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Marian Franz’s Persistent Voice

April 13, 2010

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

  1. Hugh Barbour permalink
    April 14, 2010 10:21 pm

    I tried to reply to Bassett’s whole list and was told I couldn’t. FCNL has me on its e-mail list, and I hope the Peace Tax Fun does also, as I am on their mailing list. Keep it up. Hugh Barboour

  2. Alan & Prisca Gamble permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:44 pm

    A great reflection and summary of Marian’s words and witness. She had multiple gifts of visionary organizing, compassionate lobbying, engaging story-telling and used them faithfully to build a firm foundation honoring conscience.
    “A Persistent Voice” is inspirational history at its best; well worth the price. More details at:
    Thanks for sharing Ruth!

  3. Steven Kretzmann permalink
    April 15, 2010 11:00 am

    I had the pleasure of working with Marian in the Peace Tax Fund office for many years. Her attitude and persistence were admirable. And she was fun to work with on a daily basis. An ordained Mennonite minister, she was a beacon of light on Capitol Hill, who proudly represented the beliefs of those of us in the Historic Peace Churches (Quakers, Mennonites and Church of the Bretheren). Her example is a true inspiration for others who follow in her footsteps.

    Thanks for writing this, Ruth!

  4. Larry Bassett permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:13 pm

    BTW, I wish I could say I am related to David Bassett, but I am not!
    Last night I was watching the new NWTRCC video “Death & Taxes.” It reminds me that war tax resisters and conscientious objectors and supporters of the PTF are often the same person. Marian was surely a persistent voice for all of us.

  5. Pat Washburn permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:53 pm

    Bless you Ruth,
    YOur reflection on this day was especially poignant to me, as I drove through my village and saw the Tea Party Rally in our park. I too worked with Marian for a number of years when I was with NPAC in WDC, and later teaching at Earlham with Hugh. There are so many memories that rose up with your blog. Thank You.
    Pat Washburn

  6. Bill Mims permalink
    April 16, 2010 11:41 am

    I didn’t know Marian well, but I will never forget the power I felt in her quiet listening. An example of it is in a story she told me about being sandwiched in between two “hired gun” lobbyists when meeting a Congressional staffer. She said she remarked on this to the staffer, who told her that he found her a breath of fresh air, and enjoyed meeting with “true believers” more than with the professional lobbyists.
    As Ruth has said, she talked about getting others to live to the highest standard they know, not about getting them to agree with me. To me that was her way of seeing “that of God” in them.

    Thank you Ruth, and thank you Marian.

  7. Ed Snyder permalink
    April 20, 2010 9:28 am

    Dear Ruth–

    I join David Bassett and many others in thanking you for your beautiful and eloquent tribute to Marian. She was a truly unique and divinely inspired individual.


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