How is it there are things that seem obvious to me, that other people don’t see at all? There have been times when I find some things I once believed ended up not being correct. What is correct or right? Who decides? That is central to how we live our lives. Who do we believe? Who do we grant the authority to guide us? Who do we listen to?
And then there is the whole other thing, our choices. Do we actually do what we believe is the right thing, or not, or something in between if there is such an option? We choose what to do. There are often risks, sometimes great risks involved, especially if our choice conflicts with the status quo. Conformity is a powerful force in our lives. Others in our communities feel threatened if we don’t conform. This becomes more complicated if our immediate community doesn’t accept some of the norms of the larger community it exists within.
The older many people get, the more strongly they cling to familiar pattens, habits. It takes a lot of work to continue to evolve our understanding, beliefs and actions. Once you find something that works, why not leave it at that? It also takes a great deal of work to change those familiar patterns.
One of the first big decisions I was faced with was registering for the draft (Selective Service System) when I turned 18 years of age in 1969. How could it be right to fight a war? To be trained to kill people? And sometimes actually do so? This was one of those nuanced situations, where you either cooperated by registering, or not. But there was a third option for “historic peace churches”, the Quakers, Brethren and Mennonites. If you were a member of one of those you could apply to do two years of alternative, civilian service instead of being trained to kill.
One of my most consequential choices was to refuse to own a personal automobile. The industrial nations built their societies on fossil fuel power. Cities and towns were designed on the assumption that travel would not be a problem, since everyone would have a car.
As a young student, I learned about fossil fuels in science class. We were taught there were limited amounts of fossil fuel in the earth. The fuels are nonrenewable. Obviously, we would need to be careful to preserve those resources. That was the right choice. We know industrial societies chose instead to use fossil fuels with no regard to the consequences. With no regard for the impact on future generations.
I had hoped my Quaker community would make the right choice about fossil fuels. It is a moral choice to disregard the consequences to future generations, and as it turned out, to our own. Despite the growing knowledge about the multiple consequences, most Quakers continued to choose the products and conveniences made possible by fossil fuels.
But the most consequential choice I made was to obey what the Spirit was telling me to do, as best I could discern that. That was why I had to be a draft resister, why I couldn’t own a car. Why I was blessed to become part of the Kheprw Institute and learned about racism. Why I participated in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March and learned about Indigenous ways of life. Why I have become involved in Mutual Aid and learned of ways to build Beloved communities.
This past weekend I attended a Quaker gathering. The topic was “how is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” That question is what prompted me to write the preceding part of this article. To illustrate ways I think about discerning the right way, and deciding whether to chose that path. About taking risks. About being led by the Spirit.
White supremacy is the status quo for White people in this country. Conforming to the concept of White supremacy is violently enforced against those who don’t have white privilege. The unjust Justice system effectively keeps Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) under control by incarceration with ridiculously long prison sentences. Children are pulled into the school to prison pipeline. BIPOC people are also controlled by forcing so many to live in impoverished conditions/communities. It is hard to agitate for justice when you have to spend your time and energy just to survive. When your spirit is beaten down.
The conveniences and privileges of being White in this country seduce those who know better to tolerate this system. Conforming to this system answers the question, “how is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” God’s voice would not tell us to allow millions to live in poverty, without adequate food, water, clothing, healthcare, or shelter. To live in constant fear. Hopeless.
This enslavement of non White people is perpetrated by the capitalist economic system. Colonial capitalism as my friends put it. Putting a price on everything is how capitalists acquire wealth. And requiring money to purchase everything, including essentials, intentionally keeps non White people impoverished.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t see Quakers stimulated to reject White supremacy when asked, “how is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” I don’t know if it is a matter of White Friends not recognizing White supremacy and its effect on their own lives. Not understanding the devastating effects of White supremacy on the lives of BIPOC people. Or choosing to live with the conveniences of white supremacy, to conform to the White society most of us live in when that conformity means we White people will live comfortably, both materially and in terms of public safety.
Well this is long enough. For White Friends to become anti-racist requires rejecting the colonial capitalist system. An alternative is Mutual Aid. This link is to many blog posts I’ve written about Mutual Aid. “mutual aid” | Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)
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
“Quakers will only be truly prophetic when they risk a great deal of their accumulated privilege and access to wealth. Prophets cannot have a stake in maintaining the status quo. Any attempt to change a system while benefiting and protecting the benefits received from the system reinforces the system. Quakers as much as anyone not only refuse to reject their white privilege, they fail to reject the benefits they receive from institutionalized racism, trying to make an unjust economy and institutionalized racism and patriarch more fair and equitable in its ability to exploit. One can not simultaneously attack racist and patriarchal institutions and benefit from them at the same time without becoming more reliant upon the benefits and further entrenching the system. Liberalism at its laziest.”Scott Miller
The next American Revolution, at this stage in our history, is not principally about jobs or health insurance or making it possible for more people to realize the American Dream of upward mobility. It is about acknowledging that we Americans have enjoyed middle-class comforts at the expense of other peoples all over the world. It is about living the kind of lives that will not only slow down global warming but also end the galloping inequality both inside this country and between the Global North and the Global South. It is about creating a new American Dream whose goal is a higher Humanity instead of the higher standard of living dependent on Empire. It is about practicing a new, more active, global, and participatory concept of citizenship. It is about becoming the change we wish to see in the world.
The courage, commitment, and strategies required for this kind of revolution are very different from those required to storm the Winter Palace or the White House. Instead of viewing the U.S. people as masses to be mobilized in increasingly aggressive struggles for higher wages, better jobs, or guaranteed health care, we must have the courage to challenge ourselves to engage in activities that build a new and better world by improving the physical, psychological, political, and spiritual health of ourselves, our families, our communities, our cities, our world, and our planet.Grace Lee Bogg The Next American Revolution