Unspectacular Solutions


Dear Friends: Two articles in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue express concerns about policing and both would benefit from tempering in their respective meeting communities. “Get Out of the Way” alleges unfair discrimination by the author’s meeting, in part based on its reticence to display a “Black Lives Matter” poster and a “defund the police” banner while giving support to other social justice causes. Similarly, the author of “Abolish the Police” states, “As Friends, our Society has a long history of participating in social movements to challenge oppression; but in our recent experience, Friends have seemed very hesitant and resistant to embracing police and prison abolition.”

What these authors fail to recognize is precisely how Quakers normally show up. Dorothy H. Hutchinson, when describing the characteristics of the concerned Quaker, included “willingness to work for any minor, unspectacular, partial solution of a big problem which seems, at the moment, achievable. Often minor reforms are the only realistic possibility and to overreach is to prevent any progress. . .” For example, “Abolish the Police” gives Eric Garner’s killing as a reason why we should not focus on “small reforms” like banning chokeholds; yet, NYPD’s chokehold ban was the principal justification for firing Garner’s killer (albeit after years of delay). [Vanessa Romo, NPR.org website, August 2019] When George Floyd was killed, even broader policy reforms enabled the Minneapolis authorities to rapidly fire and criminally charge not just the officer who knelt on his neck, but also the other three officers present who failed to intervene. [David Kennedy, commentary on Niskanen Center blog, July 2020] This slow, unheralded, tangible progress toward police accountability will, without a doubt, save lives in the future.

Liberal Quakerism, despite its openness, does in fact have certain defining qualities and traditions, including refusal of oaths, suspicion of creedal statements, a reputation for fairness and neutrality, a focus on relief and reconciliation, and the humility and restraint to let lives speak through hard work. Lasting social change is the work of lifetimes; revolution through coercion often just leads to counter-revolution. Those who focus on the underlying concern instead of insisting that we all use the same words and methods would be hard pressed to find better allies.

– Mike Clarke, University Friends Meeting, Seattle, WA (NPYM)

[Read a longer version of this letter at: https://westernfriend.org/media/unspectacular-solutions-unabridged]

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