For some time I’ve been praying and thinking about Quaker Peace and Social Concerns Committees .Many Quaker meetings have had such committees for many years. For a long time I’ve been struggling to understand why I’ve felt these committees haven’t seemed to be as effective as they once were. Either we haven’t been identifying issues of injustice adequately, and/or methods and tools we once used no longer work. I am a member of the Peace and Social Concerns Committees of my local Quaker meeting as well as clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee.
For the past week or so I’ve been writing about justice work I’ve done to evaluate what I’ve learned, and figure out better ways to work for justice now.
What I have been led to believe is Mutual Aid programs are what our Peace and Social Concerns Committees should be today.
It is easy to continue to do what has always been done. In years past there were actual wars and methods of war, such as conscripting people into armed services. There were specific things we could mobilize against. We could refuse to cooperate with the draft. Could refuse to pay the war tax on our phone bill. Demonstrate at weapons production facilities.
And we had some access to our representatives at all levels of government. We could sometimes see the effect of writing letters to, and visiting the offices of these representatives. Letters to the Editor published in our newspapers seemed to sometimes influence our representatives and/or our fellow citizens. Some eighty years ago the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) began its work of helping Quakers lobby and engage with our Federal Government.
Now with the increasing number of people each representative is to try to serve, and the huge sums of money corporations and other interests give, most of us really have little effect on how our government works, including how money for social services is allocated and used. And stopping the money that goes to the military.
Another consideration is justice work that went so terribly wrong. One of the worst were Indian Boarding Schools, some of which were operated by Quakers. Tens of thousands of children were kidnapped from their families and taken far away to schools that tried to erase their identity and culture and try to teach them how to be assimilated into White society. Besides this being a tragic mistake to learn from, it is important to know the trauma from this has been passed from generation to generation. Native peoples today suffer from the legacy of this intergenerational trauma. It is essential that we acknowledge this if we ever hope to be able to work with Native peoples today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the failure of the capitalist economic system. The weakness of our healthcare systems and social safety nets are exposed. Suddenly millions are struggling to find basic necessities and to deal with added burdens related to health and with their children at home and needing schooling.
The need for building mutual aid survival programs is now greater than ever.
I have been blessed to learn about such Mutual Aid programs that have been operating for some time in Des Moines, Iowa. This morning I am looking forward to participating again in the free food store supported by Des Moines Mutual Aid.
In the speech below my friend Ronnie James recently gave at a Black Lives Matter teach-in, The Police State and Why We Must Resist, he said he represented Des Moines Mutual Aid. I asked him to tell me about that
It started as group of my friends working with the houseless camps some years back. It has now grown into a solid crew that runs a free food store started by the Black Panthers, still work with the camps, we organized a bail fund that has gotten every protester out of jail the last few months, and we just started an eviction relief fund to try to get a head of the coming crisis, in cooperation with Des Moines BLM. We have raised $13,000 since Wednesday and the application to apply for the grants goes live this week.Ronnie James
Quakers like to ask ourselves questions we refer to as queries. Rather than being told to do something, the questions invite us to focus on what we are or are not doing. I would ask these questions. You might have more.
- What relationships do you see between your peace and justice work, and the concept of Mutual Aid?
- What would your justice work look like if you adapted it to the Mutual Aid model?
- What Mutual Aid groups are in your area?
- How might faith integrate with Mutual Aid?
- How could Mutual Aid expand who you do your justice work with? Bring in more Friends in your meeting, youth in your meeting, and other people in your wider community?
- How can we create ways of meeting our needs, making decisions, and organizing ourselves and solving problems outside of the State structure and the capitalist system?
DM Mutual Aid
DM Rent Relief
DM Bail Fund
Teach In 8/22/2020
Des Moines BLM
The Police State and Why We Must Resist
Hello all, my name is Ronnie James, and I am here representing Des Moines Mutual Aid.
I am descended from numerous peoples of so-called north america.
At this point I am supposed to do a land acknowledgment, but I don’t like what those have been distorted into. Instead I will say you are standing on and directly benefiting from stolen land, within a nation built by stolen bodies, which is the foundation of the police state that occupies these sacred grounds of the original peoples. If you would like to know more of who’s land you are on, there are numerous resources. We are still here, and numerous, just ask us.
Historically, the police and other law enforcement were formed to protect the interests and property of the moneyed classes from the rest of the People. This “property” included the bodies of the enslaved and was the justification for brutally repressing the righteous and inevitable revolts born from the atrocity of slavery. This same philosophy of endless possession was the bloodlust that fueled the “Indian Wars” and the theft of Indigenous land and bodies that continues to this day. (Wampanoag, 2020)
Today, this same war of conquest, the repression of the many for the benefit of the few, continues.
Currently, Des Moines Mutual Aid and its many accomplices have been fighting a battle with the city of des moines and it’s foot soldiers trying to repress our houseless population from utilizing unused “property”. The basic universal need of a place to rest and be safe is trumped by the need of the wealthy, and the wannabe wealthy, to control every inch they can possess. It is a war for control, and the pigs have enlisted willingly.
This same war of conquest is currently using the mass incarceration machine to instill fear in the populace, warehouse cheap labor, and destabilize communities that dare to defy a system that would rather see you dead than noncompliant. This is the same war where it’s soldiers will kill a black or brown body, basically instinctively, because our very existence reminds them of all that they have stolen and the possibility of a revolution that can create a new world where conquest is a shameful memory.
As bleak as this is, there is a significant amount of resistance and hope to turn the tide we currently suffer under. We stand on the shoulders of giants that have been doing this work for centuries, and there are many lessons we can learn from.
The first, and possibly the most important, is that it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way.
What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.
Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us. The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war. Organized groups like The American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense showed that we can build not only aggressive security forces for our communities, but they also built many programs that directly responded to the general wellbeing of their communities. This tradition began long before them and continues to this day. Look into the Zapatistas in Southern so-called Mexico for a current and effective example.
These people’s security forces, or the “policing of the police” not only helps to minimize the abuse and trauma they can inflict on us, but it begins to shift the power balance from them to us.
Mutual Aid programs that help our most marginalized or other events that work to maintain our spirits result in stronger communities. A strong community is less vulnerable to police intrusion. 99% of our conflicts can be solved by those affected by them, but only with the support of those around them. Anytime we call on the police to mediate our problems, we are risking ourselves or a loved one from being hurt or worse.
The more we replace the police with organized community response to conflict, the safer we will be. Another powerful benefit is the removal of power from those that take their orders from those that have no interest in your well-being, at least past it being useful to amass and increase wealth.
Of course, part of this fight of police abolition will be fought on the political stage, but let’s not fool ourselves that the state and the wealthy will ever give up tight control on all resources. We can lobby and vote to have police resources diverted to less dangerous organizations, but they will still be working for the same state and same class that have dispossessed and repressed us for centuries. Every election has the possibility of reversing any policy gain we may won. Some of the fight will be in the government offices, but the majority of it will be us, in the street.
Many communities work to train amongst themselves mental and physical health workers, conflict mediators, and anything else we need, despite the state and it’s soldiers insistence that they are the sole “authority” of these skills, and always with the implied threat of violence.
As we work toward this, and this summer has proven des moines has the heart, desire, and skills to do so, we still have to deal with what’s in front of us.
We each have skills and resources we can utilize towards the abolition project. Some of us can use the halls of the system to make short term change there, others have skills that produce food, provide medical care, or care for our precious youth, some are skilled in the more confrontational tactics needed. Once we envision that world our ancestors want for us, finding our role is natural.
All Power To The People.
If we are to survive, and more importantly, thrive, we know what we will have to do.