even with this surge of interest in advocacy, it's easy to get discouraged about the possibilities for peace and justice right now. It's true that this new political landscape means recalibrating our idea of success - but as I heard FCNL lobbyists speak, I also reflected how their work is having a measurable impact.

A person holds a sign that says This is What a Lobbyist Looks Like

The "Mic-Drop Moment": At a nomination hearing for David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, Sen. Jeanne Shaneen (NH) read a constituent letter asking about Friedman's disparaging comments about Jews who disagree with his extreme points of view and asked for Friedman's response. The exchange attracted notice from reporters and led Friedman to offer a personal conversation with the constituent. FCNL played an important role in getting the letter into the senator's hands.

A Bipartisan Bright Spot: Over the last four years, FCNL has worked with scores of Republican offices and with their constituents to build the political support to address climate change. Even as agencies such as the EPA and NOAA face huge cuts in the administration's budget, more Republicans are stepping forward to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has 14 Republican and 13 Democratic members.

Strategic Leadership: FCNL's leadership over the last decade has elevated the importance of peacebuilding and violence prevention within the U.S. government. When news leaked that President Trump wanted to increase Pentagon spending at the expense of the State Department and USAID, members of Congress across the political spectrum weighed in to oppose the cuts.. President Trump did not mention State Department cuts in his late February address to Congress, in part due to this response.

A Time for Reflection

The support and encouragement we give each other is what can sustain us for this work over the long-term.

It's important to recognize and lift up these kinds of results right now, when all the news coming out of Washington seems bad. It's important to remind each other that we can create hope and make a difference, even if our actions seem small against the magnitude of the problems and challenges we face.

In these monthly staff gatherings, we have a chance to recognize progress and see how our perspective fits into the larger picture that is FCNL. I find that, more and more, I need these reminders of the community within the FCNL office and among our supporters and advocates around the country. Two months into this new administration, it's clear that we are at the beginning of a long, contentious, and painful era for advocates for peace and justice. The support and encouragement we give each other is what can sustain us for this work over the long-term.

Background Sustaining the Peacemaker 

Ed Snyder posits that anger, fear, success, and guilt offer only short bursts of energy for peace and justice -- not the spiritual resources needed for a lifetime of action and advocacy.

Alicia McBride

  • Director of Quaker Leadership

Alicia McBride leads FCNL’s work to nurture, expand, and deepen relationships with Friends across the United States. She also works to ensure that everyone engaged with the organization understands the spiritual basis of FCNL’s advocacy. She oversees FCNL events at the Quaker Welcome Center as well as Annual Meeting and the Quaker Public Policy Institute.