At the root of my journey in Quakerism is my work with Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), a happy band of mostly Philadelphia-based activists working to build a just and sustainable economy through strategic and Spirit-guided nonviolent direct action campaigns.
It’s become something of a joke within EQAT that I am “half a Quaker.” The joke was even made public by Eileen Flanagan during her keynote address for Friends General Conference’s Gathering in 2014: “Yes, half of the women arrested were Quaker—if you count Lina Blount as half a Quaker.” I’ve had a support committee; I deeply believe in the idea that there is that of God in everyone; and I find silent worship incredibly grounding and powerful. That said, I do not attend a monthly meeting. I find that I speak more assertively and directly than do most Quakers, and I have complicated feelings about the military: staunchly antiwar but pro-draft. I take pride in my title of “half a Quaker,” even if pride in titles is not very Quakerly.
In retrospect, I see some divine influence in how I was first introduced to EQAT. I rarely attended meetings of Bryn Mawr College’s environmental club, instead devoting my time to studies and crew team practices. But in the spring of 2011, my roommate dragged me to a meeting during which two visiting Swarthmore students presented information on EQAT and invited people to an upcoming training about mountaintop removal coal mining and EQAT’s nonviolent direct action campaign to get PNC Bank to stop funding it. I don’t know what it was about the presentation that hooked me, but I chose to trek downtown to Philadelphia’s Friends Center the following week and attend the training.
Once there, I was electrified. Descriptions of mountaintop removal shook me to my rural Washington roots, and nonviolent direct action inspired and intrigued me as had none of my studies about urban and environmental policy. Here was a clear tool for action on the inequalities and injustices I was seeing and reading about. I left that EQAT meeting buzzing; I felt new momentum and energy.
After that first training, I became more involved in EQAT. I helped plan and lead protests at local PNC bank branches, attended meetings, and eventually—just after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 2013—accepted an invitation to join EQAT’s executive board.
Meanwhile, I was learning something else from the members of EQAT. Since that first meeting in 2011, I became increasingly acquainted with Quaker spiritual practice. I began to see EQAT actions as worshipful and filled with Light. The experience of worship-in-action was a deeper revelation than the simple, spiritual vocabulary I was learning. That nonviolent direct action could be prayer and acting with others to strategically fight for justice could be worship became important and meaningful to me. I became convinced that “seeing that of God in everyone” calls us to be hopeful, courageous, strategic, and righteous in our pursuit of justice and peace.
Shortly before being invited to join the EQAT board, I began to see EQAT as my primary spiritual community. After graduating from Bryn Mawr, I went on a multi-week walk with strangers (including Shodo Spring, a Buddhist monk) through the Alberta tar sands and along part of the proposed northern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Frankly, I had agreed to the trip before I really knew what I was getting myself into and about a month before leaving, I found myself in a mild panic. Inspired by the spiritual grounding I was finding in EQAT actions, I asked friends and mentors in EQAT if they would be willing to discuss the trip with me. I wanted their help to prepare for the spiritual demands of facing the tar sands and the hundreds of miles of walking. This was my first support committee.
That walk further convinced me of the importance of doing environmental work from a deep grounding. The despair that I feel about the wounds humankind has wrought and will continue to inflict on Earth and our fellow man is profound and can feel almost insurmountable. Looking from horizon to horizon in Alberta’s Fort McMurray, I saw only devastation in what was once dense boreal forest. Listening to First Nations people speak, I heard conviction and anger about Canadian policies to force pipelines through their already limited lands. I cried on a curb in Oyen, Alberta, when dinner table conversation with our fifth-generation rancher hosts about the political landscape of fossil fuel extraction was too much for me to bear. Every day I meditated with my companions before breakfast and during our hours walking. Returning to the United States, I was convinced that I could not just walk along proposed pipeline routes any more—I needed to be a part of fundamentally challenging and stopping the wounds of extraction and exploitation.
I returned from that experience and to my support committee with a deep feeling of gratitude for EQAT. Since that summer I have been convinced that to do this work for the long term, I need to do it in a supportive, thoughtful, and strategic community. I have participated in actions with EQAT that felt covered by Spirit, and have increasingly learned to invite the Light and wisdom of silent worship into my own daily practice. I have tried several times to go to Quaker meetings near my home in Philadelphia, but haven’t felt the same connection with Spirit that is in moments of silence at rowdy protests or during lively debates at EQAT board meetings.
I have further explored my half-Quaker identity this past year, having completed the six-month “Answering the Call to Radical Faithfulness” class at Pendle Hill Quaker study center in Wallingford, Pa. I have found energy in a daily commitment to the spiritual practices of walking in nature and meditating, and have found at Pendle Hill a thread of the beloved community I first felt with EQAT.
I don’t know if I will ever feel at home in a monthly meeting, but I do know that in order to face the environmental and social wounds of our world with clear eyes and a resilient heart, I will keep pursuing worship in action.