Individual Quakers have been and are involved in political processes sometimes as politicians, and more often as citizens. Friends are also involved collectively, through a variety of agencies, notably QUNO at the UN, QCEA in Europe, and national committees such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation in the US.
International Mediation and Conciliation
Quakers have mediated, and worked for reconciliation, in several violent international conflicts. Their approach has been described as ‘balanced partiality’ – they do not take sides, but care about both parties.
Friends have tried to help to build a peaceful world through Quaker ‘good offices’ at international level. They have done this by acting as trusted hosts for many quiet off the record meetings between diplomats, and by organising conferences for diplomats and others. QUNO, the Quaker UN Office, is an important current focus for such work.
Ada Salter (1866-1942) was a pacifist and a socialist. She was the first woman Labour mayor and spent her life working for the people of Bermondsey and London.
(1885 – 1954) Agatha Harrison was a British Quaker and a close friend of Gandhi. She contributed significantly to the peaceful transfer of power from the British to the independent governments of India and Pakistan.
Alfred Salter was a medical practitioner, pacifist, teetotaler and politician who worked tirelessly for poor and socially deprived people. His wife Ada was also a prominent socialist.
Alice Paul (1885-1977) was an American Quaker campaigner for women’s suffrage. She led the Silent Sentinels – a peaceful protest outside the White House calling for women’s votes – and was jailed. After going on hunger strike to protest at conditions there, she was put on a psychopathic ward and force fed.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was founded in 1917. It works with many partners, in the US and around the world, on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, alongside issues of economic, social and criminal justice. AFSC received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, jointly with its British counterpart (then called the Friends Service Council).
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a black Civil Rights activist, a close associate of Martin Luther King, and an advocate of gay and lesbian rights, and a Quaker.
British Quakers in Parliament in the Nineteenth Century
Quakers were able to enter Parliament from 1832, and in the rest of the nineteenth century there was a disproportionally large number of Quaker MPs They all defended their convictions concerning social issues vigorously but were not always popular with their fellow Members of Parliament.
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
The Friends Committee on National Legislation, founded in 1943, is a Quaker lobby organisation in the USA. It seeks to bring spiritual values and Friends' testimonies to bear on public policy decisions at the Federal level. Its management committee brings together representatives from all three Quaker traditions in the US.
George Fox (1624 – 91), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) was born and grew up in England in the turbulent times leading up to the Civil War. He travelled to Holland and Germany and to North America and the Caribbean, as well as all over Britain and Ireland. Quakers were persecuted for most of his adult life, but he lived to see freedom of religion established in Britain.
Hendrik van der Merwe
Hendrik van der Merwe was a South African Quaker academic and peacemaker. For 27 years, he was head of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town and was the founding president of the South African Association for Conflict Intervention.
Horace Alexander (1889-1989) was a Quaker who contributed significantly to the peaceful transfer of power from the British to the independent governments of India and Pakistan, and afterwards worked to limit the terrible communal violence that followed.
Interaction with Tsarist Russia
(1698 - 1919) Several Quakers met Russian Tsars and their diplomats, and discussed many topics. There were significant impacts on Russian education, agriculture and health. Towards the end of the period Friends’ focus was on relief - for victims of wars, for communities suffering famine, and for minorities suffering because of their beliefs.
Isaac Penington was a Quaker writer and theologian. He was also interested in politics. He was imprisoned six times for his Quaker principles.
John Bright (1811 – 1889) was the second Quaker to enter the British Parliament where he served for forty years. He was a Liberal and a Radical. He was a brilliant orator and a radical agitator who opposed the Corn Laws, the Crimean War and supported the North against the South in the American Civil War. He was also opposed to Home Rule for Ireland.
Joseph Rowntree (1836 – 1925) played an important part in building up the Rowntree family business, and later used his personal wealth to set up four charitable trusts. Throughout his lifetime he was concerned with the welfare of his employees and wider social issues, and the trusts take forward these concerns.
Mediation During the Nigerian Civil War 1967-70
In 1967, following communal violence, an area of Eastern Nigeria calling itself Biafra, sought independence. In the civil war that followed (1967-1970), the area was cut off from the rest of the world and its population suffered starvation. Three Quakers took part in mediation with the leaders on both sides. The American Friends Service Committee ran relief programmes.
Mediation in Zimbabwe 1965-1980
Quakers were heavily involved in mediation and relief work in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) during the war for independence and majority rule (1965-1979). They acted as election observers during the first free and fair election in 1980 and afterwards continued to work on race relations issues.
