Using Quaker Values to Spur Effective Activism

Friend in Residence Eileen Flanagan, board chair of Earth Quaker Action Team, is sharing wisdom about nonviolent direct action during her time on campus.

This semester’s Friend in Residence is Quaker writer and social activist Eileen Flanagan, who is now on campus for a series of workshops about nonviolent direct action that will culminate in a public address about our current political moment on Thursday, April 13, and in a campaign downtown, led by interested students, on Friday, April 14.

Haverford’s Friend in Residence Program was established in 2011 to give students the opportunity to engage with Quaker thought-leaders on their campus. The school’s Quaker Affair Office hosts these residencies every semester, for a week in the fall and for two to three weeks in the spring, in an effort to initiate conversations about how Quaker testimony and values can influence different professions and forms of social activism.

“Meeting seasoned Quakers and having a chance to talk with them about their lives and leadings provides students a chance to reflect on how Quaker values can be used in their own lives,” said Director of Quaker Affairs Walter Sullivan. “There is a subtle yet powerful wisdom at the center of the Quaker tradition that I believe can help people deal with the challenges in this present political and social moment.”

By the end of her in-progress, spring-semester residency, Flanagan, who received her bachelor’s degree from Duke and attended Yale for graduate school, will have spoken in almost a dozen classrooms, met with numerous student groups, and conducted five public presentations and workshops.

Flanagan has been a writer for 25 years, and in her latest memoir, Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope, she shares the spiritual journey that brought her from hopelessness to a state of fulfillment through activism. She is particularly dedicated to climate-justice activism, and is the board chair of Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT, pronounced “equate”), which seeks to create a sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action.

“I hope that my interest and knowledge of nonviolent activism can be of service to students, whatever their cause or mission,” said Flanagan. “Although my work focuses on climate justice, my trainings at Haverford will cover principles and roles that show up in a variety of nonviolent movements.”

Using EQAT and the concept of nonviolent action as tools for social change, Flanagan has found hope and a sense of empowerment—a message she aims to spread at Haverford. Her workshops will focus on how non-violent direct action works. On Sunday, April 9, she will explain how to plan strategically to ensure a peaceful movement has the biggest impact. On Wednesday, April 12, she will hold a role-training session, during which students will have the opportunity to act out the different parts people take on in nonviolent campaigns—police liaison, song leader, action leader, negotiator.

Flanagan’s workshops are, in some ways, preparation for the event on Friday, April 14, when EQAT will continue its Power Local Green Jobs campaign in Center City, which advocates for locally generated solar energy that will create jobs in Philadelphia’s marginalized communities.

“EQAT protests are particular in that they show up directly in the decisions makers’ faces, in creative ways,” said Flanagan.

Flanagan explained that Quakerism greatly affects how EQAT operates: the team uses silence and song as tools of action, and is always nonviolent.

During her time at Haverford, Flanagan, who was raised Catholic but converted to Quakerism, hopes to share the Quaker principles that matter most to her.

“The idea that everyone has access to wisdom and that listening inwardly is so important really appeals to me,” she said, adding that these principles—as she hopes to show via her campus programming—can be employed as fundamental tools in movements advocating for social change.

-Tania Bagan ’18

Photo by Patrick Montero