New Perspectives

I grew up in Quaker communities, which defined my justice work for much of my life.

Then a decade ago I was led to engage with a number of communities, working outside Quaker meetings. By engagement I mean spending significant time in these communities. These experiences have taught me decidedly different approaches to justice work. These new perspectives convince me that Quakers, particularly White Quakers, need to change how we think about and do justice work.

My perspectives include:

  • The need to advocate for Indigenous leadership to help protect and heal Mother Earth.
  • Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) do not see any distinction between White Quakers and other White people in this country.
  • The capitalist economic system is fundamentally unjust.
    • Capitalism transfers great wealth to the wealthy by exploiting and oppressing those who aren’t.
    • Capitalism impoverishes millions of people
    • Capitalism is economic slavery
    • Capitalism treats natural resources as commodities to be exploited for profit
    • Capitalist systems do not feel the need to conserve resources
  • Police and prisons must be abolished.
    • The criminal justice system enforces the policies of the White dominant culture.
    • The criminal justice system violently targets BIPOC people
    • It is inhumane to lock people in cages.
  • White Quakers are settler-colonists. We continue to live on and profit from Indigenous lands.
  • The involvement of some White Quakers in the native boarding schools and how to begin healing related to that, is crucial for authentic relations between White Quakers and native peoples.
    • I have witnessed the multigenerational trauma affecting Indigenous people today.
  • Increasingly, as environmental chaos worsens, responding to the disastrous consequences will consume our attention and resources.
Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) do not see any distinction between White Quakers and other White people in this country.

The most significant new perspectives are about the capitalist economic system. I hadn’t been as aware of many of the injustices fueled by capitalism prior to spending time in oppressed communities. Now I have witnessed the devastating effects of capitalism in these communities.

The nearly universal resistance to my attempts to convince White people to build systems not based upon capitalism is because the system works for them.

Capitalism is an unjust system. A different system is required. Mutual Aid is such a system.

Justice cannot be attained by incremental changes to an unjust system.

Accelerating environmental chaos is increasingly disrupting life as we know it. Which means, among other things, that the current political and economic systems in this country will continue to collapse. Now is the time to envision and build alternatives such as mutual aid.

Justice cannot be attained within an unjust system

Our Quaker Queries recognize the injustices of our capitalist economic system.

‘We are part of an economic system characterized by inequality and exploitation. Such a society is defended and perpetuated by entrenched power. “

The advice also says “we envision a system of social and economic justice that ensures the right of every individual to be loved and cared for…” 

Faith and Practice, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

This is well summarized by my friend Ronnie James. We work together at Des Moines Mutual Aid.

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, Des Moines Mutual Aid

This is a simplified schematic of the consequences of White dominance (Red), and the alternatives for a transition to justice and disaster preparedness (Green).

Implementing the transition to a more just society will be impeded by

  • Environmental chaos
  • Corrupt and failing institutions
  • Authoritarianism

This diagram shows the current systems in the column labeled White.
The column under Black, Indigenous and other people of color shows the injustices resulting from the current systems.
The Red/Green New Deal shows how we can address these injustices.
The solid red column indicates the challenges to moving to systems of justice, sustainability, and resilience.

I’ve written about these concepts on my blog:

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