Quaker Blogs

William Penn
(photo - me with the statue of William Penn in Bristol)

I'm a Quaker living in London, UK. This blog contains my thoughts about Quaker issues, events and Testimonies and my experiences of them all. Feel free to comment/email/ping me.

Content Warning:: I do Rant occasionally!

One beat

I’ve been experiencing Extinction Rebellion in London this month (since 7 October) with my body and my instincts rather than my thoughts and political beliefs. The opposite was true a month before when legal observing an XR protest where several young people were arrested at Lambeth Bridge. That day there wasn’t much headspace for enjoying the aesthetics, spirit and occasional wit of the action. The first two arrests were of Asian kids - a boy and a girl. The blatant institutional racism of the Metropolitan Police Force would have sobered me up at this point even if I had gotten caught up in the energy of the activists. The police, as they generally do in my experience, refused to say which station the kids were being taken to. I tried to feel hopeful they’d not experience police brutality, then ran southwards to the next arrest. 

During International Rebellion, the event taking place 7-21 October 2019, I didn’t have any responsibilities, but could just go along as a punter if I wanted to. Fortunately, one of the main sites was across the road from my place of work, so on some days I stopped by three times. 

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Being a Quaker is humbling. Every week, at a meeting I've attended since 1999, elderly Friends introduce themselves to me as if for the first time. Being continuously forgotten is a good way of keeping the ego in check.

Post Therexit Britain

June 29th 2018, 6.30pm

A group of civil servants is attending the third session of their local DWP Anonymous group which is in progress...

David: ‘...I was just following the script. I asked her, “Have you thought of killing yourself?” It was like she shut down. Her face wasn’t there anymore. It was just...a smudge...or something. She sort of...she went quiet and then she did this small squeak. Then she mumbled something but didn’t really say anything else. I kept going through the script but she didn’t answer. I told her, you know, “You may be sanctioned for not complying”. I’m not sure she was still listening, because she didn’t even get up to go when we were finished. Anyway, after that day I just zoned out at work. I don’t remember anything else that happened for months after that. I just knew I had to keep saying the questions and giving the threats. I...thanks. I don’t want to say anything else right now.

Jeanne: ‘Thank you David.’

Others: ‘Thank you David’

Angie: ‘The claimants were so rude to me. It helped me feel like they deserved the high handed way we treated them. And the ways we tried to catch them out like sanctioning them for being 2 minutes late. And at the back of my mind I thought, if I meet my sanction targets I might get that management job. I think now that I was selfish and that it wasn’t what God wanted for me to basically punish people who were less fortunate than I was. Who was I to judge them? I’ve said to God so many times I’m sorry. I wish I could say sorry to all those people.

Jeanne: ‘We have spoken before about the option of bringing former claimants here to the group, and that is still an option we can consider.’

Angie: ‘Yes, I’d like that.’

Others: (murmers of assent)

Movements for change

This awesome story was sent through to members of Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee the other day about Quaker radical abolitionist Elizabeth Heyrick. We need a lot of reminders at the moment that it is the radicals and extremists that have been the harbingers of change.

We had Agenda Committee yesterday for the last time before YMG in July/August. Some exciting stuff is being put together for it - some of which will be announced nearer the time. Good to see the video is up of last year's 'bridging session' talk from Tim Gee:


Started a Twitter account today so I can keep track of exciting witnessing by Blackheath Friends and other Quaker Twittersphere stuff. Although I hear Twitter is dying. 500 white poppies were ordered from the Peace Pledge Union and after Meeting this morning most of us went up to a corner of the heath to hand them out for free while holding a vigil.

I'm genuinely annoyed that 1. a woman, 2. a cool activist woman has been removed from our money and that's before taking into account the fact that she was replaced by that violent racist, classist, nationalist Churchill creep. So gross.

Currently reading Alastair McIntosh's exciting new book Poacher's Pilgrimage: an Island Journey. As it happens, the bit I was reading last night included several rebuttals Alastair gives to military people's standard questions/challenges to his pacifism. Good preparation. Good book!

Earth testimony

 It's all too late of course. Half London will be underwater within a decade and climate catastrophe plus capitalist catastrophe is going to render most aspects of living extremely difficult even for someone in my comfortable situation. So I'm not making a difference to anything but my own conscience, but it's always been my conscience that I've followed.

