To the Peace and Social Action Committee

First I would like to thank the committee, in particular Brian and Ann, for pointing out to me at one of our earlier meetings how as a committee we could arrive at unity on this issue of where to place our efforts for peace and social action. I subscribe to this. Patience and listening are what is required, and I fully intend to adhere to these.

I don’t, however, believe that this precludes my laying all my cards on the table from the start. I wish to be clear where I stand on these issues

I feel we have been going about this piecemeal.

Let me explain: it is as if in 1850 some member felt strongly that the meeting needed to protest the breaking up of slave families for its inhumanity while another member voiced his concern over the brutal corporal punishment that slaves were subject to. Better still, a third says, to oppose the overloading of slave ships with its inevitable consequence: the death of half the cargo.

Now each of these is a worthy cause but are they not merely symptomatic of the real evil slavery? It is slavery that is intolerable and that they must go after. In our case, in 2015, it is poverty that is the endemic evil that we should declare our opposition to, just as have the Pope and the President. Anyone following the newspapers and the public polling knows that the single issue that most concerns the American people (60%) and that will be the central concern of the 2016 election is the growing inequality of incomes in this country that threatens our democracy. Poverty is not an inevitable condition of capitalism. There was a period right after the Second World War that lasted well to the mid 1980s when the disparity of incomes in this country was at a tolerable level. Subsequently, the weakening of labor unions, globalization, and the loosening of restrictions on business practice and the accumulation of capital has reversed the good direction in which we were going and brought our economy to an alarming level of inequality with the consequent effect of increasing poverty.

What has been done can be undone, with sufficient good will and persistence. And we Quakers are in a strong position to do it . Prevented from going to university and into the professions because of their refusal to swear oaths, 19th--century Quakers became tradesmen. There is a solid tradition of successful and highly trustworthy business men and women among us: e.g. Barclay’s Bank, Bethlehem Steel, Cadbury Chocolate, Carr’s Biscuits, Huntley and Palmer, John Hopkins University, Lloyd’s Bank, Strawbridge & Clothier department store, Waterford Crystal; the list goes on. We are an integral part of the capitalist system and, being in the middle of it, neither too rich nor too poor, ideally located to point out its faults and their corrections. The Episcopal Church in which I was raised is too closely associated with the moneyed class in this country to be useful; the Catholic Church too embedded among the poor to be credible or objective (although the present Pope seems determined to make a go of it). I am asking that we shoulder the entire issue of poverty in this country as our burden, with all its concomitant evils, which should subsume many or most of the concerns of our membership. It is a disgrace, easily comparable to slavery, that must be stamped out through reducing income disparity to a tolerable level. Why not investigate how this can be done, make it our cause?

I would propose that, as a committee, we take a little time to examine the condition of inequality of wealth in America today, its root causes and what can be done about it, under the following headings:

  1. The Rich, the Super Rich and the Extent of the Disparity
  2. Poverty in America: The Disgrace and Hopelessness of Being Poor
  3. Has it Always Been Like This and Can Anything Be Done about It?
  4. Why Should We Quakers Particularly Concern Ourselves?

I would be prepared to talk on each of these topics for about twenty minutes, to be spread among as many of our regular meetings as you care to assign me.

For those who are curious about how one might go about reducing the inequality between rich and poor, I recommend the books I am currently reading (see the Annotated Bibliography above). 

       

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AMERICAN QUAKERS AND SLAVERY

 

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AMERICAN QUAKERS AND SLAVERY

The American Revolution would divide Quakers across the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, Quakers would be foremost in the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 which, with some setbacks, would be responsible for forcing the end of the British slave trade in 1807 and the end of slavery throughout the British Empire by 1838. In the United States, Quakers would be less successful. In many cases, it was easier for Quakers to oppose the slave trade and slave ownership in the abstract than to directly oppose the institution of slavery itself, as it manifested itself in their local communities.

