I turned 18 in 1970, and was registered for the draft for the Vietnam war. To the dismay of my father, a career Army officer, I requested conscientious objector status. My Methodist youth pastor helped me walk through the C.O. process with the help of members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
That was my first encounter with FOR.
My mother and sister were my lone family support. Through it all, my church stood with me — even in the military-centric city of San Antonio, Texas. With help from FOR, I wrote about and then defended my pacifist stance. I received a 1-0 C.O.status. It was one of the only full 1-0’s granted in Texas during the draft years.
I became immersed in the work of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the Summerhill School experience of A.S. Neill, political theorist Michael Harrington’s (no direct relation) The Other America, and ultimately liberation theology. During the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, I began to associate my faith and understanding of the ethics of Jesus as a call to peace through working for justice — and knew this was my calling. FOR’s Alfred Hassler, who founded the Dai Dong project — instrumental in linking war, environmental problems, and poverty (working with Thich Nhat Hanh) — was another major influence on my life.
These encounters with FOR have influenced my life work as a minister and youth advocate. As a result I have been able to stand for peace issues throughout my career as a youth program designer, conference speaker, journalist, co-director of the National Gang Peace Summit, school violence and anti-bullying consultant, nuclear protester, handgun opponent, program director for Students Against Violence Everywhere, ethics teacher, and youth minister.
It has been over forty years since I was asked by my draft board, “What does your belief-system say in describing yourself as a pacifist?”
I am excited about FOR’s work today and its plans for the coming year, especially in strengthening the voices and ethical formation of young people. Working with the next generation of activists, FOR’s anti-gun violence campaigns, its Young, Pacifist & Proud initiative, and the forthcoming “Our Future Is Now” mobilization reflect today’s cutting-edge version of the “Spaceship Earth” movement that inspired me and so many others as emerging peace activists. At that time, FOR member Kenneth Boulding wrote,
“This generation of young people has to be prepared to live in a very small and crowded spaceship. Otherwise they are going to get a terrible shock when they grow up and discover that we have taught them how to live in a world long gone.”
My hope is that as the Fellowship of Reconciliation enters its next 100 years, it will continue to serve as the leading voice of the present generation. With your support, I think it will.
Rev. Michael O. Harrington
FOR Freeman Fellow
New Orleans, Louisiana