Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Guest Post from Jeanne re Working Class Quakers

A Friend named Jeanne left a comment yesterday on my post from December 2005 about the New York City Transit Strike. Since not many people peruse my old posts, and since I think Jeanne's comment seems valuable to me, I am taking the liberty of offering it here as a guest post. BTW, I see that Jeanne says her partner writes the blog "The Good Raised Up." Any Friend of Liz is a Friend of mine (though I've only "met" LIz through the blogosphere and not in the flesh).

Anyway, Jeanne's guest-post is as follows:

Jeanne said...
Greetings all,

I found this two-year-old post by doing a google search on 'quaker working class'. It's one of the only pertinent sites I found.

I'm writing because I took George Lakey's "Quakers and Social Class" workshop at Gathering this year (2007, River Falls, WI) and I'm looking to talk with other Quakers about social class, especially to Quakers who are either working class or grew up working class and who also feel like an odd duck among Quakers. I grew up working class and discovered in George's workshop that I've internalized much of modern Quaker's middle-class and owning-class tendencies. This, for me, has been much like discovering in my early twenties the depth to which the patriarchy had affected my life.

I'm starting a google group for working class Quakers or Quakers who grew up working class. Email me if you're interested in joining at njeanneburns at gmail.com.

I have heard of some of you because my partner writes the blog The Good Raised Up.

I hope someone reads this!

:-) Jeanne

Labels: ,


Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hey Rich,
Thanks for bringing the topic up again. I looked through the accumulated comments from the original post, many of which I had missed.

Jeanne: I agree, a lot of us have a lot of internalized class issues just underneath the surface of our Quaker identities. We clean up our accents, speak ar-tic-lu-late-ly, keep decorum and fill up our houses with lots of books. Everyone's story is complicated: my father was working class even though he had an educated (but disgraced) father and my mother always projected above her actual class roots in a company town and I was so influenced by this that I have a hard time even seeing my own behavior sometimes. Was I attracted to Friends in part for this?

I'm open about my background and haven't given up some pieces, especially what I might call the "B.S. meter," something which frequently goes off when someone starts flounting too much Quaker language or using Quaker process as a hedge for power games. I'm no psychologist, but I can think of Friends whose ambition seems motivated by a hunger to fit into a WASP'y world far from their roots.

8:30 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting my comment so others can see it! I was worried that folks wouldn't see the comment.

Martin: I can relate to you. My mother's father worked in Kentucky coal mines and she grew up poor, but since she married 'up' (she worked in a warehouse, my father a door-to-door salesman, then low-level state government pencil pusher), she always projected herself as better than those around us. She said other people in our neighborhood didn't have any 'class'. I'm certain part of my attraction to Quakerism is because of this internalized classism.

Unfortunately, I believed Quakers when they taught me that my "BS meter" was broken and not a 'movement of the spirit'. For instance, I can't stand it when, in MfWfB we talk about TALKING about something. But saying something about getting stuck in process has gotten me shunned as being 'inappropriate.'

Now I'm rethinking these things. I've dusted off my BS meter and have been watching it.

When I talk with other middle class Friends, some of them suggest that perhaps I'm confusing class with personality. So hearing from you about your experience affirms mine. Thank you for posting your response.

Care to join the google group?

:-) Jeanne

4:55 PM, August 01, 2007  
Blogger John (@bookdreamer) said...

Hi, thanks for this inspired a blog for me http://atentativequaker.blogspot.com/2007/08/quakers-and-class.html

5:01 AM, August 05, 2007  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Hi Jeannie:
My father dug coal, when he was a kid in the depression, worked every cruddy job one can name. When I was growing up Quaker, in an urban meeting, there were class distinctions. I think, we need to question, however, wiether or not Quakerism IS about them and us, for me it is not, Quaker process and the plain speach of my childhood, doesn't so much cover a working class background, for me, my father dug coal, and wrote brilliant novels, in proper grammer, being working class is not a set of phrases or manners, it is what brought my dad from being a salvationist to a quaker, he rebelled against the hierachy. More, it shaped his politics indelably, for example his answer to the oft quoted Winston Churchill, that if one is not a socialist by 20 you have no heart, or are a socialist after 30 you have no head, me da used to say, if you were not a socialist after 30, you were never a socialist to begin with.
My father, quoted Shakespear, was careful about his speach... and manners, and to quote him quoting Shakespear, "tis not alone this inky cloak good mother..." Our traditions of speach and process are not what make us Quaker, but I do think those who snipe at others, and avoid Quaker process to make peace in a Meeting, are not excerising a working class BS metter so much as putting a great coat of ego over thier plain jackets. We are all in a struggle between ego and community, these things we do only help to keep that in check.