While many individual Quakers spoke out against slavery after United States independence, local Quaker meetings were often divided on how to respond to slavery; outspoken Quaker abolitionists were sometimes sharply criticized by other Quakers.
Nevertheless, there were local successes for Quaker antislavery in the United States during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. For example, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, first founded in 1775, consisted primarily of Quakers; seven of the ten original white members were Quakers and 17 of the 24 who attended the four meetings held by the Society were Quakers. Throughout the nineteenth century, Quakers increasingly became associated with antislavery activism and antislavery literature: not least through the work of abolitionist Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

Quakers were also prominently involved with the Underground Railroad. For example, Levi Coffin started helping runaway slaves as a child in North Carolina. Later in his life, Coffin moved to the Ohio-Indiana area, where he became known as the President of the Underground Railroad. Elias Hicks penned the ‘Observations on the Slavery of the Africans’ in 1811 (2nd ed. 1814), urging the boycott of the products of slave labor. Many families assisted slaves in their travels through the Underground Railroad. Henry Stubbs and his sons helped runaway slaves get across Indiana. The Bundy family operated a station that transported groups of slaves from Belmont to Salem, Ohio.

Quaker antislavery activism could come at some social cost. In the nineteenth-century United States, some Quakers were persecuted by slave owners and were forced to move to the west of the country in an attempt to avoid persecution. Nevertheless, in the main, Quakers have been noted and, very often, praised for their early and continued antislavery activity.

The deportment of Quakers vis-à-vis slavery in the 19th century can instruct us in facing income inequality in our own time; the anti-slavery movement can serve us as a model for the anti-poverty movement today. The extreme poverty that we find in portions of the U.S. is as great a social disgrace in the wealthiest nation on earth as slavery was in our earlier history. Read on.

Dedication of the Site “The Quaker Activist”

In September of 2015 the Peace and Social Action Committee of the Santa Monica Friends (Quakers) Meeting formed a subcommittee to explore and tackle issues of income inequality in this country, seen as destructive to our society at every level, both rich and poor, based on a leading of one of its members. The members of the Subcommittee on Economic Inequality are Shelley Blank, Richard Chamberlain, Donna Cooper, Jenna Van Draanen, Brian Johnston, Judith Searle and Tim Vreeland. On October 22 five of the members met, elected Tim Vreeland, whose leading it had been, to be clerk of the subcommittee, and decided to write a minute establishing their purpose. This minute would first be presented to their parent committee on peace and social action and then to the entire meeting at the meeting for worship on the occasion for business. Once approved, it would be ready for broader distribution to other Quaker meetings and beyond.

Here is the minute in its current form. It Is a work-in-progress, susceptible to timely revisions. When it is completed, it will constitute the rock on which our mission to reduce inequality between rich and poor in America is founded.

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THE MINUTE

 

 

images-3Economic Justice and Social Justice

Friends (Quakers) believe that there is a ‘divine spark’ in everyone, and on that basis we believe in the equality of all people  That fundamental belief leads us to create community among ourselves, foster community in the broader society, and promote equal justice, and equal opportunity.

We find that since the late 1970s the economic structure of our society has become abhorrent and offensive, because it now disproportionately enriches and rewards the few, while disproportionately impoverishing the many.  Well-funded business entities have used their wealth to influence politics, the courts, and regulatory agencies, in order to enrich themselves advancing their interests at the expense of the middle class and the poor.  The result for the majority has been declining wealth, declining earning power and declining levels of education, with concomitant increases in poverty, homelessness, hopelessness, mental illness, drug addiction and environmental degradation. These combined results are weakening our democratic institutions and our social fabric.

We call on Friends to inform themselves and others about the reality of economic inequality.  We call on Friends, and people of all faiths, to recognize the need to take action to re-establish a healthier, more just and more sustainable society, based on principles of equality and respect for our fellow human beings. We call on Friends and people of all faiths to work to reduce income inequality in our society by supporting actions that will result in sharing the fruits of our economy more broadly and equitably, in pursuit of these objectives.

Convinced that the current level of economic inequality is at the root of many of the social ills we now see, we seek to reduce economic stress in our society and allow people of modest means to lead happy and productive lives, realizing their God-given potential.  We seek to restore the social fabric and respect for the inherent dignity of all.  Our goal reflects our Quaker testimonies on simplicity, equality, peace, community, and integrity.


