Saturday, 6 December 2014

Objectives, outcomes, opportunities and openings

There’s a challenge to planning work and activities that are to do with the leadings of the spirit. We, like other Quaker groups, try to plan our work around agreed objectives, set out in a framework over a period of time. This makes the work manageable and keeps us focused and able to coordinate and work together. 

Outcomes of what we do in supporting Quakers and others in their peace witness are tricky to name, but unless we have some vision of the bigger changes we are working towards the work can drift. Keeping our eyes on the prize, so to speak.The long-term nature of action for change may mean that some of these outcomes, the components of our broader vision, may not be realised in our lifetimes. But at least we can work in the knowledge that we know where we’re going and how we’re nurturing and building the elements of that change with the time, skills, resources and vision that we have.

There’s a saying  ‘Don’t agonize, organize!’. The gap between the current reality of how things are in the world and our vision of how they should be can be agonising and disempowering. Finding a way of doing something, however small, to bring that vision to reality is a step away from that. And a step taken with others is more powerful still.

But we do need to give ourselves to reflect, to gather with others in worship and be ready for the openings and for being led, in and through that worship. These times of reflection, of being open to new light can in their turn make us aware of opportunities for action, of which we might not have been aware in the midst of the busy-ness of organising, the setting of objectives and naming outcomes.

Our openness to leadings and for seeing new ways forward, for reconnecting with the source of our vision, is the bedrock for our organising of our time, individually and collectively. If it is not, are we doing Quaker work?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Marching - and Never Again

This picture, whilst not being of any technical significance, is evocative and is one that we’ve used quite a number of times in printed and electronic publications. It was taken at the big anti-war march in London in February 2003. Well, I say ‘march’. For those of us who joined the tail-end in Bloomsbury, it was more of a sporadic shuffle, and we certainly got nowhere near the march’s end point, Hyde Park, such were the numbers.  It was an event to remember though, just as the CND marches were for me in the early 1980s and the Aldermaston marches for others 20 years before that.

But marches have such different connotations in other contexts. When we hear politicians and military strategists talk of ‘boots on the ground’ we picture rows of military personnel marching together into action. The military marches that take place on troops’ homecoming also seem to be about staking a territorial claim.

So why has the peace movement been so preoccupied with marching over the years, with these uncomfortable associations?  Like the military, for peace and other campaigners over the decades, it’s a way of making a visible statement - we are here, there are many of us and we demand to be noticed.

I can’t be alone, though, in also finding myself sometimes uneasy in the bigger marches. A crowd develops its own psychology and it’s easy for people to be swept up in the mood.  Recognising this, the marches organised in the tradition of Gandhi recently - the Ekta Parishad marches in India - put great emphasis on training and preparing participants in the disciplines of nonviolence. And of course the US civil-rights marches were similarly focussed, with Martin Luther King and others recognising the damage to a movement that can come from violent responses to provocation.

The demonstration of conviction and concern is one outcome of a march. Another, and I don’t think this should be underestimated, is the building of a sense of solidarity and community. Those who have been on marches and walks in earlier years often seem to have a sense that they were important, being times when people were throwing in their lot with others; once you have been on such a journey together,  you have a commitment to the cause and to others who were there, to continue acting on that cause. So, we may not have got to Hyde Park in February 2003, but we were there, felt the mass of public feeling around that time  and, speaking for myself, have found strength and encouragement from that sense over the 11 years since.

Finally, in the midst of the recent remembrance Sunday events, was a very striking march, that of the relatively new UK branch of Veterans for Peace. Whilst not in military attire, there was something of the military discipline about their approach to the cenotaph with a wreath of white poppies. And then they stood and sang ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’. These are people who know what marching into war means… it is part of who they are; but their gentle, dignified walk was a very powerful expression of their commitment to the wording of their one banner ‘Never Again’. The video speaks for itself.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014


This isn't about the financial legacies that have been crucial in providing NFPB with additional financial support over the years. My focus here is the legacy of violent conflict. Throughout the military action on and from Gaza many of us will have been particularly conscious of the seeds of hurt, fear and repression that have fed into the conflict.  Decisions and actions taken by political and military figures over many decades have all contributed in different ways.  And now the cycle of war, trauma and further violence seems so difficult to stop in situations like this. We think of the experiences of the children who are currently on the receiving end of the terror of military bombardment - can't those who are using these tactics see that they are going to be creating more children who grow up seeing the other community as the enemy to be feared and fought against? 