What I'm doing is continuing to use fewer resources and generally make less of an impact on the planet in a few little ways. About 10 years ago I started replacing eg.

- Household paper products with recycled paper products (kitchen roll etc)
- Disposable period pads with cloth reusables
- Tampons with a mooncup
- Tissues with handkerchiefs
- Paper towels with cloth napkins
- Choosing organic more often

I was already using vegan cleaning products, soaps etc. which also tend to lack environmentally damaging chemicals. When I got dogs, I bought biodegradeable poo bags.

Five years ago I was living in a part of London where garden waste and kitchen compost was collected by the Council weekly, but when I moved to Lewisham a couple of years ago I had to sort this out for myself. The Council did provide free compost bins, so I got one for my garden which I use for compost and garden waste. When it started to get full, I ordered another and installed it at the front of my building. I wrote on it with a Posca paint pen that it was the compost for the whole building and a short list of what to include and not include. I was very happy to see that it worked and some neighbours started using it as well.

My current home is the first permanent home I've had since I left my parents, and settling in meant I also got to do lots of gardening. I've been gradually improving my green fingers and this year have successfully grown some fruit and vegetables and kept flowers alive as well. My building is surrounded by some unloved patches of ground so with mixed success I've planted sunflowers and wildflowers, picked up rubbish, weeded and watered.

In my garden I have a few bug hotels and birdfeeders around. Today I saw a moth there for the first time! I made a container pond in a washing up bucket and 2 of the 3 plants I put in to keep it aerated have flourished amazingly. I have lots of nice scented things growing - lavendar, jasmines and honeysuckles and this summer there have been lots of bees. I saw two yesterday drinking from one of my 2 bird baths. There is a blackbird that loves to get in there and splash around. I got a water butt that keeps the garden ticking over for most of the year without needing to use the tap.

I thought I was pretty good at bringing along my own shopping bag, but the Government bringing in the .5p bag charge had a noticeable impact on my bag use. Apart from carrying extra bags, I also stopped using carrier bags for my recycling. When the Council finally provided kitchen containers that could be emptied into the street recycling bins, that was a great help. Around this time I was becoming increasingly conscious of all the packaging I throw away/put in the recycling bin.

A few months back there were stories in the news of dead whales found on the North Sea coast with stomachs full of plastic, and that was a big push for me to change my behaviour more. Most of my best ideas have come from Pinterest for the past year or so. It's the first place I look for recipes, and I started taking more notice of DIY cleaning and toiletry options. Recent changes:

- Going out of my way to get fruit and veg without packaging
- Making oat milk at home instead of buying packaged vegan milk. It's unbelievalbly easy - soak the oats for an hour then put it in the blender with a bit of salt & vanilla for flavour if I want. I make enough to last about 4 days which is a tiny amount of oats.
- Making deodorant out of bicarb, cornflour, coconut oil and essential oil: much more effective, cheaper and more pleasant on my skin than anything I've ever bought.
- Making toothpaste also out of bicarb, coconut oil, stevia and peppermint oil: still experimenting with this and not using every day - I've read bicarb can damage the enamel.
- Soap bars rather than liquid soap, or diluted Dr. Bronners in refillable containers
- Continuing to experiment with growing my own salad at home
- Only getting Europe-grown apples, and almost always English apples.
- Buying Splosh refillable cleaning products Really happy with this as I was getting through a lot of plastic containers before. It's also saved me lots of shopping trips
- Microfiber towels for cleaning the house which mean I can use fewer cleaning products and less hot water
- Getting big pots of yogurt and mixing stuff in at home instead of individual serving sizes
- Making tahini-based sauce instead of buying ready-made sandwich spread, dip or salad dressing. With a fork I mix in vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, and then water to the desired consistency. It expands with water. Any mix of herbs & spices goes in depending on what flavour I want.
- Making coffee at home to bring to work - hot or iced. I got 2 sizes of double-insulated bottles which keep the temperatured pretty much constant for a whole day. I did this to save money, but I'm increasingly conscious of how much packaging I'm saving from not occasionally getting takeaway drinks.
- Making nut butter in the Nutribullet.
- Making hoummous.

