By Beth Lantz, instructor (with contributions from students)
Recently Moses Brown’s Civics in Action class traveled to Washington, D.C. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) welcomed us and we began our lobby training on peacebuilding enthusiastically. We met with Senator Jack Reed (see picture) who listened attentively as the students asked for his support of Senator Ben Cardin’s upcoming bill to permanently authorize the Atrocities Prevention Board. Students shared personal stories about how their families have been affected by war, as well as what they have learned in their Civics and Literature of War courses at MB. Senator Reed stated that our students had convincing arguments and that the federal government must invest more in peacebuilding efforts. He agreed to have his staff look into Senator Cardin’s bill. The students will follow up with Senator Reed’s staff in upcoming weeks. In addition to Senator Reed, students had successful meetings with the legislative staff of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline.
We were at the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt monuments when most of us heard about the Paris attacks that took place on November 13. While it was difficult to have students away from their families at such a scary time, we took comfort in each other and talked about how peace, humanitarianism and inclusion are still our best tools in working for a better world. We arrived back home exhausted, but still invigorated by our work in D.C., and the power that lobbying can have in our democracy.
I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to our Director of Friends Education Galen McNemar Hamann who was my fellow chaperone on this trip. At every turn she helped students see that our Quaker values can be lived through public policy. She was an invaluable resource connecting us with the folks at FCNL and others at the institute. I am grateful for her time, energy, and stamina.
Kieran H. ’16:
From our trip to DC I learned a lot about peacebuilding. I know now that it is a process that takes time. Our government is not going to shift to peacebuilding overnight, but by promoting it we can slowly begin to move towards peaceful relations, prevention, and mitigation of conflicts. I learned that peacebuilding is not just an idea, but a process that in action, truly does help. It is clear more countries are responding in a positive light to peacebuilding initiatives, compared to military intervention. Through our lobbying it is clear that our government elected officials see peacebuilding as an efficient and productive way to prevent atrocities and genocides. I also did not realize that peacebuilding can still be effective once countries are already experiencing such atrocities.
Molly H. ’16:
Our world is currently undergoing troubling times all over, especially since the recent attacks in Paris. Congress and other government officials have the greatest power when it comes to preventing atrocities which means that persuading them is most important.
The purpose of peacebuilding is to prevent war before it begins and FCNL is determined to do so. Lastly, I learned that peacebuilding doesn’t just mean preventing war. Peacebuilding also means pushing for equal rights, helping our earth, diminishing all acts of violence, and fixing the nation’s unbalanced budgets. Prior to the trip I only thought we would be lobbying to stop war, which yes we did do, but there was much more to it.
Alexa S. ’16:
I really enjoyed the trip to DC, both in my newfound understanding of peacebuilding, as well as in the good-hearted fun we had. Entering the trip, I did not really have a firm grasp of what we would be doing, and what the meetings with FCNL would entail. However, after the first night with FCNL in our lobby training, I was able to connect the pieces and see the bigger picture in preparation for our meetings with the congress members. I learned a lot about peacebuilding and how we can use nonviolence to prevent deaths, mitigate conflicts before civil war, and reduce financial strains. This trip made me aware of the Atrocities Prevention Board, something that I would not have known anything about otherwise. I learned how to lobby, and how direct contact with our congressmen and congresswomen can greatly influence their actions and decisions in legislating. Overall, the major take away that I had was that regardless of how small a part of society I am as one person, my views and voice CAN be heard and make a difference. It sounds cliché, but this trip taught me that in order to exercise the full extent of my civic power, I must do anything I can to get involved in our government, one way being lobbying.