This last point was brought into chilling light by the recent BBC documentary in which Lyse Doucet met and interviewed children who had witnessed and experienced some of the horror of the civil war in Syria. The emotional scars revealed in this one hour were very telling, with young boys on both sides of the conflict each talking about their desire to get involved and to become martyrs. Those ideas were undoubtedly fed by older people around them, but what a legacy! You can read a review of that programme here.

An early NFPB poster - legacy
from earlier Northern Friends
And what of those expected to deliver the violence?  Today we read on the BBC website  of the numbers of deaths by suicide of people who have served in the British armed services. There have also been studies that suggest significant levels of violent behaviour in former military personnel. One such researcher is quoted here as saying: "We found that nearly 13% of soldiers were violent in the weeks following their return home from deployment in Iraq. Violence was more common amongst those who showed aggressive tendencies before joining the Army, but even when we took that into account, there was still a strong link between exposure to combat and traumatic events during deployment and violence on return home."

Does it have to be like this? Also on the BBC news today is an interview with a British Kurd currently engaged with the aid efforts to the Yazidi victims of the IS in Iraq. She talked of how her own experiences as a child fleeing terror in Iraq have driven her to want to make a difference to people encountering similar things today. Fortunately there will always be people who do respond to trauma by committing their lives to making a positive difference, from supporting victims of domestic abuse to work at an international level. But this can't be taken for granted and the long and careful work of supporting trauma victims is such a crucial aspect of peace work, interrupting the cycle of violence, fear and mistrust and sowing some seeds of hope. This video from American Friends Service Committee shows such work in Burundi, whilst work with some of the youngest children in Gaza - supported by Norwegian Quakers - faces great challenges at the moment.

Crucially, in the knowledge that the long-term damage of violent conflict and oppression can be so costly, we need to commit ourselves to working to support peaceful, just and loving solutions whenever and wherever possible.  This isn't rocket-science. 'Children Learn What They Live' writes Dorothy Law Nolte.... 
[the full text is here ]

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Kindness - random acts of ; and beauty - senseless

I can't recall when I first came across the phrase, but it was on a postcard that had the full sentence - 'Practice random kindness and acts of senseless beauty'.  I liked it because of the play on words - so often we hear of random violence and act of senseless cruelty.   There is a lot to be said for both parts of the sentence - beauty doesn't always make sense but can greatly enrich lives, lifting the spirit, providing comfort and inspiration.  Equally, an act of kindness when least expected can create a lasting memory and change the way we perceive our relationship with those around us; the world isn't always such an uncaring, isolating place. 

Yesterday at British Quakers' Yearly Meeting Gathering I attended a short session introducing the two teaching materials that have just been published by QPSW, Conviction and Conscience . As part of the session, we were given a taster exercise, using one of the case-studies in the materials, in this case focusing on the life and action of Emily Hobhouse. We were asked to reflect on her qualities - what was it in her remarkable work that drove her and can inspire us still? On the one hand she had come across by chance serious issues that needed a loving and humanitarian response, whilst on the other became very organised and strategic in working for the change that was needed, making herself hugely unpopular in so doing.

So yes, random acts of kindness are good, but at times a more organised and planned effort is desperately needed to create real change.  At its best, this organised work is still seasoned with the small practical loving gestures that remind us of our common humanity and of the beauty of the world we are striving to make a better place for all who live in it.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Justice (and joy)

I was very struck in the early days of this horrific period of violent attacks in Palestine and Israel, by the use of the word 'quiet' as a goal for the Israeli government. They wanted to restore quiet - meaning in their case preventing missile launches from Gaza. As Quakers, quietness is assumed to be a good thing - a state, a place from which and in which insights and a sense of the divine can grow and flourish. But a quiet that is the result of forcible subduing is a very different matter. 

On a smaller scale, I recall a discussion some years ago of people preparing for an act of peace witness. The group was predominantly Quakers, with a small number of non-Quakers joining us. As our discussion became a little heated, the Friend who was clerking/facilitating suggested a period of quiet. After a short while, one non-Quaker friend burst out with frustration; they felt that we were being told to shut up, that legitimate, if divergent, views were not being heard.  Can Quakers use quietness in this way, even if unconsciously, more often than we realise? 

