Occasionally an issue may be complex, controversial, dependent on technical details, or emotionally charged so that significantly more corporate preparation is required than can reasonably be accomplished in Meeting for Business….
Threshing sessions derive their name from the assumption that through them the chaff might be separated from the grain of truth, clearing the way for later action on the issue. However, no corporate decisions are made at such meetings.
For a brief period during 2011, I hosted a blog associated with Southeastern Yearly Meeting’s website for its Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The blog, called The Threshing Session, was intended to be a venue for SEYM Friends and others to discuss P&SC issues.
The Threshing Session didn’t take off, but there were a few posts which I saved. They follow below, in the order in which they were originally published.
George Lakey: “The Value of Conflict”
April 15, 2011
The following is excepted from an article in the November 2010 issue of Friends Journal, and is drawn from an address to the Friends General Conference Gathering held in bowling Green, Ohio, on July 5, 2010. It was printed there by permission from Friends General Conference. ©2010 FGC.
Conflict warms us up. It makes available things that otherwise are very hard to achieve. I think that’s one reason why Quakers in the 17th century found it so very useful to make trouble.
Theocracies are hard to overthrow, right…? The Puritans had their theocracy in Massachusetts, and it didn’t take Quakers long to do it in…. I don’t know how you end a theocracy that fast, but I think Quakers did it because things got very hot very quickly. They engaged in conflict, and conflict made something happen. Conflict made justice happen in Puritan Massachusetts. And conflict can make things happen whenever we choose to use it.
[In response to those who condemned his having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King said,] “When we come to your town, we’re not bringing violence. The violence is already here, unfolding day by day through discrimination. What we’re doing through our nonviolence action is raising the violence to the surface because people usually defend discrimination violently. We raise it to the surface so you can look at the truth and ask yourself, ‘Do you want this in your town? Do you want this in your state…?’ ”
Once we look at what climate change is doing, once we look at what the dysfunctional healthcare system in this country is doing, once we look at these truths, then we can make a choice. If we deny the reality, it is easy to understand why people prefer the comfort of not changing.
What Dr. King saw himself doing was being on the side of truth. That was also the Quaker rationale, back in the 17th century, for invading Massachusetts. Quakers came a very long way to mess with another people’s lifestyle and political system. I would call that intrusive, possibly impolite. Who asked them…?
Quakers went to see John Kennedy…in regard to the nuclear arms race, specifically about the need to have an agreement to end atmospheric nuclear testing,…[in order to] stop poisoning our babies with Strontium-90….. And Kennedy said, “I would appreciate it if you Quakers would go out and create a movement that would force me to do that, because I would like to do that.”
That story reminds me of a delegation of social reform advocates that went to Franklin Roosevelt in the early ’30s and said to him, “You need to do this and that—” things like social security and so on, which were off the radar screen in the early part of the administration. And Roosevelt listened very carefully and then said, “I…so much wish you would go out and create a movement that would be so strong and so turbulent and so forceful that I would have to deliver on those points….”
I was in Canada a year and a half ago, working with the largest Canadian labor union,…and one of the leaders of the union, an aboriginal woman, comes over, takes her stance, stares me straight in the eye, and says, “George, why have your people abandoned your President?” I had nothing to say, because we had, in fact. We had elected Obama and then headed for the door, refusing to create movements that would “force” him to do what he wants to do. We went into dependency mode like six-year-olds who say, “Please, Daddy, do this and that for us,” instead of being the young adults and the teenagers and the full adults who can demand things through nonviolent struggle.
What a big price we pay for conflict aversion, that we will even abandon a President whom we put in office. She was right. That’s how we are looked at in some countries; as people who will put someone like Obama in office, and then run out the door, instead of kicking and screaming until he is able to do the things that he needs to do….
The legacy of nonviolent direct action that was essential and integral to early Friends was what Jesus was about. Talk about troublemakers—early Christians were in trouble all the time. So were early Friends…. That embracing of conflict theme has run through this Religious Society of Friends.
