N.C. peace activist to leave Quaker House

mquillin@newsobserver.comNovember 23, 2012 

Chuck Fager is leaving Quaker House of Fayetteville after 11 years as director.

MARTHA QUILLIN — mquillin@newsobserver.com

— Chuck Fager came to Fayetteville to advocate for peace just as the U.S. was gearing up to go war in Afghanistan in 2001.

As he leaves 11 years later, the fighting still goes on.

“Chuck likes to joke that he failed because he didn’t end the war,” says Stephen Newsom, who with his wife, Lynn, will move into Quaker House and take over its mission as Fager leaves later this month.

In fact, in his tenure at Quaker House, Fager did help end the war for some soldiers, those who volunteered for service and realized, too late, they wanted to leave the military.

One of his jobs as director was raising money to keep the house open as a resource for peace advocates and to fund two counselors on a hotline for service members who want to leave the military..

At the peak in 2002, the counselors were taking 3,000 calls a month. That’s down to about 200 per month now.

Quaker House got its start in 1969 when a soldier from Fort Bragg showed up at a Society of Friends meeting in Chapel Hill saying he needed help seeking conscientious-objector status.

He told members of the church that there were other disillusioned soldiers on post like him who might ask for help if the Quakers had a representative in town.

“So they did what Quakers do in the face of an emergency,” Fager says. “They formed a committee.”

They also eventually set up Quaker House, which demonstrated the church’s commitment to peace and tapped into a growing sentiment at the time against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

An organization that preaches against increased militarization in a military town is at times a lightning rod.

The house and its visitors were the subject of surveillance by military intelligence and the FBI, and the rented home was fire-bombed in May 1970 a few days after Jane Fonda came to town for an anti-war demonstration.

No one was seriously injured in the fire-bombing, and the board of directors, to show its resolve, held its meeting in the yard when the house became unusable.

“Quakers can be stubborn,” Fager says.

Fager wasn’t raised a Quaker.

An Air Force brat born in St. Paul, Kansas, which he calls “a little Democratic island in a vast Republican sea,” Fager was raised a Catholic but by young adulthood considered himself an atheist.

He had considered joining the Air Force himself, but dropped out of ROTC in high school because, he says, “Military without war is boring.”

He went to college at Colorado State University, where he became a columnist on the campus newspaper, launching a lifelong love of writing.

In the fall of 1964, he started graduate school at Atlanta University, where he thought he could be at the center of the civil rights movement, but left almost immediately because the coursework seemed too pedestrian compared to what was happening in the streets of the tumultuous South.

Hoping to get closer to the action, he wrote a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King’s organization asking for a job.

To his surprise, it offered him one, though at just $25 a week, half what he was making as a copy clerk at the Atlanta Constitution, where he was learning more about journalism.

He traveled with members of the group to Selma, Ala., and other places, and heard enough African-American preachers speak against young black men going to fight in Vietnam that he realized he didn’t want to fight there, either.

He sought, and gained, conscientious-objector status.

He figures the board considering the applications looked at the letter of reference in his file from King and decided it would be easier just to stamp Fager’s request, “approved.”

He had to choose an alternative service, and Fager picked a Quaker project on Long Island called the Friends World Institute.

Most of those years, Fager was writing, but he was never paid for his work until Christian Century magazine accepted an opinion piece in which he said King would eventually have no choice but to come out against the war.

They gave him $35.

Fager decided to write as much as he could then, crafting books and doing pieces for alternative newspapers.

For a couple of years, he worked on Capitol Hill for Congressman Paul “Pete” McCloskey, a Republican from California.

He might have stayed in Washington, he says, “But it seems I have antibodies to Potomac fever.”

To support his writing, he worked as a courier for a while, then as a mail carrier and sorter for the U.S. Postal Service.

He spent three years trying to help the Quaker church raise its political profile before deciding that such a small denomination “can’t afford to rent a congressman, let alone buy one.”

That’s been one of his favorite laugh lines as he has traveled about the country speaking to Friends groups about Quaker House and asking them to give money to support the project over the years.

He had not meant to take the job at Quaker House, applying to fill the long-vacant job only at a friend’s insistence.

Then came 9/11, and the board of directors called to offer him the post.

He knew, as the rest of the world did, that U.S. forces would soon be sent to fight, and he figured God wanted him to be in Fayetteville when they were suiting up.

“I’m a military brat, and in the military you don’t follow your bliss, you follow orders,” he said.

He has continued to publish books, a Quaker House newsletter and regular op-ed pieces in the Fayetteville Observer that reveal how widely he reads and how passionately he feels.

“If an issue comes up, he finds a way to have an effect on it,” says Roberta Waddle, president of the Fayetteville Chapter of the National Organization for Women, who has known Fager for years.

Some of the issues he feels most strongly about are domestic violence in the military, U.S. involvement in torture and, recently, the plan to install tolls on Interstate 95, which Fager believes will harm some of the state’s poorest residents.

At age 70, he figures he’ll have more time to write now, and plans to do that in Durham, where he has bought a house in Lyon Park.

He’s not sure yet what he’ll write about, but he knows he has to write. It became clear to him once as he drove past the 4th Psychological Operations Group office on Fort Bragg and saw a motto the unit was using at the time.

“Words Conquer,” it said.

Fager still hopes his words will.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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