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FCNL Interns give speeches at Annual Meeting

November 29, 2007

For those of you not familiar with FCNL structure, here’s a basic overview (For more check out our website). Every year we have an annual meeting, at which the FCNL governing body – the general committee- comes together to discuss what’s going on in Congress and what FCNL should work on. The part of the meeting that looms in the minds of the first year interns is when we each have to give a speech. A warning to prospective FCNL interns – this is not something they tell you in your interview. I don’t know the origin of this tradition, but it has been going on for a good number of years, and has become a sort of legend around the office. We interns put a lot of worry, sweat and labor into these speeches, and I think they all turned out to be pretty interesting. I have included most of the texts here (more will be put up as my fellow program assistants get them to me), and you can listen to all of the speeches on the website.

Pick an intern:


Trevor Keck

Over the course of the last few days, many have talked about strategies to change the direction of our country, specifically in reference to the war in Iraq and future wars. The first is a legislative task–talk to members of Congress about ending the war. The second, I believe extremely important task for the long term–change people’s mind’s about war, and using a war as an instrument of foreign policy. One person here specifically said, make people think war unthinkable, like slavery. I am going to connect this discussion with the experiences that brought me to change my worldview. This story starts during my first weeks at college. As I began my orientation at Chapman University, I was told the theme for our incoming class was “global citizenship.” I had little appreciation for this idea and rarely considered how this theme applied to my life. The grand, larger than life sound of this theme seemed irrelevant to me, a nervous, socially awkward, scared 18 year old from Southern California. And like most college freshman, I was concerned with the social functions during the first few weeks of school, not an academic exercise, especially one that seemed as abstract as “global citizenship.” Yet, just weeks later, there would be an event that would stimulate my thinking and compel me to reconsider the meaning of this very theme.

The attacks of the September 11th happened just three weeks into my first semester at college. As I watched the U.S.-led coalition respond by swiftly bombing Afghanistan, like many Americans, I began to consider, how did this happen and why? Suddenly, our world seemed out of sorts. What had spawned this deep hatred towards my country? Like most, I expressed shock, dismay, grief and a conviction in the need for justice. On the other hand, I was unsure what ‘justice’ meant in this situation, and deeply skeptical that a military response would serve this ‘justice.

As a screenwriting student, I had the opportunity to study abroad in the South of France during the spring of 2003, to intern in the Cannes film festival. Among studying French, interning, and enjoying life on the French Riviera–which included developing an expensive bourgeois taste for French wine and cheese–I traveled as much as possible. Now remember for a moment that this was the spring of 2003, also the months prior to the Iraq war, which made for an interesting time to travel and visit various European capitals. Massive demonstrations, protests and a general resentment towards the U.S made for intriguing discussions, yet often-uncomfortable situations.

As the Bush Administration disparaged members of the Security Council for refusing to endorse an invasion of Iraq and war grew closer, I felt torn. On the one hand, I knew there was nothing to like about Saddam Hussein. Yet my gut feeling told me that an invasion would be costly in human life and fail to address the problems at hand. A bit of personal background would helpful to understand where I was coming from. I grew up in conservative home, with two very open, tolerant intelligent parents–who thoughtfully considered issues of the day. It’s just that, after thoughtfully considering the issues, they often found themselves on the right of issues. And like many Americans, I was a byproduct of my parents thinking. While I had considered politics of little relevance to me–I had always identified with my parents and communities conservative values. But, for the first time of real significance, my gut feeling strongly disagreed with the values associated with my societal upbringing. This can be a fairly moving experience, as our values are very important to many of us.

So, weeks later, a “coalition of the willing” invaded Iraq. In our lives, many of us have moments that are long remembered. We are able to recall these moments like they were yesterday, years and even decades later. For me, watching CNN from the international college in Cannes Frances, as an ancient city was destroyed was one of those moments. The bombs dropping over Baghdad was almost symbolic of my personal transformation–the destruction of a bankrupt idea–that war and violence are effective ways to solve the world’s problems. Suddenly, the pieces had been put together. We lived in a culture of violence.

