Gun violence is a huge social and public health crisis in the United States, including not just the mass shootings that create headlines, but also domestic violence, suicide, and a wide range of criminal activity. One day, the members of Allen’s Neck Friends Meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, asked themselves: “As Quakers, what can we do to try and address what this is doing to our country?”
Inspired by the Nepalese tradition of prayer flags, the Friends of Allen’s Neck created an installation of 765 flags, one for each death by gun violence in a typical week in the United States.
Midori Evans, one of the project’s organizers, emphasizes that the flags are a corollary to the work of organizations like Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) advocating for stronger gun control laws, not a substitute. “I know that a lot of times when there’s been a mass shooting or some horrific thing associated with gun violence that what we hear is how prayers and wishes are going out,” she says. “I have a very strong faith. I don’t dismiss the power of prayer, and yet that is not enough.”
Learn more about the project here and check out their article in Friends Journal.
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Midori Evans: Sometimes we call them prayer flags, sometimes we call them peace flags. They’re 765 small flags – is the official name. The prayer flags really is an appropriate name for them in how they carry peace; they carry compassion; they carry strength; they carry love; they carry grief; and they carry bearing witness.
Responding to Gun Violence with 765 Flags
So the 765 Flags project is just so near and dear to my heart and to the hearts of a number of people in my meeting, as well as my meeting as a whole, and part of what I love about this story is that it really just emerged.
Kathy Gallagher: A year or so ago, we were having conversations after meeting in coffee hour and one of the topics coming up was gun violence, and how these things often start, it was just, you know, a couple or three people talking about the issue and then more people becoming interested and we decided to have a meeting to see like, what can we do? Like, this is such a huge issue: it’s a social issue, it’s a public health issue. You know, as Quakers what can we do to try and address what this is doing to our country?
Midori Evans: And then at some point, and I’m not even sure I could tell you who was speaking of it and where it came from, but we had this idea about doing flags. One piece that might have been connected is that another Friend does a lot of work in Nepal, where they use prayer flags, and she might have mentioned that it seemed like something that would carry the wishes of our meeting and also be a way that we could be creative in how we were bearing witness, and it evolved from there.
Jeff Bull: I’m a member of Peace and Social Concerns and we were talking about gun violence, having dinner with a group of people, and I was aware– I had done some research about how many people actually die: that it’s 765 people every week, on average, and we wanted to bring public attention to that daily reality of gun violence, that it’s actually 109 people a day, 765 people a week in the United States.
Midori Evans: So that includes mass shootings, that includes crime, it includes domestic violence, it includes suicide: anything essentially where a gun is being used as a weapon of violence, either to someone else or to one’s self, and that’s just an astronomical number. When you sit with that number it’s overwhelming. We designed the flags so that they are divided into approximately 100+ per strand. So there are seven strands of flags that are hung, one for each day of the week.
Jeff Bull: The whole installation is as big as two tennis courts, and it’s 26-feet high so it definitely gets your attention once it’s actually up next to the road for people to see.
Well, I, as I had piles and piles of flags around me, had to make some decisions about which flags are next to which other ones and interestingly one member of our meeting took the time to actually ink onto the flags the names of multiple people at multiple mass shootings and the date of the shooting, and so we kind of put that string of flags together and it was sunny that day and there was this incredible pattern of shadows on the grass underneath the flags as the flags moved a little bit in the wind, and I realized like, whoa, those are maybe the 765 souls, and so it moved me, too, that there were things about it that I didn’t anticipate– so that I was moved in ways that, as kind of the engineering guy, I hadn’t even thought about, and I expect that that had similar impact on other people.
Kathy Gallagher: I think the fact that people feel so moved by it is basically what we were trying to accomplish, you know. It’s just a very quiet, peaceful way– it brings kind of– bearing witness like this brings people into the conversation.
A Quaker Response to Gun Violence?
Midori Evans: I believe a Quaker response to gun violence comes back to the peace testimony. When you abhor the weapons of violence, there’s sort of no question in my mind about what a Quaker response to gun violence is. There’s got to be a way that we as a country can be doing better. We’re unique in– look at Western Europe, look at Japan, look at some of these other industrialized countries: they have nowhere near, not even close, to the amount of gun violence that we have. So, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), that’s part of what a Quaker response to gun violence is: we’re there in Washington and we’re advocating for what we believe the laws should be around that.
I know that a lot of times when there’s been a mass shooting or some horrific thing associated with gun violence that what we hear is how prayers and wishes are going out, and I’m very– I have a very strong faith. I don’t dismiss the power of prayer, and yet that is not enough, and so even though out 765 flags is not promoting any political agenda, I as myself and as a Quaker believe that we could be doing more to change the laws in this country around guns.
- 1) What, in your opinion, does a Quaker response to gun violence look like?
- 2) In what ways do you bear witness to the social and political issues around you?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
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