How do people concerned with peace and justice operate in times of intense polarization? According to Quaker author and activist George Lakey, it’s a moment of tremendous opportunity.
An inspiration for me about recognizing how to operate in this time is George Fox’s vision that he had at the top of Pendle Hill. He saw both an ocean of darkness—that’s easy to see now—and also he saw an ocean of light. It reminds me every time I’m tempted to focus on the ocean of darkness: “Wait a minute. I’m selling reality really short.” That’s not the world that created. Not one of darkness only. And notice, it wasn’t an ocean of darkness and a tiny spring of light. It was an ocean of darkness for George Fox and an ocean of light.
How We Win
My name is George Lakey. My membership is with Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, and my work is supporting people to stand up for themselves and make justice here in the world—justice and peace. So my most recent book is focused on how we win, when we do. People often stand up for themselves and win and sometimes don’t and I was very curious. It was a joy to write this book because I got to look back on a hundred years of American history and pull out—it felt like harvesting actually—wonderful examples of people standing up for themselves and moving the dime: moving our country sometimes grudgingly and resistingly toward peace.
The Opportunity of Our Times
I’ve been traveling a tremendous lot throughout the country the last year and a half and find people extremely anxious about the polarization that’s going on in our country, the tremendous lot of division. And what I’ve been bringing is the good news about that, even though heaven knows, there’s lots of bad news about polarization—lots of violence and lots of ugliness that comes with it. But there’s also good news, and I’ve learned that good news from seventeenth century England when Quaker arose in a very polarized world, and from other situations of polarization in which, along with the ugliness and violence, comes an opportunity for change that’s unusually large if people learn how to navigate it.
How I Learned About Social Change
I was very inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. I was a young man and got to watch that unfold, at first from a distance and then threw myself into it as soon as I could. My first time arrested was in a Civil Rights demonstration. I was very moved both by the famous people like Martin Luther King and also by some of the key organizers like Bayard Rustin, who were right in there, often developing strategies for success.
Learning From Quaker History
My mind turns towards history. I’m always very curious “where do you come from?” when I’m getting to know someone. What’s their background? And the same with Quakers. I wanted to know historically, what have Quakers experienced? And so I went back to seventeenth century writing and history to find out what was going on. I was really amazed by the immediacy of the approach that people took. It wasn’t only that God is calling us to live good lives, of course, but also God is calling us to be part of an unfolding truth-telling exercise that we are expected to be participating in.