Before this point, I had read history and knew that the United States had made disastrous foreign policy mistakes and errors. But in assessing these errors, I had always framed bad decisions as mistakes for the United States–without little consideration of the consequences of these catastrophic mistakes on others lives. For instance, consider how many frame the Vietnam War or the war in Iraq. Are these incidents isolated events or symptomatic of how our nation address’s problems overseas? Many in this room would argue the latter. The difference between these two examples and other U.S. wars is simple: the consequences of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq were catastrophic for our nation in terms of lives and treasure. Other wars may have been catastrophic for other countries but “successful” for the United States, in terms of meeting U.S. national interests quickly without a significant loss of U.S. lives and treasure.
As I consider my change in thought towards war–global citizen aptly describes my personal transformation. It is a perfect paradigm in relating to others with whom we disagree — as it says the international community is connected politically, socially, environmentally and financially. More than ever, local issues and the decisions we take in our personal lives are inextricably connected to the global scene. This requires us to consider whether the actions we take will adversely affect the global community, and if so, to change our actions. This goes for public leaders when they consider issues of war and peace and for private citizens when they consider candidates for public office or choices of transportation.

As I think of what global citizenship means, practically, I am reminded of my trip to South Africa last summer. While traveling through various rural, impoverished villages, I met an intelligent, articulate young girl who told me, “When I finish school I want to move to Los Angeles, marry a pop-star, and make lots of money.” She went on to describe more about how great the U.S. was, and while we may differ on our ideas about the American dream, I was struck by her positive image at a time I felt so cynical. I believe I came to FCNL to re-establish a positive image of my country in mind — based on integrity and moral leadership in our government so that –we consider humanity and the sanctity of life in making our foreign policy. Perhaps then, our national policies will change, and rather than starting wars, the U.S. will be an effective powerful force to end wars–to make war unthinkable.

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I have a quote to share with you.

In my dream, the angel shrugged and said “If we fail this time, it will be a failure of the imagination.” And then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.
* * * *
That’s a quote from the artist and storyteller Brian Andreas. When I read it, I thought YES- this is the most urgent issue of our time- the failure of the imagination.

I see it in watching the American imagination degenerate in its discourse about Iran into images of pure good vs. pure evil, with an escalating emphasis on the evil.

And then I watch FCNL. I hear Jim Fine’s stories about the Middle East. I watch what’s taking place at this conference, and I see peaceful approaches to foreign policy and other issues re-imagined. Then I start envisioning realities I haven’t dared to imagine before.

You want an example?

How about this one- the one that got me here speaking in front of you.

You see, I knew I wanted to do this sort of work one distant day but I was too hesitant to even dream of the idea that right out of college I’d be grounding myself in the kind of foreign policy peace work that I want to be doing- in one form or another- for my life’s work.

Nowadays my imagination runs wild with what I can do right now or I am today on the hill.

Yep- FCNL got me hooked and I think I know a little bit about how they did it.

First, FCNL transformed the word lobbying for me. As I learned after arrival, it’s not necessarily a dirty word.

Now, after so many lobby visits I’ve lost count, I can tell you that this is the closest I’ve ever been to witnessing democracy in America. Now I have difficulty understanding why crowds will stand in line for hours to glance at the original bill of rights in a glass vault, but walk right by the opportunity to taste American democracy as it exists today, all available in a twenty minute appointment slot where you can tell the people who represent you what that should mean.
Then FCNL surrounded me with people who live their lives as a living witness of peace. With people who’s immediate presence I feel in the office, and who’s greater presence I know I am representing on Capitol Hill, who are uncompromising in their vision of social justice and at the same time, are brilliant strategists for how to relate to a Capitol Hill culture that as Ruth so gently puts it when comparing FCNL’s guiding principals to the forces driving congressional action, “isn’t quite there yet”. This strategizing is followed up by daily contact with FCNL constituents, including quite a few of the peace warriors in this room, who have nourished me with your stories of the inspiring work you do on and off the hill towards bringing about a better world.

The last straw that got me hooked to peace advocacy was when I realized FCNL was, on a daily basis, laying out a role for me to realize my personal usefulness in this peace pushing business. For example, I recently attended a meeting for the NGO community about Iraq at the State Department. It was led by Barbara Stephenson, deputy senior advisor to Condoleezza Rice and deputy coordinator for Iraq. In the midst of everyone gushing praises for the great success in Iraq of the installation of fully functioning ATMS- I kid you not, I decided to speak up. I asked Ms. Stephenson what her response was to the recent UN report that Iraqis face an “ever-deepening humanitarian crisis”. The UN cited sharp increases in the use of torture on detainees in both Iraqi and US prisons, and an alarming escalation in the number of civilians killed by US air strikes. Ms. Stephenson said that “she had to admit she hadn’t gotten a chance to take a look at the latest UN report” and thanked me for bringing it to her attention, as she would be sure to read it now. I was stunned. After all, if I can persuade the deputy coordinator for Iraq to even say she will glance at a UN report that challenges all of her rosy claims, then I, personally, have the power to make some sort of difference.

