Changes in approach to social justice work


These are difficult times for all of us.  All kinds of changes have occurred in my lifetime, all over the world.  I think we sometimes forget that the rate of change is accelerating.  We used to have more time to adjust, to carefully consider alternatives and make spiritually considered choices.

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) had a significant history of dealing with the imprisonment of a number of members related to noncooperation with conscription when it was instituted in the early 1940s.  That involved a lot of effort to support the families.  The Scattergood Hostel was open for several years.  Iowa Friends were very involved with Scattergood Friends School, the American Friends Service Committee, and creating the Friends Committee on National Legislation.  Many members were actively working for peace and justice.

In 1970, when I arrived in Indiana to begin my adult life, the country was trying to adjust to the end of our involvement in the Vietnam War.  And the civil rights movement was reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King and other leaders, and then trying to decide what to do after the passage of the civil rights legislation.

Then things were relatively calm until the Gulf War in 1990, when we invaded a country that had not attacked us for the first time in our history.  And the endless war since, including the rise of terrorism and assassination by drones (as well as the deaths of so many bystanders).

But then for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, it is my sense that peace work among Quakers tended to be focused on the AFSC and FCNL and similar organizations.  And unfortunately seemed to tend toward more and more meetings, and financial support, but less involved action.

But in the background, at first unnoticed, and then ignored, was the developing environmental disaster. 

What I hope to have done with this brief history is honor the significant amount of peace and social justice work Friends have done.  But also to express my perception, which may be incorrect, that much less hands-on, personal engagement has been going on in most of our monthly meetings.


Liz Oppenheimer just offered her suggestion that grief was playing a large role in how I was feeling these days, and I think that is the truth.  I think photography is much to blame for this.  And not owning a car.  Because both forced me to slow down, and allowed me to begin to pay attention to the beauty around us all, all of the time.  And the more you become aware of what you are seeing, that you hadn’t seen before, ever more is revealed.  And that then teaches you to see even more.  It’s a vicious cycle (of beauty).  

I am definitely grieving for the dying earth.  And I think I paid attention to that earlier than many, and see its extent so clearly because I am a scientist, and I easily see CO2 in my mind.  And I can visualize what is going to be happening to all of the beauty that I have been so deeply sensitized to.

Economic System

I think many Friends do not acknowledge that the economic and political situation in the United States has made us oppressors.  And I realize that I am grieving here, as well.  The past several years becoming involved with the KI (Kheprw Institute) community has, like photography, taught me to see what I had not been able to see before.  These people have become my friends, and it really hurts me when I see how they are hurt.


For those who don’t know, I recently wrote about my frustrations with Quakers.  This is an attempt to try to explain better what my concerns are, and to offer an apology for not explaining better.  I have the greatest respect for Iowa Friends, and I’m glad I was reminded to consider all the great work done in years past.  But I am also still frustrated that (1) Friends don’t seem to understand their new positions as oppressors and (2) haven’t had some of the experiences I’ve been able to learn from, even though they cause me grief.  Good grief? (Charlie Brown).

So the personal automobile concern makes even more sense when I see the grief I feel when I look at a car, and see the CO2, and the consequences of that, at least the ones we are fairly sure of.  The other reason I grieve is because every attempt to model the future of our climate has erred significantly by underestimating how quick and severe the changes would be.  What we are experiencing now was predicted, but not to happen for another 50 years at least.  But the car concern also drives my urgency.  I regret now that I didn’t try to draw more attention to the issue of personal automobiles over the years.  What I realize now is that I do not want to be sitting here 10 years from now, and still be wondering why more people aren’t doing something to get rid of their cars.

My problem is that my meeting is one of several rural meetings in Iowa, and that is definitely a situation where a personal automobile would be needed.  But we could still be looking into alternatives, like electric vehicles, shared vehicles, kind of a reverse farmers market where a truck of supplies made its rounds to the farms, etc.  Getting renewable energy for our meetinghouses.

But as great an urgency is how people of color are being treated.  So again my problem is that Iowa has very little diversity in the general population, so what can Iowans do?  Besides looking to help those who are of color, white people in general have to speak out against systemic racism, and police violence specifically.  My grief is knowing, from the tearful stories I hear, of how terrified parents of children of color are anytime they leave the house.  It is because white people have not raised their voices that the police killings continue.   Now I know the same fear for my new friends.  That is why every day is so precious, and we can’t let days and months and years slip away as children of color are killed in our streets by police.  I warn you that the depths of how bad all of this really is, is far worse than anything you might imagine.


As I see it, those of us who have in one way or another gotten directly involved with people and communities who are living with injustice now see and hear and feel and learn these things that you cannot learn academically.  And mainly we make friends, and then share their pain and joy.  We are building Beloved Communities.  I think all Friends, if they haven’t already, and many have, need to develop friendships with people of color.  Not the only way, but one way to do this is by using the AFSC Quaker Social Change Ministry (QSCM) program I’ve written a lot about, and that we will be talking about at Yearly Meeting.  I hope that Bear Creek meeting might consider using the QSCM model in a long distance way, the same way we do the long distance queries.  Some of us have been doing something similar as spiritual support for Liz (which usually ends up supporting me as well by proxy).

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