Mission work and Quaker settlement in colonial New Jersey
(1674 - 1783) In the 1650s there was a vast tract of sparsely populated Indian land between the northern and southern colonies. William Penn and others seized the opportunity to acquire the land as a place where Quakers could live freely. West Jersey was the first, in 1674, followed by East Jersey, and then Pennsylvania.
Nitobe Inazo (1862 - 1933) , 'Bridge Across the Pacific', was a Japanese Quaker who became the first Under Secretary General for the League of Nations.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, (1952- ) is perhaps the only Quaker and pacifist to have found themselves second in command of their country’s defence forces. She is a longstanding member of the ANC, and served as an MP and later in the Ministries of Defence and Health. She currently campaigns against the sex-trafficking of women.
Peacemaking between East and West Germany
In 1961, East and West Germany were cut off from each other, by the Berlin Wall. Quakers were respected and trusted by both sides, and were able to build a dialogue that eased some of the tensions.
Philip Noel-Baker was a British Quaker. An academic and politician, he was involved in the establishment of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. In 1959, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work on disarmament.
Project Muinda, in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a peace project founded in 1993 by Congolese Quakers, and supported by Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC) and by the Mennonites. ‘Muinda’ comes from the word for light in three of the four national languages of the DRC.
Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN)
In the UK, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network has worked on behalf of Refugees and Asylum Seekers since 2006, providing support, practical help and advocacy. They campaign nationally on the issues of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, detention of children and destitution.
Quaker Election Observing in East and Central Africa
One of the major causes of violence in Africa has been elections themselves. In 2004 Quaker Peace Network-Africa began a programme of election observation in East and Central Africa, in collaboration with Mennonites. Citizen reporters play a key role.
Quaker Peace Network – Africa (QPN-Africa)
QPN-Africa brings together Quakers from many African countries, and other international participants, to learn from each other about their peace building experiences, to acquire new peace building skills, and to plan and evaluate joint initiatives such as election observing.
Quakers and the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the USA is widely considered to date from the First Women’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York State in 1848. This meeting was instigated by five women who had been closely involved in the abolition of slavery, all but one of whom were Quakers. In 1920, it was the actions and treatment of another Quaker woman – Alice Paul – which led at last to the passing of a Women’s Suffrage Bill by the US Congress.
Quakers in colonial Pennsylvania
(1681 - 1783) William Penn established Pennsylvania as a Holy Experiment enshrining Quaker principles of religious and political liberty. Quakers and many others flocked to the colony, and it prospered. Quakers were soon in a minority, but they played a prominent part in colonial public life.
QUNO: Quaker United Nations Office
Quakers/Friends have been active behind the scenes at the United Nations from the beginning, and in the League of Nations before that. Each of the two main UN centres - New York and Geneva – has a Quaker House, staffed by a small team. They listen, they contribute, and they facilitate quiet dialogue and solution building, especially with regard to peace, justice and human rights.
The Holy Experiment, in Pennsylvania
The "Holy Experiment" is how William Penn described his plans for Pennsylvania, which he founded in 1682. Penn planned to put all his Quaker principles into practice here, something that it was impossible to achieve in England at the time. Everyone would be able to live as they wished within the law, and worship as they chose.
The Pease Family
The Pease family had an enormous impact on British industrial history in the nineteenth century. They were wealthy wool producers and merchants in Yorkshire, and funded the Stockton and Darlington Railway. They also had many other industrial interests including banking and mining. They produced the first Quaker MP, followed by eight others. Many of the family were Quakers.
Turning the Tide
Turning the Tide is a training programme run by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (British Friends). It aims to help people use the power of nonviolence to ‘turn the tide’ of injustice, oppression and disempowerment and to build an inclusive, sustainable and fair world. They offer workshops, speakers, advice and resources. They also publish a periodic journal, Making Waves.
William Penn (1644 –1718) was born in London, and became a Quaker as a young man. He was imprisoned several times for his faith, but used that time to develop his Quaker thought and to write influential books. He spent most of his life in England and Ireland, but he also had a very significant four years in colonial North America, where he founded Pennsylvania, guaranteeing religious freedom for all.
Work on crime and justice through international Quaker organisations
There are three international agencies involved. Two work at the level of the UN, and the third works at the level of the European Union. The three agencies collaborate extensively in seeking to inform and influence international guidelines on crime and justice matters.