I had missed Nottingham Young Quakers meetings for some time and was happy to be attending a meeting on the Wednesday after my final Open University exam. On this evening, young Quakers gathered in the basement due to a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament meeting taking place on the ground floor. Lack of access to the kitchen meant we had a bring and share rather than cooking a meal together which turned out to be a good thing allowing lots of time for the evenings activities. We were pleased to be joined on this occasion by five members from the local branch of human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI).
We began the evening by going around the table introducing ourselves and each sharing something about our week which we were happy about or proud of. After this our guests told us about the work of AI who initially started as network of letter-writers that bombard governments with individual appeals on behalf of prisoners of conscience who’d been jailed or ill-treated in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They explained that AI has since expanded its activism and now campaigns on a wide range of human rights issues including against torture and the death penalty, in support of refugees, migrants, rights of women, children, LGBT and disabled people as well as around issues of international justice, censorship and free speech. They explained that as well as letter writing amnesty now fund research into human rights abuses, join demonstrations and embrace modern technology with e-campaigning.
Following this our guests shared a stack of ‘calls for action’ which each contained information on people who were being subjected to abuses of their human rights and details of who to send our appeals against these to. Our guests had kindly brought all the supplies we needed and many of us were particularly impressed by the carbon paper which lots of us had never used before. The carbon paper allowed us to write letters in triplicate so that there were copies for key people in power related to each case. I wrote letters regarding an academic who’d been imprisoned following expression of anti-government sentiment on a blog, regarding someone being denied essential medical treatment and regarding people imprisoned for being gay. When we had a break to enjoy the food we took some time to be silent and then discussed the ways in which the work of AI chimes with Quakers commitments to truth, peace, simplicity and equality and how taking part in this letter writing was a way in which we could seek to ‘speak truth to power’.
Following the delicious food, we continued writing letters and in total that evening we wrote 157 letters in relation to human rights abuses in 17 different countries. AI members explained that there is reported to be some positive movement in a significant proportion of cases which amnesty becomes involved with. A.I spoke to us about their annual ‘write for rights’ campaign in which people are encouraged to write letters to law makers/ people in power along with sending cards with messages of support to the victims of human rights abuses, this takes place towards the end of each year with letter writing parties taking place across the country and we asked amnesty to join us again at that time.
“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?”
(Advices & Queries)
Watch this video to see how Amnesty works against discrimination and injustice wherever it occurs!
Sweet potatoes are a real pain to dice but it was well worth it. We had decided to make a potato and sweet potato curry and once we’d managed to chop them we ended up with a delicious meal with some very nice relish.
Dinner done we settled down for the spiritual component of our gathering, this time a discussion on Elizabeth Fry, reading a passage describing her tireless work amongst prisoners and how she used her loving and hoping spirit made her so compelling.
[Priscilla Buxton on her aunt, Elizabeth Fry:]
“There was no weakness or trouble of mind or body which might not safely be unveiled to her. Whatever various or opposite views, feelings or wishes might be confided to her, all came out again tinged with her own loving, hoping spirit. Bitterness of every kind died; when intrusted to her, it never reappeared. The most favourable construction possible was put upon every transaction. No doubt her failing lay this way; but did it not give her and her example a wonderful influence? Was it not the very secret of her power with the wretched and degraded prisoners? She always could see hope for everyone; she invariably found or made some point of light. The most abandoned must have felt she did not despair for them, either for this world or another; and this is what made her irresistible.”
Mrs Francis Crasswell: a memoir of Elizabeth Fry, p.183
We discussed the difficulties and feelings involved, in seeing hope in everyone, in expressing that hope in a constructive way and in confiding in others and seeking that generous spirit. Notable was our discussion of the context of Elizebeth Fry’s life and the Quakerism of that time, in particular, the story of another Quaker, Hannah Barnard, who came from the USA to Britain on a travelling minute. Where she found herself asked to leave following her support of a movement of Quakers who wished to move away from biblical literalism, specifically that the bible could not be used to justify violence. Once returned to America Hanna Barnard was disowned by the Quakers despite defending her beliefs and actions stoutly. The contrast between these two Quakers’ lives, who both demonstrate qualities we aspire to while living very different lives within the society set a context to our discussion on ways to bring light to darkness and I personally am eager to learn more of both of them.
On Wednesday 24th May we had one of our lovely spiritual suppers where we cook, eat, and have funny and deep conversations. I had just finished my exams and it was wonderful to be able to spend the evening with Friends and enjoy my new-found freedom. We made chickpea bolognaise (all of our recipes can be found on a Google document we’re happy to share) with garlic bread with the emphasis on garlic! The meeting house was rearranged for Open University examinations so we ate and had our spiritual session downstairs.
After feasting and sharing our treasured weekly highlights, Jaz led a spiritual session. We had a quick, but detailed history of Quakerism, for a new young Friend, summarising our view that there were three stages in Quaker history. Firstly, crazy George Fox and other founders, followed by a Puritan-style phase ending up with the current day Quakers.
We then read and had creative reflection on a William Penn quote about love and forgiveness (Quaker faith and Practise, 24.03).
A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it… It is as great presumption to send our passions upon God’s errands, as it is to palliate them with God’s name… We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by love and information. And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn, 1693
The discussion that followed included what it meant to forgive and how understanding and communication could play a greater role. We also talked about evil and how force must be applied to fit the situation and not simply be evil in its nature. We applied aspects of the quote to recent events as well as some of our careers and had some very interesting discussions.
Another wonderful evening with the young Friends! (My breath definitely warded off vampires the next day!)