By Diane Reynolds
The United States can lead the way to putting an end to wars, said Quaker activist Steve Olshewsky at a recent Peace Forum, held at ESR.
Olshewsky is a person who acts on his convictions. When he realized, years ago, as a public accountant, how much of the average taxpayer’s earnings—about half our tax dollars-- funds warfare, he sprang into action. Since then, he has made it his life’s work to push for passage of the Peace Tax Fund Act.
This act, (HR 1191) would allow a person who was registered as a conscientious objector to have his or her war taxes put into a special fund that would be used for other government expenses. Nobody would escape paying taxes, but nobody with religious objections to war would be forced to financially support defense activities that violated their consciences. Olshewsky believes that if the U.S. would establish such a fund, it would set a worldwide standard that other countries would follow.
Olshewsky’s message-- Don’t be discouraged, do speak truth to power, change can happen--can be hard to listen in hard times, but it’s worth hearing. Olshewsky spoke to the difference ordinary citizens have made in recent history, as when Rep. Barney Frank signed on as a co-sponsor to the Peace Tax Fund bill because of letters from Friends.
At the forum, Olshewsky gave out brightly colored construction paper and pens and asked all who were so moved to write letters to Congress for sponsorship of HR 1191. Olshewsky, who said he visits every member of Congress at least once a year, promised to hand deliver the letters.
I found the “I want to believe” side of my soul stirred by Olshewsky’s enthusiasm and conviction. Can an average person circulating through the halls of Congress—a mere drop in the bucket among 300 million citizens—make a difference? Olshewsky answers with a loud yes. “No witness for conscience is ever lost,” he says. “Your voice is so powerful.” As I think back to the kind of changes early Quakers made—ensuring a degree of religious freedom, founding colonies, freeing slaves—I think, yes, perhaps we too can enact change in our times.
But the disconnect is often between the desire for change and knowing what more we can do, here and now, amid busy schedules. The challenge is for Quaker organizations to meet volunteers where they are. Where and how can we use our energy to help in concrete ways to usher in a more peaceful world?
Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.