Greetings from Rhode Island!
by Natalie Baker-Merrill
I'm writing to introduce the newest initiative of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. I was recently hired to coordinate Peace Tax activities in the Ocean State for the next six months. During this time, I will be working with faith communities, schools, activist groups and concerned citizens to raise awareness on issues of conscience and war through educational events, a benefit concert featuring a surprise guest with a long tradition of commitment to peacemaking, and a formal hearing in which vital voices within the regional peace community will have a chance to be heard by members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation. Our goal is to gain their support for H.R 2631, a bill affirming the religious freedoms of those opposed to war.
While this may seem like a tall order, building a world of peace has never been about setting easy goals. This campaign is about faith, hope, and conscience. Rhode Island was chosen for this campaign because of its unique history of religious freedom, which draws on founder Roger Williams' historic belief that the powers of government must not interfere with the free exercise of conscience and relationship with the Divine. Our state motto is "Hope". And just like the lighthouses that dot Rhode Island's coastline, we believe that this campaign will provide guidance and hope to others throughout the country struggling with the current legal consequences of living their faith and conscience.
While in Rhode Island, we are blessed by a partnership with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), giving us the opportunity to plug into already established networks of dynamic, committed peace activists and communities of faith throughout the state. I am grateful to find myself a part of such an engaged community of Quakers and fellow travelers motivated by conscience to live as witnesses to a world without war.
Originally from Indiana, and having moved to Rhode Island after a year of intensive graduate studies in Vermont, I have much to learn from seasoned activists and supporters here on the ground. At the same time, I am eager to put my skills from past experiences with human rights, labor and peace issues to work in support of a campaign rooted in practical ways to legally recognize the fundamental rights of conscience.
There has never been a more important time to make our voices heard by bringing these issues to the forefront of community, state and federal consciousness. With war budgets overshadowing the vital needs of people across the country and the world, we are especially called to witness to a world free of war, and to the rights of people to be advocates for another way of living.
As supporters of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, we know that it is essential to make this choice, for our spirits, for our communities and for our world. In Rhode Island, in the coming months, we will do our part to ensure that our neighbors and our elected officials know it, too.