Back to Palestine. In the Jewish writings Pirkei Avot we read  "Our Rabbis taught: ...The sword comes into the world, because of justice delayed and justice denied...". (see )  The MP David Ward got himself into hot water recently when he tweeted  "The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes."  (see: . Well, I'm not in Gaza and I don't condone violence.  But if the silence of a Quaker-led meeting can lead to an outburst of anger, we have to acknowledge that prolonged and sustained, systematic injustice to a community will produce anger that will at times in its turn be violent.  On its website, the American Friends Service Committee states: "...calling for an end to current violence is not enough. To truly make a difference, we must all work to see the situation clearly, identify the root causes of the violence, and work to transform the systems that are perpetuating injustice and death."

I began reflecting on this theme some weeks before the current crisis took the terrible turn that it has. I intended to couple reflections on justice with some thoughts about joy. The poem below seems to be the best way of doing that. Joy is the natural expression of people living life, being happy in each others company. It's life-affirming quality is also probably why peace action very often includes joyful actions, from the music of very first Aldermaston marches to the current whirlwind of activity creating a glorious riot of pink wool that in a short time will be used to draw attention to the continuing commitment by our country to developing weapons of mass-destruction. We can wail, we can weep ... but life is also for loving and laughing. By reminding the weapons-makers and military-planners of our common humanity, they are lovingly challenged to consider that they may well be seriously mistaken. Which is why we weep.

Say No to peace

By Brian Wren
February/March 2004

Say "No" to peace
if what they mean by peace
is the quiet misery of hunger,
the frozen stillness of fear,
the silence of broken spirits,
the unborn hopes of the oppressed.

Tell them that peace
is the shouting of children at play,
the babble of tongues set free,
the thunder of dancing feet,
and a father's voice singing.

Say "No" to peace,
if what they mean by peace
is a rampart of gleaming missiles,
the arming of distant wars,
money at ease in its castle,
and grateful poor at the gate.

Tell them that peace
is the hauling down of flags,
the forging of guns into ploughs,
the giving of fields to the landless,
and hunger a fading dream.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Independence and interdependence

At the heart of our commitment to peace is a strong sense that there is something of God in all people. Over the years this has led Quakers to put efforts into living in a way that does not accept the barriers put up by societal structures or by nation states.  William Penn's Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693) reflects that long history of Quaker concern, in proposing that nation states should be meeting and talking to one another in an early vision of a European parliament.

As the twentieth century progressed it became increasingly clear that we had to think globally, with world wars, a growing awareness of the planet as one ecosystem and wider awareness of the effects of the lifestyles of the wealthier citizens of the world on the lives of the poorest.

In spite of this, the nation state – and indeed the sense of separate nationhood within states – retains its appeal and potency. Whilst our governments seem to have some understanding global roots of conflict, the routes chosen to address security continue to be driven by a mindset that puts 'national interest' first and foremost, not least because of the cycle of electoral politics that means longer-term thinking is made unattractive.

Yet, when a region or a people is dominated within a state by a stronger part of that state that fails to recognise the particular interests and needs of the smaller part, it is entirely understandable that increased separateness and self-determination become such pressing aspirations, as we now see with some clarity from those who seek independence for Scotland.

More widely, the UK is very much beholden to the US, particularly in military matters. The recent, now annual, Independence from America demonstration at Menwith Hill is another clear message – it is not acceptable that the country in which military-linked activities like those in North Yorkshire take place have so little say in what is really going on. This is activity in the US national interest but in the north of England and in many other parts of the globe. This is an inter-dependence we really could do without.

The independence movement that comes with the baggage of isolationism and ignorance is deeply problematic, as we have seen in recent UK electoral politics.  And worse still, is the seeking of separateness from people who might different from us within our own towns and cities. Peace-building at home and internationally must have the overcoming of isolation and ignorance at its core.

For Friends, and for many others who share our commitments to peace, justice and planetary care, we must find approaches that support the most vulnerable in society and in the world - which might mean independence and separateness from oppressive powers - whilst promoting awareness and action that recognises our interdependence on one another and  of other living things to one another throughout the globe, seeking power with others and 'power to ...' take action rather than power over.

Friday, 30 May 2014


One of the things that grabs the imagination of people – not just young people – in films, computer games and other forms of entertainment, is the role of the heroic figure. I have often heard it suggested that we need to offer stories of peace heroes to provide a counter-narrative. It would certainly be refreshing to see more films that don't resolve conflict through an explosive shoot-out where the 'bad guys' are either killed or overpowered and the heroic 'good guys' are largely unscathed and walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand with a romantic interest.  Society seems to be hooked on this pattern of redemptive violence; we certainly need to challenge that.

