Quakers across the country united in publicly challenging economic inequality. Maya Williams, Economics, Sustainability & Peace Network Coordinator, shares how.
This March more than 80 Quaker meetings across Britain took part in Quaker Equality Week, powerfully bearing witness to our testimony to equality in the face of huge and increasing differences in levels of income and wealth in the UK.
The high level of economic inequality in Britain goes against Quaker testimonies in a number of ways – destroying people’s hopes, isolating communities from each other and making it extremely difficult to tackle climate change.
The week was coordinated by Manchester & Warrington Area Meeting. They invited meetings across the country to join them in a nine-day ‘week’ of activity responding to their faith-based commitment to equality and in recognition of widening inequality in the world.
Posters and leaflets were designed and printed to form a support pack for meetings getting involved; these were sent out alongside ideas for action, advice on publicity and social media, Britain Yearly Meeting statements on economic inequality and Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) briefings. All of these resources helped meetings across the country to plan an array of different activities throughout Quaker Equality Week.
At least 35 silent vigils were held during the week. Lancaster was the first meeting to do so, holding a 12-hour vigil two weeks before Quaker Equality Week officially started. They were joined by a number of others, including members of other church groups who wanted to uphold and recognise people who are being disproportionately affected by economic inequality in the local area.
Many Quaker meetings also held vigils, often being joined and supported by other faith groups, social justice groups, trade unions and local politicians. Some vigils were held within or outside meeting houses. Others were held in busy public places, drawing attention to particular aspects of economic inequality, including benefit sanctions, the living wage and vacant retail units.
Several meetings organised talks or events during the week. South Belfast Meeting joined with the local Methodist church to hold a structured conversation on Equality, inequality and the basic income which was well attended.
Wanstead Meeting invited a member of the Economics Sustainability & Peace sub-committee to speak at their lively discussion on ‘Quakers and Economic Equality’, at which other local faith and church groups joined them, as well as others who live in their local community.
Disley Meeting used the resources to frame their ‘give or take day’, where the local community could bring along crockery, household linen, electrical goods, books, toys, or kitchenware to give away or take away. The day was organised in a way that promoted equality, respect and care for people and the earth. The Quaker Equality Week resources were also used by Stoke Meeting as the theme for their participation in a local International Women’s Day event.
Sidmouth and Bury St Edmunds meetings were amongst those which organised displays in local community spaces. Others, such as Central Manchester Meeting had a display within their meeting house, so that others who used the building during the week could see it.
There were also a number of letter write-ins where Friends and others wrote to their MPs and parliamentary candidates to raise particular issues of economic equality, ranging from tax and the living wage to pay ratios. Ealing Quakers also held a pre-election panel discussion evening on inequality issues with representatives from the main political parties.
Other activities included film nights, large flowers with messages of equality decorating gardens and a banner making evening.
After Quaker Equality Week, meetings are following up their initial activity by asking questions at hustings on the issue and engaging with their parliamentary candidates.
Quaker Equality Week showed how committed Friends across the yearly meeting are to take action on economic justice issues. As we move forward the Economic, Sustainability & Peace team will be able to support the development of more local and area initiatives, taking action around economic justice and sustainability.
If you would like to find out more about taking action, or if your meeting has an initiative or a project that you would like other meetings to find out about and join in with, please get in touch with Maya at Mayaw@quaker.org.uk or call 020 7663 1056.