Quakers and social change today

Note: I need to make a few things clear about the following. When I say “we” I’m talking about the demographics of most Quaker meetings today, i.e. primarily White, and tending to be older in age. Secondly, this is not about any particular Quaker Yearly Meeting (the organization of Quaker Meetings in a geographic area). Third, I’ve been clerk of my yearly meeting’s peace and social concern committee for almost ten years. Part of that involves feeling a responsibility to think about these issues and how we work on them. Fourth, I’ve had a life long struggle (68 years old now) of trying to get Friends to reject the personal automobile culture, with no success. I’ve lived without a personal automobile since I was in my early 20’s. I feel our actions should align with our professed beliefs. Finally, the thing that most irritates Friends, is I don’t believe committee work is social justice work. The reason I work on our peace and social concerns committee is because it’s role is primarily to report on the actual work being done in local Quaker meetings.

I believe working for justice requires us to develop personal relationships, to build friendships with those who are suffering injustice. And secondly, for us to follow the leadership of those in the oppressed communities. When living in Indianapolis I was blessed to be able to develop dear friendships with the people of the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring community. Even though I moved to Iowa three years ago, I still maintain those friendships. I’m including some of the recent writings from my friend, Imhotep Adisa, and photos taken at KI at the end of this.

Since returning to Iowa I’ve been led to opportunities to develop friendships with Native people. One reason is because White people continue to consume oil and other resources at rates far beyond what Mother Earth can renew. And that attitude comes from the acceptance of White dominant culture. Simply put, I have found indigenous cultures represent my Quaker values, and White culture does not. I put all the blog posts, photos and videos of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March on this website, for some examples of Quakers and native people getting to know each other: https://firstnationfarmer.com/

Finally, we get to what I shared with our peace and social concerns committee. I’ve written extensively about these things on my blog, Quakers, social justice and revolution.

I would guess a number, if not all of you have questioned the role of our peace and social concerns committee for the Yearly Meeting, and the world. Now seems to be a time to re-evaluate almost everything, as the pandemic has disrupted so many aspects of everyone’s lives around the world. This on top of what we had already been experiencing with environmental devastation and the breakdown of our political and economic systems.

We have wrestled with what peace means in times of endless wars that don’t respect political borders, and that kill so many civilians. For purposes we don’t even know.

Most of you have heard me say I don’t believe we can make any progress on justice issues until we confront the enslavement of black people and the genocide of native peoples by White people.

Many of you know I have sought any opportunity to get to know indigenous people. At first because I respected the way they lived within sustainable environmental boundaries. And their subsistence economy and spiritual grounding. The more I learned, the more I realized indigenous ways are more in line with my Quaker values than the White society I was born into, raised and now live in.

I’ve heard the cautions to not idealize Native Americans and about cultural appropriation. I’ve been working on this long enough that I think I have a handle on those things, but still learning.

I realized early on that I was having trouble explaining all of these things. Probably from my computer programming days, I’ve found it useful to diagram them. Here is my most recent project.

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. The endpoint is what kind of community we want to build. The communities most of us live in, based on capitalism, that have led to broken political, social and economic systems, the failure of which has exploded into public view because of the pandemic? It is shocking to see how completely the capitalist system has failed.

Or can we work to transition to an adaptation of communities combining our Quaker beliefs and those of indigenous cultures?

I know change is difficult. Or perhaps you have your own experiences related to these things, so this might not be such a change for you.

As my friend Ronnie James writes:

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

Is equity possible in a world after COVID-19? By IMHOTEP ADISA, Indianapolis Recorder, May 15, 2020

Over the last couple of years, the word equity has become more and more prominent in discussions of how to address growing poverty and inequality along lines of race, class and gender. In light of the coronavirus, equity for those in impoverished communities, mainly those of color, is almost unattainable. 

America’s preexisting conditions

In my view, there are three preexisting conditions that already had a large number of people questioning the morality and sustainability of our social order:

1.     The resurgence of racist ideologies which has made possible the current presidency, which in turn has refueled the resurgence.

2.     The resurgence has re-awakened a segment of society that felt the fight for civil rights had already been won.

3.     The concern that growing wealth disparities will eventually lead to social instability and put the entire social order at risk. 

Faced with unemployment that is probably close to 20%, levels not seen since the Great Depression, the push to make our society more equitable has transcended identity politics and been brought into the mainstream.

Resistance to change

Though there may be a lot of energy and interest in changing our society, in truth, any critical look at past efforts to make America a more equitable society will show that the challenges of doing so are often met with lots of resistance, trickery and violence. Inequitable structural conditions simply change their clothes, as folks attempt to create a more equitable society.

If we’re honest about it, this country has never been equitable. In fact, it was built on inequity and it continues to be fueled by inequitable structures.

Continue to push for something different

How can we create some processes and procedures to mitigate inequity in our social, legal and economic structures? How can we begin some conversations about creating a system that is equitable? What can each of us do in the present to advance equity in our society? And how do we continue to fight for equity during these difficult times?

First and foremost, all of us, every last one of us, must engage others in our work, home and play spaces to have honest, open and authentic conversations around the issue of inequity. Some of us, particularly those in positions of power, must have the courage and strength to look more deeply at the inequitable structures that exist within their own organizations and institutions.

As layoffs and lockdowns free up our time and mental energy, we can put energy daily into building relationships that can birth more equitable ways of being through genuine human connection and opportunities for empowerment, agency, self-determination and rebirth. The old structures and false solutions do not provide the promise of equity. At this moment, we need brave new connections that begin to pave the way for a better path forward.

Imhotep Adisa is the executive director and co-founder of the Kheprw Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering youth and building community wealth in Indianapolis.

Many photos and stories about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, where a group of us walked for 94 miles along the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline, can be found here: http://firstnationfarmer.com/

Following are photos at the Kheprw Institute (KI) in Indianapolis.

This entry was posted in Black Lives, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Kheprw Institute, peace, Quaker, Quaker Meetings, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Quakers and social change today

  1. Martha says:

    Greetings, Jeff. I just looked at your blog post from 5/22. I noticed that your notes are about as long as the blog itself. Since I am a word person, I’m thinking of a possible writing solution to replace at least one of the notes. ***Consider making the audience explicit in your writing.*** This would mean that “We Quakers” would in fact include Quakers who are people of color and all ages. When appropriate, use the specific “white Quakers” or “Quakers of European descent.” Such a writing practice forces white Quakers to be more intentional and aware about our views of who we white Quakers include when we use the terms “Quakers” “Friends” “our Yearly Meeting” etc. I have found the continuous reflection on when I can make explicit that “Quakers” do include people who are different from me–men, people of color, young people, people with different sexual orientations and so on–a helpful practice for moving away from seeing Quakers only in terms of the majority. I have heard Quakers who are people of color say that they feel left out of the body of Quakers when Quakers of European descent forget to be explicit about who they/we mean by “we.”

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