Reporting from the 2017 Quaker Activist Gathering

Ruth Tod from Henley Quaker Meeting and the Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee writes of her experiences at the 2017 Quaker Activist Gathering in London.

A group discusses fossil fuel extraction
A group discusses how Friends can work together to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Photo: BYM

This year's gathering was a great success. We met together at LIFT, an Islington community centre located in a one-time Victorian school. As a venue, it had a strong youthful energy about it. Participants came from all over the UK, with a majority unsurprisingly being from the South. There were people in their twenties, seventies, and every age in between present.

The programme consisted of four parts:

  1. Worship and introductory Turning the Tide exercises to get us moving and talking in groups.
  2. A talk by veteran US Quaker activist George Lakey about vision and activism
  3. A choice of five workshops, looking at resilience, craftivism, racial inequality, Quaker tactics, and communication
  4. A plenary ending with time for final conversations over cups of tea.

The introductions had us standing in the room, on an imaginary map so we could find out who came from where and who was close to us. Then we had a bit of organised chaos when we looked for people who shared our particular concerns. As always this was a great way to start because it got us moving in more ways than one.

Vision in action

In his talk, George Lakey focused on the need for a positive vision supported by a power analysis of the situation and a realistic strategy. Negative campaigning turns people off so don't do it! As an example of a positive campaign he told us about the US group Earth Quaker Action Team and their campaign for Green Jobs, which draws a wide range of people together – those concerned about the environment and the economy, and those concerned with making and installing solar panels. He showed a short film, recording the end of a 100-mile parade with music and banners gathering people as it wound round the suburbs. The excitement and energy in the air seemed to attract success.

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Power Local Green Jobs 100-mile walk from Earth Quaker on Vimeo.

Making meaningful messages

In the afternoon I went to the workshop on Getting our Message Across which was facilitated by Dora Mead from the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) and supported by Suki Ferguson from Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW). PIRC works with civil society groups to help them shape their vision and communication skills. One of the keys to this is framing (or re-framing) our messages and our stories so that they express what we most want to say in ways that other people can hear and understand. How we frame our message is key to conveying our meaning, so we need to create it with care.

Between these planned activities there was time to talk more informally about our particular concerns. In one small group we thought about money and the new economy booklets that are published by QPSW. A few of us had a lively discussion about the importance of doing community-based economic activity – getting involved in credit unions, boards, co-ops, organic gardens, and shareholder actions. The more we do this, the greater the groundswell of experience and interest in changing the way things are done. It all builds the movement.

I was able to reflect on my own meeting's white poppy stall. Talking about peace without putting people on the defensive is something that requires consideration. We will need a welcoming message that opens doors to conversations.

At the end of the day...

What I took home with me was simple. Take engagement really seriously so you can expand the arena you want to work in, create opportunities to work with people outside your comfort zone, learn and grow together. Start with a positive vision that engages people and take practical action that yields visible results. Enjoy!

To learn more I recommend finding out about the Public Interest Research Centre, the work of George Lakoff who wrote The Metaphors We Live By, and George Lakey's new book Viking Economics.

Read the BYM blog for eight more lessons from Quaker Activist Gathering 2017