But is replacing violent heroics with non-violent heroics the answer?  Well, maybe it is to a degree, in that people do engage with a dramatic storyline, in which people are shown to overcome wrongs and the world is a better place for their efforts.  We need to start where people are.

On the other hand (and in the real world), I think there is a danger in over-emphasising the role of just one person and in pinning all our hopes on that person.  There are people acting for peace who make the headlines, whose dramatic witness is very good at engaging the public imagination and interest. There are also many others working for peace and justice who expend just as much time and effort but whose activities are less dramatic and less visible.

To use two already over-used phrases; peace is a group effort and is a marathon rather than a sprint. It is about changing behaviours, culture and politics at many different levels and about taking the long view.  The actions of different people have inspired me in different ways over the years; sometimes brilliant speakers or dynamic direct-activists have shown me what is possible. At other times, the quiet doggedness and gentle team-building in the background has shown me something vital and important about taking action for peace.  We have much to be grateful for in the lives and witness of many people – recognising that all will be wonderful in many ways, but probably also all flawed in other ways. None of us is perfect.

Having said all that, I was moved to hear last week of the death of Vincent Harding, someone better known amongst Friends in the United States than in Britain YM. As someone who worked closely with Martin Luther King, he already has his place in history. But when I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few years ago, I was inspired by a man who combined intellectual clarity with a special kind of gentle humanity, deeply spiritual and very political.  If I had to name a hero for peace and justice, I think he'd definitely be on the short list. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014


With our own (NFPB's) centenary last year and the anniversary of the first world war fast upon us, there is a fair bit interest in past generations of Quakers and their responses to war. The horror of war that leaves a scar, both on those immediately affected by it, but also on communities and societies as a whole.

The psychological affects of war are now well known, and  last month saw news reports of the significant scale of post traumatic stress experienced by British armed forces veterans on their return from Afghanistan and Iraq.  This is something for which some now get helpful treatment, but others suffer for long periods, often causing wider suffering to families and other around them. 

The intensity of feelings arising from the experiences of war  can change and shape lives for more than just the one generation. Holding onto hurt can create a toxic legacy – battles lost and won can be used to foment current crises, as we saw in Kosovo – sometimes hundreds of years later. And the pride, or at least commitment to the sense that loved ones should not have died in vain, becomes part of families' histories.  More recently, we have been hearing from Quakers whose parents and grandparents refused to fight – this too becomes an important of their family story, and of the collective Quaker story.

George Fox famously reports in his Journal that he, upon being asked to join the Commonwealth army, “told them I knew whence all wars arose, even from the lusts, according to James' doctrine; and that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.”   Whilst we need to be looking to the future in our peace work should we also be looking at what living in 'the virtue of that life and power that [takes] away the occasion of all wars' means for us in the here and now? Are we open to the transformation that might come from that? 

A young Friend recently challenged readers to not regard young Friends as the future of the Society; they are part of the present.  In finding a way to act for peace together, we can draw on the insights and experiences of many generations of Friends. This shouldn't be a case of holding onto inspirational history or putting it on a pedestal.  'That was then and this is now'... what can we learn from our history, our present and from one another, that helps us live our peace testimony in the world today?

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Fire and Forget

I first came across this term when I was reading up on our local arms manufacturer, MBDA, whose main line is a chilling range of missiles. There's an early use of the phrase in a 1984 article in which we can read: ' "Fire-and-forget," also known as "launch-and-leave" or "shoot-and-scoot," depending on who is pulling the trigger, refers to weapons that need no further intervention once fired. ' (see )

Brimstone missile, produced by MBDA, at the DSEi arms
fair in London, 2011
High-tech weaponry of the 'fire and forget' kind is attractive to those involved in warfare; as Wikipedia states... [such a weapon] '... can hit its target without the launcher being in line-of-sight of the target. This is an important property for a guided weapon to have, since a person or vehicle that lingers near the target to guide the missile (using, for instance, a laser designator) is vulnerable to attack and unable to carry out other tasks.' ( )

But what else lies in that term, 'fire and forget'? It is a profoundly troubling concept in many ways, hinting at an over-reliance on technology and disregard for the human consequences of that technology's use. This is probably at the heart of the level of concern and opposition to the use of Drones. As touched on in my previous piece, the ability to distance oneself from the 'enemy' emotionally (to forget their humanity) makes it easier to take their life. The trouble is, those who are on the receiving end cannot forget, and each time a life is lost through violence there will be another legacy of hurt. This won't inevitably lead to more violence, but it's clear that it can - and often does - feed into such a cycle.