To the extent that we have a democracy, we hold responsibility for the killing that continues in our name. My responsibility in that isn’t going away anytime soon; after all, while I came here to help stop the war and occupation of Iraq, my country is beating the war drums for a greater regional war with Iran.

The FCNL community has immeasurably empowered me in determining what to do with that responsibility in the epicenter of so much power. I want to leave you with a quote from the author Barbara Kingsolver, that speaks to what my experience as an intern has been like:
“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope…

What I want is so simple, I almost can’t say it. Elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now, I’m living in that hope, running down its hallways, and touching the walls on both side.”

As an intern I have had the opportunity to run down FCNL’s hallways of hope every morning.
From the environmentally efficient hallways to the people in them to the work FCNL drops gently in the palm of my hand, it was revitalized my imagination of a better world and a better Capitol Hill. So it really should be no surprise that you- all of you- really got me deeply loving the spirit of this work and I can only aspire to carry that spirit and imagination that the world is so desperately in need of with me throughout my time on this earth.

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As some of my fellow interns can tell you, I had quite a bit of trouble deciding what to talk about today. I knew that we were to give speeches, but hadn’t thought about a topic until about a month ago when I found an email from Kathy Guthrie in my inbox. I settled in to read Kathy’s tips, thinking they would clarify exactly what I was to talk about. The note was doing just that, written in Kathy’s ebullient prose – I could hear her cheering us on, saying everyone would love us – until I reached this suggestion:

“The following are components which seem to be the most appreciated:”

The first suggested component was:

“A brief description of the significance of your journey to this point in your life, but not so introspective;”

Thanks Kathy. I sat reading this sentence, thinking, my journey? Questions raced through mind: Do I have a journey? Should I have a journey? Do I even have a life yet? I’m 22, 6 months out of college and have never made any significant decisions about my life except which university to go to and some summer vacation plans. Why would people want to hear about my non-existent journey, and how the heck can I talk about it without being introspective?

While my colleagues at FCNL worked on finding a way forward in Iraq, I looked for a way forward with my speech. First step – go home and make my boyfriend listen to my plaintive wails that I have no direction in life. Second step – watch video of the intern speeches from last year and realize that I will never speak as eloquently as my predecessors. Step three – try to find myself a journey by deciding between law school and getting a phd in History. Step four – meet with the other interns and make them listen to me complain that I have nothing to talk about and no interests.

Thanks guys.

Clearly I had not found a way forward at all.

I focused on my work: sent out emails, updated the website, mailed the newsletter, ignoring my speech until last Tuesday when I woke up early and decided just to write the darn thing. I sat at my kitchen table in my pajamas, with coffee in one hand and my laptop before me, and realized that I had made an important decision in life. I had decided to come work for FCNL. I could have gone to work for a bank, or a museum, or a law firm. Instead I decided to spend my first year out of school with the Quakers working for peace. This was a choice, possibly even a choice that would start me on that elusive “journey”. Now if only I could remember why, in the midst of the chaos that is anyone’s last semester in college, I applied to FCNL.

It is amazing how in four months of getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of contributing to FCNL’s mission I could forget what initially drove me to work here. I went back to the essays I submitted with my application and found a striking sentence. I wrote, “I want my life’s occupation to be meaningful, and to promote a more civil world.” Ah ha. So while still safely within the ivory walls of college I had had a vision for my life and, luckily, it was a vision I think I am adhering to at FCNL.

The most significant aspect of that sentence, for me, is that I didn’t have a specific idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew how I wanted to engage with it. I had not chosen a “life’s occupation”, but I knew that I wanted it to be meaningful and to make the world more civil. What better place to work than at FCNL, where one of the hallmarks of the organization is a respect for people and quality of life above all else. My friends who work at other organizations, especially some non-profits or think tanks that we consider colleague organizations, tell me there is not the same belief that working for the greater good does not mean abandoning yourself for work and forgetting about family, friends and personal needs. One of the most special things about FCNL for me is that it focuses on the value of people. This is true for those of us who work here, for meeting contacts, for general committee members, and for the public at large.

