For most of my life I understood abolition to mean abolishing slavery. I often heard about that in my Quaker community. The story is that Quakers were involved in the underground railroad, helping freedom seekers escape from where they were enslaved.
But my friend Lucy Duncan writes about myths and avoiding uncomfortable truths.
We White Quakers like to revel in our myths about ourselves. These include “we were all abolitionists”; “we all worked on the Underground Railroad”; and “none of us were slaveholders.”
Often there are kernels of truth in myths, but the truth is more complex. Myths exist to veil the complexity and contradictions of our history, to obfuscate the differences between who we think we are and who we really are and have been. Often we want to take credit for the courageous few among us in order to absolve us from the uncomfortable reckoning with our past and our present. These myths protect our sense of innocence and goodness, but at what cost? Our failure to interrogate uncomfortable truths keeps us from living up to the promise of our faith, one that centers uncovering truth as foundational to our communal religious life.A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021
There are many stories of white Friends today refusing to reckon with our past, and what racial justice requires of us now.
Today abolition more commonly refers to abolishing police and prisons. I’ve joined in the work of Quakers for Abolition Network and contributed to an article about this in the Western Friend, https://westernfriend.org/issue/94. I participate in the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America’s prison letter writing efforts and am taking two courses related to abolition.
As I was praying about what to write today, I was thinking about the terrible abuses the Wet’suwet’en peoples in British Columbia are suffering from the heavily militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The state sanctioned violence to enforce construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their sacred and pristine lands and water. Yesterday I wrote about stopping the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders. And I realized this is another case that calls for the abolition of police and prisons.
That led to making the connection to the entire history of colonization of so-called North America to abolition. To the global colonization of Indigenous peoples. To the need for abolition of colonization and supremacy worldwide. Including repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.
Abolition is about ending systems of control over populations. That is why my friends and I are working to create Mutual Aid communities. Mutual Aid is about replacing vertical hierarchies with horizontal group structures. There can be no control from above if there is no vertical hierarchy.
What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021