Activism works best when we 'contribute what we love'

Activism works best when we 'contribute what we love'

August 31, 2004
Written by Staff Reports


Photo courtesy
Singer-songwriter to Carrie Newcomer to headline UCC-sponsored Peace With Justice gathering

You can't separate Carrie Newcomer's music from her activism.

For the Bloomington, Ind.-based singer-songwriter—whose music will be the centerpiece of Peace With Justice Weekend 2004, Oct. 22-24, at Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky.—her music is her activism and her activism is her music.

"The closer we get to the things we love by nature—the things we just are—the more effective our work is. The closer I get to who I am authentically, the more effective my work is. I think that also applies to activism," Newcomer says.

"I think folks think they need to do a particular kind of activism, like getting out there with a sign or working in a soup kitchen," she says. "We are most effective activists when we are contributing what we love. My love is music."

Newcomer has a long list of active "spirits" to illustrate her point.

Among them is a woman in Bloomington, who is an incredible baker who is always creating delicious things for sale to benefit important causes. Other "spirits" include the one who uses her organizational skills for peace and justice causes and "the guy you can always depend on to borrow the truck."

Then there is Newcomer's friend who owns a knitting shop. A quiet, reserved woman, she found her own way to join the pre-Iraq War protests by gathering her "knitting buddies" in front of the local courthouse and posting a sign, "Knitting for Peace."

"People loved it. She was so effective in her own way," Newcomer said. "People were very open to her because a woman knitting is not perceived as threatening. She was able to reach people who might not have been reached in a different, more confrontational way."

In addition to producing eight albums in 10 years, Newcomer, 46, has played Carnegie Hall, toured Europe with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and raised money for a variety of social justice causes, including Planned Parenthood of America, The Nature Conservancy, Literacy Volunteers of America, The American Friends Service Committee, Habitat for Humanity and numerous health and hunger organizations.

Last November, she was a featured performer at the Festival of Faiths in Louisville, Ky., where she sang at a prayer breakfast featuring Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, and a dinner honoring legendary Kentucky writer and philosopher Wendell Berry.

Newcomer, a Quaker, describes herself as a "seeker" who is drawn to her faith tradition's dual commitments of seeking God's presence through intentional silence and being active in social justice activism.

"I think it's important as an activist to have a spiritual grounding to your activism, whatever that may be," she says. "Sometimes anger can get you motivated, but it can't sustain you. It's important that my activism is based in compassion. You can't just be against something. You have to be for something. Most of the spiritual traditions call us to compassion. I take that very much to heart."

Social justice became a passion at an early age.

"A pastor at my church when I was a kid was very much a social activist. I spent some time working at a Food Bank, and it changed me and moved me," she remembers. "This idea that we're meant to live life with compassion—that's really a very basic premise for me. To love God is to love your fellow persons and to be out there trying to make the world a better place for everybody."

Her first encounters with the Quaker tradition were at Goshen College and the mountains of Costa Rica, where she discovered a Quaker community.

"I fell in love with the silent meetings, and I appreciated their long-time dedication to social justice," says Newcomer, who has been attending meetings for more than 20 years.

"My spiritual life is very important to me. It's what grounds me, moves me, motivates me. It frames everything else—my relationship with something bigger than myself. É The decision we have to make is, 'What is it we are going to contribute to the world?' she says, "Sometimes it's a matter of valuing what you personally have to give and giving that. Where is it that my heart really lies and where can I be really effective?"

Newcomer, who applauds the UCC's commitment to being a just-peace, open and affirming, inclusive language church, says it is time for peace and justice activists to reclaim issues of conscience from those on the extreme right.

"For the last 10 years or so, the issues that have been framed as issues of conscience or morality have been primarily sexual issues," she says. "[But] issues of conscience have to do with social issues. Racism is an issue of conscience. É Whether or not a child can get health insurance in this country is a moral issue. It really is time in this country that we reclaim issues of conscience and issues of morality. They are bigger and wider than we have been hearing in the last few years."

Newcomer acknowledges that it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the immensity of injustice in the world, but communities of hope can sustain us.

"Working with different groups keeps my heart alive," she says. "I always meet the most amazing people—people out there in every community doing really good work. You're not going to read about them on the front page, sometimes not even on the back page. I feel really fortunate that I get to meet with them.

"It keeps my hope alive. There is a lot of scary stuff and people out there—true. But at the same time, the world is still full of the finest people. It's rumbling out there, rumbling with the power of these really fine people. I know it because I see it."

Sandra Hoy is a freelance writer in Evansville, Ind., and a frequent contributor to Evansville Living Magazine.

Peaceful 'spirits' to gather

Religion and politics will mix at "A Gathering of Spirits," the 13th annual Peace With Justice Weekend, Oct. 22-24, at Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky.

The Rev. Mari Castellanos, minister for the UCC's Justice and Peace Action Network in Washington, D.C., will be the opening banquet's keynote speaker where she will define the line between church and state in an election year. In addition, Castellanos will be the guest preacher at the closing worship service.

Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer will perform a full concert, as well as lead one of several PWJW workshops.

Susan Fowler, an Evansville, Ind., artist and musician, will lead children's activities throughout the day on Oct. 23. Through her "Harmony by Hand" workshop, Fowler offers a creative look at the environment through song, sign language and stories. The three-day event is supported in part through a grant from the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.

A $40 registration fee includes the banquet, workshops, concert, breakfasts and informal cook-out dinner. Children and students may attend workshops free of charge.

For an event brochure with complete schedule, call 270-826-0605 or e-mail

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