But that legacy, [those of us who founded the Earth Quaker Action Team] realized, was dying out among us. We weren’t finding people with that skill set and that orientation to conflict. We thought, before it’s too late we need to recover that legacy. This country can’t manage many more decades without grownups, without people willing to do what is necessary in order to establish justice, tell the truth, and accomplish healing. (8-15)
Václav Havel: “The Power of the Powerless”
April 27, 2011
In The Search for Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, biblical scholars John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed cite Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician Václav Havel in their discussion of activist struggle. The following is an excerpt from pages 410-11 of that discussion.
First, Havel insists on the ordinary needs of life in the localized here and now. Activist struggle “must pose questions, as it were, ad hoc, out of a concrete consideration of the authentic needs of life.” It consists of “a real, everyday struggle for a better life ‘here and now’ ” (1978: 89).
Because of its emphasis on the negative, he keeps the word dissident in quotation marks, but “an essential part of the ‘dissident’ attitude is that it comes out of the reality of the human ‘here and now.’ It places more importance on the often repeated and consistent concrete action—even though it may be inadequate and though it may ease only insignificantly the suffering of a single insignificant citizen—than it does in some abstract ‘fundamental solution’ in an uncertain future” (1978: 99).
Second, there is the question of violent action to achieve those day-to-day, here-and-now objectives of living within the truth of ordinary life. [Havel] argues, “Generally, the ‘dissident’ attitude can only accept violence as a necessary evil in extreme situations, when direct violence can only be met by violence” (1978: 92). More fully,
This [“dissident”] attitude is and must be fundamentally hostile toward the notion of violent change—simply because it places its faith in violence….
An attitude that turns away from abstract political visions of the future toward concrete human beings and ways of defending them effectively in the here and now is quite naturally accompanied by an intensified antipathy to all forms of violence carried out in the name of a “better future” and by a profound belief that a future secured by violence might actually be worse than what exists now; in other words, the future would be fatally stigmatized by the very means used to secure it….
The “dissident movements” do not shy away from the idea of violent political overthrow because the idea seems too radical, but on the contrary, because it does not seem radical enough. (1978: 92-93)
That neither advocates pure pacifism in all cases nor accepts violence as perfectly normal in all instances. It simply recognizes that violence should always be the last, not the first, option and that it is ultimately the last enemy.
Note: The Václav Havel quotes are from the essay “The Power of the Powerless” (October 1978; reprinted 1985). Crossan and Reed found it in the collection Living the Truth: 22 Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Vaclav Havel, ed. by Jan Vladislav. London: Faber & Faber, 1987.
Tarak Barkawi: “Breaking Bread with Terrorists”
May 5, 2011
Tarak Barkawi is Senior Lecturer, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge. He specializes in the study of war, armed forces and society with a focus on conflict between the West and the global South in historical and contemporary perspective. He is author of Globalisation and War, as well as many scholarly articles.
This cycle in the war of the weak against the strong is an old one. The strong can afford traditions of warfare which prize decisive combat between military forces. They are genuinely shocked and horrified when their opponents find ways to shoot them in the back or massacre their loved ones. Yet the strong somehow do not see the great suffering they inflict, whether through violence or the kinds of mass slow death that capitalism specialises in for those enmeshed in its lower rungs….
This was the stalemate between the local and the global that bin Laden sought to bust open with his spectacular attacks on the US. With the greatest armed propaganda operation in world history he sought to generate a revolt that did not respect sovereign borders…. But bin Laden lacked a politics with which to capitalise on his armed success. His brand of Islam divided rather than unified even those who shared the faith, and had no appeal for those outside it no matter how much they suffered from Western power….
In essence, 9/11 was like a brilliant guerrilla raid that exhilarates young fighters and gives them the taste of a victory they can never achieve. Its immediate effect is to call forth legions of imperial storm troopers on missions of reprisal, missions that wreck the rebellion and inflict suffering on those it sought to liberate…. Like bad schoolboys, bin Laden’s followers never quite learned the lesson….
