Marian Franz’s Persistent Voice
About a year ago, friends of Marian Franz achieved the publication of a book they had dreamed of: A Persistent Voice: Marian Franz and Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation. With tax season upon us, I have perused this collection of essays again to draw out its treasures. The book sets out a history of the movement for a congressionally-created “Peace Tax Fund” with a chronology, the original bill text and a handful of essays recalling the major issue discussions that have always surrounded the Peace Tax Fund idea. One chapter is by David Bassett of Ann Arbor Meeting, the founder of the Peace Tax Fund campaign. Another is by Ed Snyder, FCNL’s Executive Secretary when the Peace Tax Fund legislation was first introduced. These chapters offer a valuable record of the movement so far, and I’m glad that some of Marian’s friends pulled these parts together.
My favorite parts, however, are the 47 brief essays in Marian’s own voice. In all the years that I knew and lobbied with Marian, I found her to be an irrepressible story-teller, a weaver of truths into the heart places that we know and may want to deny, and these traits shine through her writings. Many of Marian’s essays start with a vignette that had already found its way into one of our many lobby visits, as she offered her particular wisdom on the issues we’d discuss, and probed for open places where the light could go. The vignettes open truths that are not only hard to escape but hard to resist. In the course of our visits, many a congressional staffer was drawn nearer to the realities that they already knew, about living in the world that is not Capitol Hill.
Marian served as the director of the Peace Tax Fund Campaign in Washington D.C. for twenty-three years. For fourteen of those years, as a lobbyist at FCNL, I went with Marian from office to office on Capitol Hill, seeking new co-sponsors for a bill that would acknowledge conscientious objection to the payment of taxes for war-making. Though during those same years and since, I have lobbied on a wide range of issues, lobbying with Marian stands out for me as a memory to be polished and reflected upon time and again.
Marian taught me to lobby as if I believed there was “that of God in everyone” because she believed it. And after a while, I did too. She taught me to listen with a level of attention that draws another person toward his or her best beliefs. She taught me a different concept of time – one in which I’m not in charge of the rate at which the clock ticks. And she taught me the importance of a moral – though not self-righteous – witness.
In one of her essays, “A Partnership in Conscience,” Marian quoted Thich Nhat Hanh on a very different approach to lobbying. “The peace movement,” he said, “can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write a love letter. We need to learn to write a letter to the Congress or the president of the United States that they will want to read and not just throw away.” Love letters, Marian commented, “foster open-minded questioning, non-judgmental moral witness, and offer ideas and information without preaching.”
Our lobby visits were “love letters” in which Marian always expressed genuine appreciation for where the member of Congress stood, and for the work that the staffer contributed to the betterment of the world. Marian took the time to know what that work was and to understand its value, even when it did not include (yet) co-sponsorship of the Peace Tax Fund legislation.
Marian listened congressional staff members toward their best. “I learned not to attempt conversion to my point of view, but to challenge others to live up to the highest good they know,” she wrote in her essay “Peace and Security,” on the special challenges of lobbying against war in the days following September 11, 2001.
These things take time; Marian always knew that. Sometimes she would ask a senator or representative whether the Peace Tax Fund idea had gone stale. “Not at all,” they would respond; and each would have a story of something that took decades to win. In her essay “Validating This Good Testimony,” Marian writes “I am told that it takes a hundred hammer blows on a Vermont marble cliff to show even the first tiny hairline fissure. Does that mean that the thirty-seventh blow has no effect? The fifty-second? The seventy-fourth? Faith keeps us persistently hammering away, even when there is no indication that our effort does any good. The marble cliffs of Capitol Hill are vulnerable too.”
Marian died in November 2006, leaving a wealth of wisdom behind. Delving once again into her essays, I am again grateful for the lessons I learned in my “travels with Marian” through the halls of Congress. As our mutual friend Barbara Green writes in the book’s introduction, Marian “had an extraordinary gift of knowing how to enter other people’s worlds.” Marian entered my world in 1982, and has never left.
David Bassett, Steve Ratzlaff and Tim Godshall, eds., A Persistent Voice: Marian Franz and Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation, Cascadia Publishing House, Telford, PA, 2009.
Find out more about the Peace Tax fund, go to www.peacetaxfund.org