The Duty to Resist

“The Duty to Resist” is an article in a recent edition of Friends Journal, The Duty to Resist by Carlos Figueroa, Friends Journal, April 1, 2022

I had forgotten Bayard Rustin had been incarcerated for draft resistance. He joins the list of those who have written about their prison experiences such as Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In March 1948, Bayard T. Rustin, in his capacity as secretary of FOR’s Racial-Industrial Department, was honored with the opportunity to deliver the William Penn Lecture as part of the Young Friends Movement of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Since its inception in 1916, the William Penn Lecture had been given by several Quaker luminaries. The lecture, titled “In Apprehension How Like a God” (drawing on Shakespeare’s Hamlet), touched on many Quaker values but, more importantly, the moral and pragmatic lessons Rustin had learned while incarcerated for two years in Kentucky and Pennsylvania federal prisons for refusing induction into the military. 

In his lecture, Rustin reminded Friends of the need to uphold their moral responsibility with integrity as individuals and within the broader community whenever witnessing and confronting domestic or global social injustices. Rustin implored Friends toward consistency and truthfulness in the face of violence, war, and oppression.

The Duty to Resist by Carlos Figueroa, Friends Journal, April 1, 2022

In the magazine, Ithaca College’s Carlos Figueroa looks back at an important talk Bayard Rustin gave to the young Friends association in Philadelphia in 1948. It was a pivotal moment in a life that contained so many: Rustin had spent the early 1940s organizing with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was recently released from a prison term for violating the Selective Service Act. This was his opportunity to lay out a pacifist politics for the Cold War era:

Rustin explicitly sought to persuade others into considering civil disobedience as a social democratic strategy for pursuing structural and policy change. Rustin advocated for a humanitarian, communal, and moralistic approach to change, thus disregarding an individual’s political affiliation, geographic location, or government system.

Bayard Rustin in Friends Journal, A Blog from Martin Kelley, April 7, 2022


Rustin explicitly sought to persuade others into considering civil disobedience as a social democratic strategy for pursuing structural and policy change.


From the introduction of the QuakerSpeak video below: As a gay African-American, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin faced discrimination his entire life—sometimes, Walter Naegle reminds us, among his fellow Friends. Walter, Rustin’s partner and companion in his final decades, discusses his vital contributions to Quaker testimony of peace, integrity and equality.

“Bayard believed in the oneness of the human family, in the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people,” Walter says. “He believed in the power of nonviolence which comes out of that belief in the oneness of all people.… He saw everybody as equal in the eyes of the divine.”


“I put my life on pause, rewound, now I’m pressing play. The come up, grinding until the sun up, knowing it could all be gone if one person puts their guns up. A black Quaker no savior, I’m on my Bayard Rustin to convince all the skeptics and get people to just trust em.”

Sterling Duns

I’m reminded of a teach-in by my friend Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist. “As bleak as this is, there is a significant amount of resistance and hope to turn the tide we currently suffer under.”


I’ve been working on this post for days, which is unusual. Not quite sure how these seemingly disparate parts fit together. In part because there will increasingly be direct actions related to environmental devastation. I’ll be attending a Climate Summit this weekend, which will include training for and participation in direct action.


#IAClimateJustice #Climatejustice #Climateaction

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