[Meanwhile, in] the long arc of the decline of empires and great powers, the main consequence of 9/11 and the wars that followed is to hasten the decline of the US. Precious resources needed to regenerate the US have been spent on wars of reprisal as well as the fantastically corrupt arrangements for economic reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having allowed business to feed so well at the public trough for a decade, US politicians now deny their own people desperately needed funds for healthcare, education, and modernisation.
Elizabeth J. A. Siwo-Okundi: “Listening to the Small Voice”
July 28, 2011
Elizabeth J. A. Siwo-Okundi is a Kenyan resident of the United States. She has a ThM degree from Harvard Divinity School, an MDiv from Boston University School of Theology, and an MSW from Boston University School of Social Work, and she is completing PhD studies at Boston University School of Theology. She is founder and president of Orphan Wisdom, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports orphans in Kenya.
She writes in her 2009 Harvard Divinity Bulletin aticle: “There are more than 140 million orphans in 93 countries around the world [figures from “Children on the Brink 2004“]….The HIV/AIDS pandemic alone has had a devastating impact. According to [“Africa’s Orphaned and Vulnerable Generations,” 2003] 8 out of every 10 children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya alone, by the year 2010, the total number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS is expected to more than double, increasing the number of orphans there to 2.2 million.”
This excerpt is from “Listening to the Small Voice,” HDB, Spring/Summer 2009 (33-35)
It was not unusual for my colleagues [from Homa Bay Children’s Home in Kenya] to travel for two or three hours by foot, bicycle, and bus to visit one child… I returned home each evening and was welcomed by crowds of children who were gathered at my family’s homestead, eagerly awaiting my return….
One afternoon, I received the painful news that one of our babies had died. The child’s mother and older sibling had already died, leaving the young father all alone. I was overcome with grief…. I sat at the side of my grandmother’s kitchen and began to draw figures on the ground with a short stick.
One of our village children came over, sat down next to me, and asked me what was the matter. He had never seen me look so sad. I told him that one of my babies had died. He remained quiet beside me. Imitating me, he picked up a stick and drew figures on the ground.
Another child ran toward us and, in the usual style of greeting me, began to sing my name. The first child said, “Shhhhh! Her baby died.” The second child also sat quietly beside me.
One by one, other children heard the news and came to sit quietly beside me. Within minutes, a crowd of children had gathered to attend to me in my grief and to do so in the ony way they knew how.
It later dawned on me that they were all too familiar with death. All of them were orphans.
Uri Savir, founder of YaLa-Young Leaders
July 28, 2011
"Over the past month, [Facebook.com/yalaYL] has surprised those involved by the enthusiasm it has generated [among Palestinian and Israeli young people], suggesting that the Facebook-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may offer guidance for coexistence efforts as well.
“Mr. Savir was a chief peace negotiator for Israel in the 1990s as well as the director general of its Foreign Ministry and a member of Parliament. But he said he had never been more excited about a project.
“The YL in the site’s name stands for young leaders (Yala means “let’s go” in Arabic), and Mr. Savir said he saw the page as a place where the next generation of regional innovators could meet. It helps that he has a few connections. The page has welcome messages from Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority….” [from the NY Times article]
Today we have no brave leaders on either side, so I am turning to a new generation, the Tahrir Square and Facebook generation…. We need to emulate Tunisia. My goal is to have 100,000 people working on Yala on joint projects that will lock our leaders into making peace.
—Uri Savir, president of the Peres Center for Peace and founder of YaLa-Young Leaders,
in “Virtual Bridge Allows Strangers in Mideast to Seem Less Strange,”
by Ethan Bronner, New York Times (7/10/2011)
Image by Ahmed Jadallah (Reuters), from
“Social media: Did Twitter and Facebook really build a global revolution?“,
by Jena Moore, Christian Science Monitor (6/30/2011)