It's actually become a game now to figure out ways of using less, replacing, making things at home etc. I feel more self-reliant and autonomous.

Future plans:
- Doing more cooking from scratch and buying less convenience ingredients eg. jars of curry paste
- Making my own hoummous
- Finding a local bread supplier that doesn't use plastic bags or charge £3 for a tiny half loaf
- Making juice at home more often and giving up packaged juice
- DIY shampoo and conditioner
- Acclimatising better to cold weather so I can keep the heating lower.
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To the sound of annual explosions

This from Quaker Faith & Practice sums up 2015 to me:

“Evils which have struck their roots deep into the fabric of human society are often accepted, even by the best minds, as part of the providential ordering of life.” – William Charles Braithwaite, 1919, 23:05

Toward the end of this year three evils in particular have been at the forefront of my consciousness.

Firstly, the catastrophic effects of climate change which are all around us and have been very dramatically manifesting as extreme weather and the reverberations of Syria's civil war, itself the result of an agricultural crisis due to climate change. We are past the point of no return, and this year's crises will soon be seen as the new normal. I find that I do not talk about climate change with friends who have children, because I know they are trying to hold on to hope that the next generation will be ok, and of course they won't be. It's all happening so fast now. Ten years ago I thought that some of these problems were still 40 years away. So it won't be ok for the rest of my lifetime either.

Next, the re-establishment of misogyny in our culture. In Britain, we never got as far as being able to take any aspect of gender equality for granted, and the backslide has been very noticeable. The 'in your face' sexism noted by the UN Special Rapporteur is used with the same lack of consciousness now as it would have been 40 years ago. It really is as if second wave feminism never happened. It's easier for capitalists to profit from exploiting our bodies and using patriarchy for divide and rule, and neoliberals don't have a problem with social division in general or abuse of women in particular. So much of our public discourse, public anger and public money is directed towards a really very remote terrorist threat. Those in power have no interest in the daily experiences of gendered oppression and violence experienced by half the population, or in addressing the gender divisions that lead to male violence.

Finally, the re-establishment of class priviledge. Again, social equality never progressed very far in Britain. As just one example, we got one working class prime minister out of half a century of social democracy, and now so quickly we have regressed to power being held blatantly and explicitly by hereditary social elites. Those social elites use that power to further their class interests at such an extreme and with such velocity - not unlike that of accelerating climate change. The horror of seeing how quickly social evils can be brought about, established and infect everything around them - what a pandemic we are up against.

Of course focusing on these evils alone is not the way to overcome them. This year I've also been more aware of veteran activists such as Quaker George Lakey pointing to the need for radicals to set up an alternative set of institutions that is ready to meet our needs and that are demonstrably more just, effective, sustainable and human than those of the capitalist elite and the patriarchy.  This can be seen in action with the momentum I've also seen this year behind veganism.

There has been good news this year for veganism as the cases for sustainability and health have pretty much become established and are entering mainstream discourse. As people become pursuaded to move in the vegan direction, they will find an infrastructure to support them thanks to the many activists who provide this voluntarily and use the internet effectively to provide information and more. If only the same practical and intellectual self defence could be found from googling 'be a feminist' as there is when searching 'be a vegan'.

The Religious Society of Friends is also an alternative set of institutions to an extent. We have so much going for us and used it to great effect to abolish the slave trade. It's time to do this again. We have to be aware that making a corporate statement to the prime minister or a newspaper about something we don't like... that just doesn't cut it as a response. We need a revolution in our hearts, our relationships with each other and then our relationships with the world. I hope to spend 2016 experiencing this.

Antifash Friends

I did a callout for Quakers to witness at last Saturday's fascist march in London and 18 folks turned out from several meetings in London and from further afield too. I often do activism, but this was the first time I'd felt called to witness. The support from Friends was terrific including Friends House promoting the action on social media. I couldn't get ahold of the 'Quakers for Peace' banner from Friends House, but happily I was offered the use of the lovely banner from my local meeting Forest Hill. We found a nice sunny spot in front of Parliament and had a great meeting for worship while people ran around us, photographed us and set placards on fire nearby. We got lots of photographer attention and even an audio interview.

Our meeting for worship:

Me with the wind having blown the banner over me!