A matter of faith

There are two definitions of faith.

  • complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  • strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

I wasn’t familiar with the use of apprehension above. I found one definition is “understanding or grasp”.

I spent a lot of time praying (faith) and thinking about the discussion we were going have at my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek (some of us via ZOOM) related to Mutual Aid. I’ve been deeply involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) for two years, writing nearly daily to share what I’ve been learning. It can be difficult to express lived experiences to those who haven’t had those experiences. Many Friends have had experiences that could be called Mutual Aid in their peace and justice work.

I made mistakes over the years because I had conflicts with the meeting related to the use of fossil fuels. (Meeting refers to my local meeting, Bear Creek.) I didn’t do a good job of inviting the meeting to engage with me about that. Although I understood there are major obstacles to reducing use of fossil fuels where there is no mass transportation, I have been humbled to face that problem myself since I moved to Iowa from Indianapolis several years ago.

One Friend from the meeting had a suggestion that helped us work together on fossil fuel issues. That resulted in the approval of the following Minute by our Yearly Meeting.

Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).  A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles.  We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult.  This is even more challenging in rural areas.  But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.

Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.

Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public transportation systems.  These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.

Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help.  We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc.  We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation.

One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation.  Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles.  Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness.  This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness.  We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths.  We can repair and recycle unused bicycles and make them available to those who have the need.

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017

That experience has helped me have more faith in the work of our meeting, in the sense of trust in the meeting. And helped me be a better listener.

We had the discussion about Mutual Aid at Bear Creek yesterday and I was very pleased. Friends had interesting and helpful questions and ideas. I was happy to hear what Friends had been doing in their communities related to Mutual Aid.

One of the most thought-provoking questions related to hierarchies. That any group would have differences, such as educational level or class, for example. I didn’t have a good answer at the time. The following video by Dean Spade explains this well. Of course, we all have different experiences and skills. Mutual Aid communities appreciate and encourage the use of community building skills. And helping people build new skills is encouraged.

Vertical versus horizontal hierarchies are related to decision making.

Two of the queries (questions) we considered yesterday relating to hierarchies were:

  • Do we recognize that vertical hierarchies are about power, supremacy and privilege? What are Quaker hierarchies?
  • Do we work to prevent vertical hierarchies in our peace and justice work?

Dean Spade wrote the best book I’m aware of about Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid, Building Solidarity during this Crisis (and the next) by Dean Spade, Verso, 2020

He teaches courses about Mutual Aid and has produced videos related to the subject. The following is a good discussion of horizontal group structures.

These workshops are about building mutual aid groups that can make decisions together, that include everybody, that can prevent and weather conflict, that can sustain work and sustain engagement, that can bring lots of new people into the work and so that it’s well resourced by people power. And that can be a bridge for people towards deeper and bolder movement engagement.

I strongly believe that horizontal group structures, meaning group structures where there’s no boss or executive director or main decider are the way to get there, for a number of reasons, and I want to share those in case that’s new for people.

One big reason is that hierarchies invite abuse and reproduce systems like racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, et cetera. I mean, we see it all the time. It’s like when you set something up as a hierarchy, oftentimes it’s men or white people bossing people around or old people bossing young people around or whatever.

And the bossing around can include worse forms of exploitation and abuse, also. I think that is inherent to hierarchy.

So we’ve seen forever in social justice movements, people set up hierarchical groups and then the same stuff plays out that they were trying to fight.

I think that’s worse, and it’s not as if it can’t happen in horizontal groups. We still have the dynamics. We still have that unlearning to do, but I think that hierarchy invites it.

Dean Spade: Horizontal Group Structures in Mutual Aid Work

Dean Spade: Horizontal Group Structures in Mutual Aid Work

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