In place of fire and forget, we need to respect and remember the worth of all human beings, to remember and learn from the past... and to use technology to reach out rather than to set coordinates.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Distance.... Empathy

Once you've walked a mile in another person's shoes then you're a mile away and you have their shoes! Or so goes the witticism I heard on the radio a year or so ago. The key point here is that violent conflict – or indeed the structural violence of economic injustice – are at least in part made possible if those responsible have either a physical or emotional distance from the victims of violence. It becomes easier to kill or to prepare to kill another person if they are seen as 'the other'.

During the cold war the iron curtain, whilst not existing as a physical entity, was very real in creating a barrier to communications and the most basic of contact between the peoples of east and west. Growing up during that period, the gradual opening up of channels – such as through Quaker East-West exchanges and visits – sometimes felt like a real revelation; what the ordinary person in Britain knew about the lives of ordinary people in the Soviet Union (and vice-versa) was so limited.

Much of the armed conflict during the first world war saw armies facing each other for months on end with only a small physical distance between them. The famous Christmas Truce in which British and German soldiers played football and exchanged gifts in no-man's land is a powerful story in that it shows so simply the irrelevance of the battle-lines when it comes to simple bonds of common humanity.

It has always been in the interests of some of those in power to promote the idea of one group or nation as 'the enemy', sometimes in order to support the case for going to war and at other times, as we have seen more recently in the UK, to justify uncaring economic and social policies. Our Advices and Queries, however, point to a different way:

“Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society's conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve?”


“In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?”

In many respects, it is now easier to break down the barriers of understanding between different communities, people and nations, with communications technology providing a means of information-sharing that is mostly a lot more democratic. It is harder for government's to persuade us that nation / group 'A' is the enemy. Or is it? The situation between Ukraine and Russia shows how difficult, but also how important, it is to get a proper understanding of the needs and fears of the different populations. It is very clear that the media are being influenced and manipulated by politicians from east and west to support their particular approach. And non-governmental groups of all persuasions can and do use web tools to promote misunderstanding and fear of the other for all sorts of reasons; a real challenge.

From the individual to the multi-national levels, empathy is a key factor in developing better mutual understanding. A particular difficulty is that it is easier to empathise when you don't feel threatened yourself. Empathy is one of the building blocks of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) and in one of their resources ( we read:
“In order to break through the walls of our self-made prison—revealing who we really are and our natural ability to empathize—we need to feel a high level of safety. With this level of safety, we can now risk being vulnerable enough to lay down our assumed identity. When you lay down your identity, you are left with your humanity; and from this place of common humanity, you can experience true connection with others. This is when transformation occurs. AVP creates this level of safety through the development of community.”

It's all easier said than done; our different life experiences as individuals and as communities mean that each of us will respond in our own way and have our own outlook. Those used to leading privileged and comfortable lives (myself included) will always find it hard to really know what it means to feel the reality of constant hardship or discrimination. The basis of Quakerism is to seek that of God in others, to encourage listening and a search for truth together; this surely is a precious foundation on which to build activities that create bridges across divisions of understanding.

Conscientious Objection - and a Culture of Peace

I'm part way through a short sabbatical and am very grateful for the support from NFPB in giving me this opportunity to take a breather from the busy-ness of the work.  I've begun to jot a few thoughts to get this alphabet blogging exercise moving again.

This year we shall be hearing a lot about conscientious objectors and about the principle of conscientious objection. On 15th May, International Conscientious Objectors day will have added poignancy this year, with thoughts going to those who chose not to fight when conscription was introduced during the first world war. It is clear from both world wars that this was not plain-sailing for those already in the Society of Friends – individuals' choices led them both to leave and to come into the Society of Friends, the former being those Friends who decided to enlist and the latter who could not in all conscience take the life of another person.  For many others already within the Society, its support - such as that shown by NFPB - in practical and spiritual ways, was crucial in sustaining and supporting them.