It is this last group that I pay the most attention to in my work at FCNL, though I did not think that this would be the case in my first week. I work in the communications program with Alicia McBride, mostly on the computer setting up and sending out emails to nearly 50,000 people each week, and helping to maintain the website. I remember going home after my first week of work thinking, “Oh dear. What have I gotten myself into? I am not qualified for this job and I’m not sure I’m that interested in it.” As it turns out, though computer code still is not my passion, what I do goes far beyond making a website look nice, or making sure the links on the emails you all receive are correct. What we do in communications is make sure the public are able to access all the information they want to on the issues we work on. It is in this way that the communications program promotes the “more civil world” I envisioned in my application essay. We are not in the business of hiding information or speaking exclusively to Congress. Instead, as Alicia has shown me, we work to create an open and easy dialogue between the public and their representatives.

There is another component of FCNL’s attention to people as well; one that I think extends beyond the communications program. As I alluded to before, computers have never been my particular talent or interest. To be perfectly honest, I took a computer science course in college and hated it. How then did I end up with a web site design program as my constant companion at work? It is because FCNL and its intern program were willing to teach me skills I was skeptical I could master and reluctant to even try. Now, not only can I set up a mean email, I also have confidence that I can tackle other projects and challenges that intimidate me. This is yet another example of the investment FCNL makes in individuals, spending time teaching people skills while instilling in them a commitment to social justice and a respect for human rights. I certainly believe that I am a product of this approach, and am immensely grateful for it.

Oh dear. Despite Kathy’s guidance my speech seems to have become introspective. My hope is that my rambling about floundering at the beginning of my journey reminds everyone, not just me, that in constructing our personal journeys the question that should be most pressing is not “what?” What am I going to do to make all that money, be the most successful, be the most powerful, etc, but rather “how?” How can I approach my life in a way that makes the world around me a more live-able place? How can I inspire others to act with civility and grace?

Perhaps those of you who are more experienced and wiser than me have already figured this lesson of “how” out. For me, who has still not decided whether to become a history professor or a lawyer, it is a great relief. It doesn’t really matter what I do, as long as I can do it with a mind to civility, respect, and engagement with my fellow human beings. Even after I leave FCNL and enter the world of organizations who are not quite so respectful of their employees and the people they serve, I hope that I can carry this ideal with me, and continue to be engaged with my co-workers, my public representatives and all my fellow women and men.

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When people find out that my educational background is in English and music, they often ask me: “What on Earth possessed you to work in FCNL’s Climate, Energy, and Human Security program?”

It is a good question.

Well, the answer is that when I graduated from college, I realized that while I enjoy playing the flute and reading great literature, I didn’t actually want to pursue a career in those areas. So, I switched course, and in August of 2006, I joined an AmeriCorps program that needed Spanish-speaking volunteers in rural southern Colorado. There, I split my time between a homeless shelter and a homelessness prevention program where I assisted people with rent, utility, and prescription bills. It was my experience there that led me here.

I spent last year thinking in microcosms because my work in a shelter and in a homelessness prevention program focused on the lives of individual people. Probably the most important act in my daily work was sitting down one-on-one with guests at the shelter or with my clients in the outreach program and simply listening to their stories. Over the course of a year, I heard innumerable accounts of why people became homeless or found themselves peering over the precipitous brink of homelessness. I heard from:

  • the migrant workers who planted and harvested the potatoes and lettuce and mushrooms that feed a large part of the nation;
  • veterans who paced the men’s dorm of the homeless shelter at night, unable to sleep, drenched in cold sweat because they were haunted by indelible memories of combat;
  • women who gathered the courage to leave abusive relationships temporarily but returned to the same situation because they did not have the economic means to go it alone;
  • from people who had to move in with friends when their electricity was shut off because they couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills;
  • people struggling with mental illnesses so severe that they couldn’t hold down their jobs;
  • people for whom staying sober for a few hours in the morning was a major victory in the tangle with alcoholism;
  • and from women whose husbands disappeared unexpectedly and who were only notified months later that their husbands were being held in immigrant detention centers hundreds of miles away.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Now, I would have had to be unconscious not to glean a lesson or two from hearing these individual stories, and I think that one of the most valuable things that I took from listening to folks talk was that try as I might to categorize and classify people, I couldn’t identify the sole cause of all poverty and homelessness. I’ve had people ask me what I think is the driver behind the poverty in the community where I was, and while it would be so easy to blame it all on alcoholism or on a flawed immigration system, the main understanding that I culled from these individual stories is that injustice is the product of many complicated and interrelated factors, situations, and decisions. Arriving at that awareness made my work seem more valid – homeless and poor people lead lives that are just as intricate and dignified as anyone else’s. However, I began also to wonder if there were some way to address the deeper concerns that formed the foundation of injustice. Were there large-scale adjustments that could be made to the entire system that would obviate the need for places like homeless shelters and for services like energy assistance?

