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.
Economic 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?