 

At this same meeting the clerk presented the following paper on how felt the work for the subcommittee should proceed:

THE INEQUALITY PROJECT

“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well and ends with being branded an enemy of society. . . . the dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin — and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.”
— Vàclav Havel

I think more and more of us are going to become dissidents in the near future as we realize what is being perpetrated on us in this sham of an equal opportunity capitalist democracy we are currently living in. If you want to witness a splendid portrait of an American dissident, see the role Tom Hanks plays in Spielberg’s new movie “Bridge of Spies.” It’s inspiring to see what one man can do when he decides to stand up against the indifference he sees all around him.

Enough said. Here are my thoughts on how we should proceed. We are tackling a huge subject, economic disparity in America today. The authors of Winner-Take-All Politics make it clear that we have gotten where we are today because of the superb organization and tight discipline starting in 1977 of those that wanted to strengthen the position of American business at the expense of everyone else. It is going to take an equal organization to dislodge them. Whoever takes them on must be as well versed as they in the American political process and understand the workings of economics and the effects on it of taxation. This will take time and some hard work. Nor can we do it alone. We will need to enlist the help of similar-minded others both for the expertise they can provide and to swell our ranks, as we will need a big constituency to go to Washington and catch the attention of Congress. You have already heard my argument that we Quakers are best suited to do this.

However, all of this will take time: months, a year or more. Meanwhile there will be those among us who are impatient to do something: all this time and nothing to show for it! So I suggest that we form two groups: a study group to tackle the longterm project and a second group that we might call the Kamikaze group, who take on shortterm projects as they come up, such as the one Curtis has so eloquently pled (visiting the silent poor in their habitat, i.e. under bridges and freeway overpasses, on Skid Row and in parked cars, to make ourselves familiar with their condition). This way each of us has the chance to do work that suits his/her temperament. There is no reason anyone can’t belong to both groups, given sufficient time and energy. This way the targets of opportunity that will surely present themselves along the way, such as the minimum wage for restaurant and hotel workers that came up recently with such a successful outcome, can be properly dispatched without distracting from our major ongoing project.

I trust you have all had a chance to read through the paper I issued at the last meeting with the headings I The Super Rich, II The Poor, III What Can Be Done About It and IV Why We Quakers Are the Best Suited to Take On the Challenge of Poverty in the U.S. and generally agree with where it is going. I continue to believe that this quadripartite division of a formidable subject will serve well to reduce it to manageable segments and represents a good way to approach the problem. Shall we proceed?

The Content of This Blog




QUAKERS AGAINST INEQUALITY

This site is dedicated to informing and making the reader aware of the vast inequity and unfairness that exists in our economic system in America today. Clearly the system is rigged against the average man and woman and in particular it victimizes the poor. Most importantly, it threatens our very democracy. This country was founded on a balanced economic system very much like that spelled out by Adam Smith in the eighteenth century, with whose writings our founders were very familiar and essentially in agreement. To work as they intended it to required a strong middle class – a middle class whose position in the economy has been so systematically and intentionally eroded over the past four decades that, if it continues, will have lost all political power.
Furthermore, this site intends to operate as an exchange of information on this subject of economic inequality. Readers are invited to submit contributions to this discourse to our editor, who will determine the suitability of featuring it on our blog site. We have decided to feature all writings under one of four headings:

 

The Very Rich – articles explaining the enormous disparity in wealth of the top 1% in income in this country, about their excessive life styles, their unusual work ethic and surprising acts of generosity.

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The Poor – the obverse side of this incredible wealth is the appalling poverty it imposes on an unfortunate segment of our population and who, being defenseless, are taken advantage of, preyed upon and frequently robbed of their vote.

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What Can Be Done About This – it has not always been like this; there were former times when the difference in wealth between rich and poor were tolerable, where opportunity existed for every man and woman to better him/herself. How we can return to that state is the topic of this discussion?

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Why Quakers Are Well Suited to Reverse This Trend – the long Quaker tradition of being honest and fair businessmen and merchants, their willingness to stand in opposition to insurmountable social injustices and to undertake seemingly impossible social reforms such as the abolition of slavery.