So, I was wrestling with these questions at about the same time in the year that I needed to start thinking about that daunting question of what to do when my time as a volunteer was finished. In deep respect and love for the people whom I served last year, the people whose microcosms my small world briefly brushed, I came to this internship hoping to learn more about influencing the broad, sweeping strokes of policy that can be used to foster peace, social justice, and a healthy planet.

I’m glad that part of FCNL’s niche on Capitol Hill is concern for the relationship between social justice and climate and energy because I could see myself being so swept up in thinking macrocosmically about global climate change that I would begin to think only in inches of sea level rise or in degrees of increase of air and ocean temperatures. And sometimes, those numbers don’t seem very real to me. But, it helps keep things in perspective for me to remember that while this large web of existence should be treasured and nurtured and the overall common good protected, the web is woven of individual threads and the commons are formed of individual polar bears and trees and people and stones. So thinking once again in microcosms, it seems that we must avert harmful climate change for many reasons:

  • for families in areas increasingly ravaged by natural disasters,
  • so that mother polar bears have an icy habitat in which to raise their cubs,
  • so that women in drought-prone parts of the world don’t have to walk even farther each day to fetch clean water,
  • to protect the trees of the North American boreal forest that require cold temperatures to survive,
  • and to prevent future resource wars that make it hard for children to be children

I’m learning here at FCNL that individuals, too, are part of the solution to averting harmful climate change because adjustments in many individual people’s behavior are what will ultimately reduce a great deal of energy consumption and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But I’m also observing that far-reaching, national policies are necessary to protect our earth and human security and to encourage that crucial individual change.

I am learning an unbelievable amount every day at FCNL, and I’m grateful to each of you for all that you have done as the Friends Committee on National Legislation and for allowing me to be trained in such a thoughtful way that will for the rest of my life shape my understanding of the world. Thank you.

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Da nzho. Shii Sharon shiizhii. Ii’eeshii, sh’a’ii’ai’yeo naasha. Washington da shil goyee.

I wish I could tell you I just said something profound and insightful in Jicarilla Apache. But I didn’t. I eked out some pretty basic phrases. Most formal gatherings of Native people begin with a welcome and a blessing, made by an elder or representative of the people for whom that place is both homeland and responsibility. Often the invocation is spoken in the language of that people and place. Here, I just want to transmit to you, if you aren’t aware of it, a spark of the aliveness, and seriousness of Native languages.

My talk is about the revitalization of Indian and Native Nations, and simultaneously about what inspires me – breathes life into me – as I work on concerns related to Native peoples. And, maybe to have less of you looking at me, a variety of Native art and artists will be shown on the screen.

Many non-Native people – especially European-descent people, commonly known as white folk – come to Native issues from a sense of guilt or pity or lament, and sometimes from romanticism or moral principle. Without downplaying the seriousness of historic and ongoing wrongs and suffering, or the need for ethical and corrective action, I am encouraging a sense of the generous, rich, incredibly tenacious cultures and people of First Nations.

In my involvement with issues related to Native Peoples, I ride the wave of others’ making and am grateful every day for the work of past generations and current Native elders and leaders. Life has sometimes—in many cases often—been brutal for Indian and other Native Peoples since the ships landed and the wagons circled. By the time the colonizers, desiring gold or land, reached what’s now California, the US government often didn’t see treaties as necessary – even as a formality. They could just put a 5 buck bounty on your head and hunt you down. And they did.

By a lowpoint in the 1950’s it was do or die for entire cultures. The life expectancy of a Native person in 1963 was 43 years. Into the early 70’s, after two to four generations of forced removal of Indian children to BIA boarding schools had wreaked cultural havoc and psychological mayhem, one out of three Indian children were still being forcibly removed from Indian families into adoptive homes and institutional custody.