White carnations representing CO's around
the world, past and present, at a Manchester
ceremony a few years ago.
The Quaker peace testimony has never been easy. It has, over the years, been in a key expression of what it means to be a Quaker and for this reason the Society of Friends has been a place that has attracted those whose own beliefs and convictions were at odds with those of the community or faith group to which they originally belonged. It is assumed that those joining the Society of Friends will share a commitment to peace in general terms; what each of us is conscientiously led to do about that will vary. It isn't just about the extraordinary choices that people have to make during wartime. Peace, as Friends have come to understand it, is also about positive action. What conscientious commitment can we make to building peace today? What can we conscientiously affirm about peace?

The first decade of this century was named by the United Nations as the Decade for a Culture of Peace. That was easy to forget, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exacting such a heavy toll throughout the period. But work was done to explore and promote the concept. A culture of peace could be seen as a whole set of values, ways of living together and approaches to dealing constructively with conflict. It is a concept that can open up many doors to action, from nonviolent resistance to community bridge-building and developing personal capacities for peace-building.

Logo for the Decade for a
Culture of Peace
As a Society of Friends, we have many of the ingredients to hand that could be key components of a culture of peace. We can't take these for granted though and must continue to work on developing and learning what it means in practice to be a community committed to peace. And we can rejoice in the fact that we are not alone; one of the things that the Decade highlighted was the spread of peace initiatives in many areas of life throughout the world. We have much to give, but also much to learn and to gain from others.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Anti-war, alternatives and being there

I’m arriving late into the Quaker alphabet blogging exercise, but hope this won’t trouble readers unduly. As is apparent, this blog has been on the quiet side recently; so this seems a good opportunity to meander through some reflections on peace action and witness from a Quaker perspective. 

As an opening offering, I am very aware that those involved in peace concerns are easily labelled as being ‘anti-war’ and as ‘activists’. Both of these terms come with their own baggage. NFPB itself has been shaped by its first thirty two years and the experience of two world wars and Quaker individual and collective dissent and opposition to these wars. It was and is emphatically ‘anti-war’. But to be anti-war has never been enough; peace is about living a different way in relation to our fellow human beings.

Activist - helpful or not? Most of us probably have an image of someone who is particularly motivated and active in campaigning, from writing letters, to joining demonstrations of different sorts, to organising meetings etc. But, rather similarly to the above, these particular forms of action that express our peace convictions are certainly not the be all and end all.   Which brings me to a third A - Alternatives. If we are living ‘in... that life and power that seeks to take away the occasion of all wars’, what does this look like in positive terms? Different things to different people, of course, but without some sort of sense of an alternative way of living together, of engaging with conflict and of promoting peace, anti-war activism can feel very sterile.  

One of the positive things about Quaker peace work is that it embraces the range of witness and activity along the spectrum, from advocacy at international and national institutions to more radical direct action and to active promotion of peace-skills, such as through the Alternatives to Violence Project. We can feel encouraged by this variety, recognising what different people can bring at different times and in different places as having their place.
I’ve already mentioned the baggage that comes with a lot of peace witness; let’s just park that.  

Bolshie: those who wouldn’t serve in the military during war time were known for being a bolshie lot, those of the WW1 period being described by Jeremy Paxman as cranks. Let’s hear it for the bolshie, cranky Quakers! Where would we be without them? (incidentally, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that, contrary to what the Mirror headline said, I don’t see myself as having ‘blasted’ anyone - I was simply asked for a comment on Jeremy Paxman’s programme and gave it, without blast or bluster.)
Being there: some of the most inspiring and powerful witness is as simple as that - just being there, witnessing. Friends gather together regularly outside military bases, sometimes in worship, at other times with a more emphatic political message - such as the weekly witness by CAAB at Menwith Hill

Being there is also important in times and places of conflict; from the Ecumenical Accompaniment work in Palestine and Israel to the earlier work seeking to build east-west understanding during the cold war. There is a purpose to such work, but the outcomes are often very long-term and so not always easy to measure. Sometimes being there can be an important act of witness to human rights abuse; it can also create opportunities for conversation or dialogue. And at other times, being there, alongside others, is an important act of solidarity, expressing our commitment to one another as human beings even if we don’t have all the answers.

Finally, coming out of our centenary year last year, I have a strong sense of the value of long-standing organisations and groups ‘being there’, continuing the questioning, the seeking, the exploring of new ways of contributing to peace in the world.