Quakers Riding for Equality

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A Quaker declaration for Equality and the Common good

In Spring 1660 Margaret Fell rode to London with a declaration to appeal to Charles II to end the persecution and suffering of Quakers. She declared:

“We do … inform the governors of this nation, high and low, that we are a people that desire the good of all people, and their peace.”

This summer, a group of Quakers (including some from Central England) are following in Margaret’s footsteps by making a pilgrimage of 330 miles.  From 22nd July to 4th August 2018, the pilgrims will travel from Swarthmore, Cumbria to Downing Street by bike, foot and public transport.

In 21st Century Britain, Quakers do not face the persecution that they did in the 17th Century.  Instead, today’s pilgrims will be speaking truth to power by declaring of support for the welfare state, and presenting the testimony of people who have suffered in recent welfare cuts.

We challenge the false religion of the Market

Margaret Fell challenged the follies and deceptions of the religion that drove the stigmatisation and persecution of the ‘People called the Quakers’. In our time now, we challenge the false religion of the Market, which is driving the dehumanising narrative that people only have value in our society if they have economic value. This has obscured the world where each of us has worth because we are human, holding the ‘spark of the divine’ within us. So much in our world that is good, beautiful and true is being broken because it fails the final judgment of the Marketplace. We hold that we can afford to care for each and every person.

A warning about persecution

In the face of persecution, the Quakers who came before us spoke truth to power.

“Now that you are in power, we caution you to act justly and with mercy and to prevent the persecution of innocent people”

Oppression diminishes us all

Over the past eight years particularly, we have seen how the policies of government have led to a re-orientation of structures, powers and resources to empower and enrich those who already have economic wealth, at the same time disempowering and penalising those who are without. In honouring the creed of competition, we have seen how the safety net of the Welfare State has been unravelled, thread by thread, leaving our neighbours who are hit by ‘the contingencies of life’ to fall without the ‘tender hand’ of support. The fruits of this creed are manifest.

We have seen our friends and neighbours with disabilities stigmatised and denied the support once freely given; people coerced by hunger into the charitable arms of food banks; those in mental anguish struggling to navigate the maze of bureaucracy for the means to survive, only to fail and die alone and in distress; people sleeping in doorways speaking of being invisible and dehumanised and children exposed to the brutality of poverty. We declare that we are against these actions. They visit violence and havoc on people’s bodies and minds at times of their greatest need. We give testimony and witness that we are against the narrative that lies behind it; that encourages our neighbours to be seen as ‘Other’, persecuted and cast-off. We hold that we can afford to care.

We follow those things that make for peace and unity

We are a peaceable people and we are concerned for the good of all. We follow those things that make for peace and unity. However, we feel disquiet and ‘dis-ease’ when competition is cast as the defining characteristic of human relationships as it fosters the selfish part of the human condition and sets one against another. All of us are harmed when society is organised in this way. When the whole public realm and common good is not safeguarded and renewed, social and economic injustices usher in unrest and peace is undone.

We look to the renewal of the way our society is organised. The economy should serve the common good of all, recognise the fundamental of equality and seek to secure the enhancement of all life. In holding true to this vision, we desire that those who govern us work for the birth of an economy that embraces the ‘Ten Principles for a New Economy’

One principle lays the foundations for a tax system that redistributes from richer to poorer. We value the payment of tax to provide resources for our neighbours, as this manifests our relationship of mutual support and enables participation in community life. We hold that such a New Economy will help foster the creative renewal of our society and ensure that the original purposes of the Welfare State are safeguarded. This would once again embody the truth.

Part of the declaration presented to Downing street on August 4thby Quakers travelling to Downing street from Swarthmore Hall.

Submitted by Hilary Mayne