Rick Williams, the Executive Director of the American Indian College Fund and an Oglala Sioux man, talks about the bleakness of that period like this, “My grandmother died in 1969. She told me several times what to do at her funeral. She said, “Do this for me because I’m the last one to be buried this way. So she went to her grave believing that Indian people had lost their cultures. Had she lived another five years, she would have changed her mind. My grandmother didn’t know about Alcatraz or the American Indian Movement or self-determination; all that would follow. She would have been absolutely shocked to see that Sun Dance has returned, that there are sweat lodges all over the reservation, that the Lakota still do burials the old way. She’d be shocked that I have my long braids; that her great-grandchildren speak Lakota.”

What turned this tide? This stunning reversal was brought about by the deeply felt responsibility of Native Peoples to ancestors and spiritual duties, by strong oral traditions and cultural practices, by dogged allegiance to specific, storied landscapes; and by visionary, scintillatingly courageous tribal leaders who have reversed, despite the policies and might of the US government, the trajectory of their Peoples, and the conditions of their Peoples’ lives.
That story is heroic and inspiring and still unfolding. Charles Wilkinson does a terrific job telling it in the book Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. If you need a shot in the arm of faith or backbone or sticking to your doves, Blood Struggle can give you a new pantheon of mentors.

This summer I was at the Lummi Nation, north of Seattle. I attended a gathering for the signing of the first international Indigenous Nations treaty, coordinated in large part by a man named Alan Parker. It was also the first potlatch at Lummi since the 1930’s, and the endpoint of the Paddle2Lummi 2007 canoe journey. Beginning in 1989, the old “canoe trails” and trade routes of the Northwest Coast Salish peoples from Quinault to Bella Coola have been revived and celebrated. This summer the host was the Lummi Nation, and the exquisite, large-prowed ocean-going canoes that had been used for thousands of years until the last canoes were hauled out in the 1940’s, came from as far as a month of paddling away, from up the Canadian coast.

80 big boats linked as a flotilla, and once invited, came ashore together. Lummi was abuzz with as big a crowd as had ever gathered there. Lots of teenagers, shining with pride, were busy putting social opportunities to good use. One evening after the word-smithing of the Treaty was done, I was down in the huge canvas tent where ceremonies and celebration took place until midnight each night. The sun was setting and I stepped outside to watch the sky and walk amongst the beautifully made boats. After puzzling over some aspect of boat construction with a woman near me, she began to tell me a small piece of her story.

Lummi is her home, though she lives in Oregon now. She played on that land as a child, and her mother is buried at Lummi. Perhaps 75, she said that her family had gone to live with her father’s people, the Duwamish, but her Lummi mother wasn’t happy there. One day her parents decided, and her father packed their belongings into their canoe, and pulled – or paddled – belongings and family to Lummi, where she grew up. Touching the canoes, smelling them, seeing them used and living again, her memories rose up as we stood there together in the fading golden light.

This is what’s happening everywhere. As Native people build communities and economies, the cultures are booming: more art, more novels, more language classes; more ceremony and basketry; more song, more choices, more canoes.

If you aren’t in that circle already, you can step in if you want to. I am not advocating a little ecotourism in a quote “exotic” culture. I am suggesting that real peoples’ real cultures are a beginning point to knowing and caring about real lives – including the societal structures affecting them. Reading is good preparation, and gatherings and pow-wows are a great place to start. I recommend both going alone and volunteering. And if you aren’t familiar with Native events and people, be patient with yourself. The truth is, I went to events and pow-wows for years – many years – during which I very slowly began to wake to Indian Country, here today, still here. And I have Indian people in my family.

Besides which, Quakers with that emphasis on the community, to which the individual bears responsibilities and sometimes defers, and that odd decision-by-group stuff, may be some lost Tribe. But I’ll save that for another year.

Finally, please come talk with me about the Native program. Thank you so much for your support and guidance of this organization, and for hearing my thoughts. I look forward to working with you.

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Good morning. First, I would like to thank everyone here for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. I really love the work I do at FCNL so I am always excited about sharing with others a little about what I do.

When I first found out that I would be the program assistant on domestic issues at FCNL, I had to laugh a little at the breadth of my job description. Domestic Issues? I wondered if that would cover ALL the issues Republicans and Democrats bicker over in Congress like an unhappily married couple? Where would my job end, I wondered.

