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Friends in Action - April 2012

Mo Kelly reports on an Economic Justice Forum held at Lancaster Meeting.

In late summer last year, the increasing numbers of tented occupations and the particular dynamic between protesters and church that unfolded at the St Paul’s Occupy Camp in London, has, I suspect, led many of us to a position where we can no longer sit on the sidelines, ignore economic injustice and say “it’s nothing to do with me”.

I had felt hugely challenged by the Occupy movement and its growing momentum. Particularly interesting was the assumption of many people who visited and interviewed those occupying the streets that they should have the answers to economic injustice – and if they didn’t… then what was the point of the Occupy movement? It appears to me that any quick and easy answer to a complex issue would surely be unwise, folly even. Occupy has named the urgency of addressing – what we increasingly know to be – an immoral, unjust and unequal situation in our society that affects us all. Occupy challenges us to get informed and get involved in bringing about change, however small that change might be.

So – where to begin?

On 17 March, Lancaster Friends invited three speakers to their Forum for Economic Justice – Deborah Hargreaves, chair of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust funded High Pay Commission; Brian Davey, economist, coordinator of Cap and Share UK and a member of the FEASTA Energy and Climate working group; and Anna Thomas, former head of economic and social development at ActionAid UK. Our calm and tranquil Meeting room was transformed for the day into a colour-filled, vibrant space reflecting the energy and ongoing commitment of the many small and not-so-small community groups already working within Lancaster and District.

As Friends, we wished the business of the day to be ‘in the manner of Friends’ and invited the eighty-five or so people who joined us – from diverse groups and none – to be willing to listen and to be open to hearing the views of others.

We used two radio microphones (as at Meeting for Sufferings and Yearly Meeting) to assist us in the calm process of listening to each other. Our day ended with a plenary where seven groups (each a colour of the rainbow) each brought back one question to the speakers, together with a positive statement of something that they perceived as hopeful and positive.

Lancaster Meeting's logo for their Economic Justice ForumLancaster Meeting's logo for their Economic Justice Forum

It was felt by many of us attending the Forum

  • that the 12 months work of the High Pay Commission resulting in November 2011’s highly accessible and easy to comprehend report: Cheques with balances: why tackling high pay is in the national interest;
  • to be of huge significance in addressing the continuing immoral economic inequality in our society here in Britain. The commission has since been renamed the High Pay Centre. As Friends, we believe that its non-confrontational current work, “engaging with” and talking to the business community, is a truly Quaker way of engaging with an issue which, in its magnitude, could possibly be regarded as the ‘slavery’ of our particular time in history.

Find out more

More information on Lancaster Meeting’s Economic Justice Forum and recordings of speaker presentations, and the High Pay Commsion’s report.