Luckily for me, domestic issues covers only: budget priorities, military spending, tax policy, civil liberties, civil rights, enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, immigration, torture, poverty, religious freedom, privacy issues, balance of power and of course, human rights. Not that I’m complaining. I love constantly learning about something new, coming into work to tackle the problem of the day, and watching how all of these issues are inextricably linked.

There is no way that I can cover all of these in my eight allotted minutes, so I will tell you about the one issue I hold most dearly: immigration.

My father was born in Bucharest, Romania back in 1950 and when he was twelve, the Romanian government- which was communist at the time- asked all the Jews to leave the country. Suitcases in hand and stripped of their passports, my grandparents and my father traveled to France in search of a new home and new opportunities. My father arrived in France as a young boy, not speaking a word of French and having left his entire world behind him. He grew up, became a French citizen, and went on to medical school, where he met my beautiful mother, who had been raised in the French countryside, the youngest of five. When I was two, my parents were offered the opportunity to conduct medical research at a university in the U.S. Jumping at the opportunity, they moved to Texas with my brother and me in tow. I had just begun proudly assembling my first sentences in French when I suddenly found myself in a San Antonio pre-school clinging to a woman with a Texan drawl. Twenty-two years later, I am applying to the Department of Homeland Security to become a U.S. citizen while also preparing my applications for law school.

It seems like a day doesn’t pass at FCNL where I don’t read about a mean-spirited, anti-immigrant initiative. There seems to be this perception in the U.S. today that there are not enough opportunities to go around. There seems to be a concerted effort to confuse immigration, with undocumented immigration, with organized crime, and with national security threats. I do not consider myself a national security threat — though, perhaps, the U.S. government does. I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given and I believe that all people, no matter where they were born, have a right to seek out a good life.

Fixing the U.S. system of immigration is imperative. As the gap between rich and poor grows and grows, developed countries around the world are facing similar immigration crises. The U.S. is not alone in wanting to protect its quality of life. Fences are being built along the German border, security is being tightened along the Spanish coast and in Saudi Arabia, the government refuses to give citizenship to the millions of permanent guest worker that keep the country’s economy running. The problem is real, not just in the U.S., but around the world; the gap in quality of life must be closed and a compromise must be found.

But it is apparent to me, from my work at FCNL and my own experiences, that the current debate to find a compromise has been poisoned and no common ground can be found until reasonable people agree to a more reasonable debate. We must recognize that we are talking about real people who come to the US because they have hopes and dreams for a better life. We are talking about families escaping war, poverty, hunger. We are talking about people who come and who work, who want to be a part of our communities, and who enrich the U.S. economy and American culture.

Immigration to the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, nor, unfortunately, are attacks on immigrants. From the discrimination against the Irish during the potato famine to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, immigrants have historically burn the brunt of the attacks when the going gets rough. Immigrants did not lead this country into war in Iraq, immigrants are not responsible today for the billion dollar deficit, nor can they be blamed if tax dollars are funding the expansion of the military rather than much needed social services for our communities. This country has directed much of its anger and frustration at immigrants lately. I believe this anger is misdirected.

I also believe that we must recognize that the vitriol that has dominated the debate in recent months is not without consequence. The consequences are found in the story of David Ritcheson, a 16 year old Texas teenager who was beaten nearly to death by self-professed Skinheads because he was Hispanic and had tried to kiss a white girl. They cut him, burned him, poured bleach over him, sodomized him and yelled anti-Hispanic slurs. When he testified earlier this year before a Judiciary Committee in Congress, he told the committee members:

“This crime took place in middle-class America in the year 2006. The reality that hate is alive, strong, and thriving in the cities, towns, and cul-de-sacs of Suburbia, America was a surprise to me. America is the country I love and call home. However, the hate crime committed against me illustrates that we are still, in some aspects, a house divided.”

Just a few months after Ritcheson bravely testified in Congress, he committed suicide.

I was not brought up as a Quaker but the belief that there is the light of God in everyone speaks to me. At FCNL, I work to temper the rhetoric, the fear, and the hate that has engulfed the debate about how to regulate immigration and that has serious consequences for the people who live and work in our communities. It is my hope that through my work here I can do my part to ensure that we begin to have a more reasonable debate about immigration, to ensure that those who come in search of hope are recognized and welcomed, and to ensure that those who come in search of new opportunity are given the same chance my family and I have been given.

Thank you.

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So, I’ve been in DC for just over two months now, and I have to admit that before I came out here, well, I had my concerns about the city. And no, I don’t mean as a Midwestern kid—I’m from Iowa and went to school in Minnesota—coming to a big city, but I’m referring to what I imagined would be the distinctly DC culture surrounding politics.

Believe it or not, my concern centered around a single gesture: this…the business card exchange. It’s not that I was worried about my ability to do it—I’ll show you all some of my “moves” later if you’re coming to the Pennsylvania YM geographic planning session—but more of what it represented. You see, I came here with an over-simplified view of the political process—a two-dimensional one. I was a math major in college, so bear with me—I’m partial to the math analogies. The two dimensions were these: the first was politics as a purely analytical process. You line up the arguments for both sides of an issue and select the more compelling of the two. While interesting for a bit, I could see this process becoming, well, dry after awhile.

The second dimension was politics as networking. Before coming out to DC I had a lot of people tell me about the people they knew, and how I should meet them, get to know them, and then get a job with them if all went well. This is where my concern about the business card exchange arose. You see, I thought my main goal, besides having the “right” answer on policy analysis questions, would be to “build my contacts” or “create a rolodex”. It’s not that I don’t like meeting people, I really do, and I look forward to getting to know as many of you here as possible this weekend, it’s just that I don’t like doing it purely as a means to an end. I had this awful vision of DC “friendships” being based on the political payout they produced.

So, I’m here to tell that you that despite these initial concerns, I’ve enjoyed my time in DC. If this was the “state of my mental state” the report would be doing well—thankfully it’s not, so I won’t ask you all to stand and applaud at the end of each sentence. Although I have to say, I’d feel pretty cool if you did. So, why is my report positive? The answer is that I’ve found the critical third dimension of life in DC. The math analogy persists…

The third dimension is what I would like to term community-discovering. While the first two are static processes, this third dimension is more dynamic—through meeting people and hearing their experiences or the way they approach the issue, I am changed both as a person and as a lobbyist…or legislative program assistant, to use the proper nomenclature. In my first two months here, I’ve heard from both a mother and father who have lost a son because of unexploded cluster bombs, I’ve heard from residents and doctors from affected countries, and I’ve heard from people not directly affected by still coming from a variety of backgrounds in approaching the issue. I’ve been motivated and moved by meeting these people, and it’s allowed me to approach the issue with new-found intensity.

But this community-discovering process does not always occur so dramatically. It occurs under more mundane circumstances as well. Let me give you an example. A little over a week ago, I was engaged in a true grunt work task. I was organizing the construction of 100 silhouettes out of foam board—some of you may have seen a couple of these at our booth earlier this weekend—over a three day period. These silhouettes were to create the backdrop for a press conference we held on November 5th, as part of the Global Day of Action on cluster bombs. The silhouette construction process itself was at times boring and frustrating—I’m not an art major—far from it—and, accordingly, am not the smoothest with an exacto knife. Yet, I had maybe my best week so far at FCNL. Strange?.. Well, not really.

The third dimension saved me. Over those three days, countless staff members from different parts of FCNL stopped down to assist in the construction process and, whether they mean to or not, entertain me. They were joined by coalition partners in the cluster bomb campaign, such as Human Rights Watch, Landmine Survivors Network, and Handicap International. The community-discovering process had both a serious element—in learning why people had chosen the paths that they had—and a less serious side—you see, I’m a person who needs humor to get by. And, while I can’t find it in the issue (it just isn’t there with an issue like cluster bombs), I can find it in the people around me. The best part about it—not a business card exchanged….well, one, but that doesn’t count.

Besides saving me from boredom, this community-discovering element served a second purpose. It provided me with a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment at the end of the day. The trouble with lobbying is that our eventual goal—passage of a particular bill—is accomplished so infrequently. It can take months, and more often years, to get a particular piece of legislation passed. Occasionally, there are more measurable intermediate successes. For example, at last check we’ve had over 2,200 calls associated with our cluster bomb call-in. Thank you all so much for your help! More often though, during times like the silhouette construction, the fulfillment or accomplishment comes from what I’ve now dubbed the third dimension of politics: the community-discovering process.

So now, I look forward to concluding a weekend which has been filled with, what for me is the best part of politics—the third dimension: meeting people, sharing stories and experiences, and hopefully a couple jokes. Oh yeah, but for those of you who are interested: I do have plenty of business cards—just ask and I’ll show you my best “moves”.

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