Frankly, when our BS meter brings us to make assumptions about others, we fail to be Friends.

Thine ever dearly in the light


8:18 AM, August 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I speak as a working-class person myself, and believe that what resonates with the average working class person is treating that person as responsible for him or herself.

When one's union job goes to India, it's not the corporation's fault or the government's fault. Ironically, the union might have contribued to the move by making pay demands that aren't based on performance (as is too often the case in unionized circles) so that the corporation moves. But, it's really the individual worker's responsibility to, with God's help, carve out a way forward for him or herself..."if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either" (2 Thess. 3:10b, NASB).

I've had a lump from an employer. When I worked for a Christian ministry that was moving, they wanted me to stay until the very end with no cash incentive to do so, and then, at the last minute, closed early. I was disappointed in them. It would have been nice to have a month's pay, but I certainly wouldn't have expected them to provide pay or healthcare for me for years on end.

When we begin treating people as responsible individuals instead of as victims, they will have a more realistic and healthier attitude about life. They will grow as individuals and with this sense of responsibility will be more willing to attend church.

The problem with treating someone like a victim is that arrogance toward that person is often the result.

11:23 PM, August 08, 2007  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear friend John P.
I think, all I would say, is rent Matwan, and pay particular attention to the point in the film, where in, after the hard shell Baptist makes an anti union sermon, the young narrator of the film makes the "dollar an' a day" sermon, and that, is all I have to say.

My daddy was a miner, and I'm a miner's son, I'll be with you fellow workers, untill this battle's won...

No I guess that is NOT all I have to say... The union's fault? Well fellow worker, when the UNION is broke, as it is today, and the boss sends both air and electric down the small shaft to our mine, and the air around you explodes, don't blame the unions we abandoned cause it was too expencive to work, blame the boss who losses a little profit, a couple of expendable workers, and a little bad press... same as those of us whose jobs go to India and we can't afford health care... Oh, dear ol' dad, we have to start all over again.

Turn yer buckets over
turn yer lanterns low
Fire in our hearts and
fire in our souls
but there ain't gonna be
no fire in the hole...

In One Big Union
and the light of God and labors power


11:51 PM, August 11, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Lorcan.

I appreciate that you took the time to respond.

There certainly is something noble about work, and God used your dad to provide for your family, and I'm grateful for his life of hard work. I appreciate his example so much and thank you for sharing it with me.

I think that one thing I find troubling about some unions, though, is not only that they divide workers, only offering protection to some workers, but use funds to promote causes that are against the consciences of some Christians.

The early Friends opposed paying tithes to the Church of England, as the money was used to promote things they didn't agree with. Now, the Church of England is a Christian body, and I'm a pretty ecumenical person on some level might ask, "Well, what's so bad about giving to their work?" The point is, though, that there were some Christians (early Friends) who didn't want to give money toward causes because of their consciences, and they should not have been forced to do so.

Now, let's turn to unions. Some unions use the money they have collected from workers to support passing legislation that protects the right to abort, and even the right for children to not have to tell their parents about their pregnancies in the process of receiving an abortion.

I realize that there are professing Christians who have no problem with abortion, but what about those who believe abortion is morally objectionable? Should such a valuable Christian worker be faced with the either supporting the union against conscience or have less protection as a worker? As Martin Luther said, "To sin against conscience is neither right nor safe," and Friends stand in the tradition that places value on one's conscience.

1:21 AM, August 13, 2007  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear John P:

I appreciate thy response, and it cuts right to the point. My faith as a Quaker is to follow my God, my responsibility to my fellow workers is to free them to follow their attention to God's voice, not dictate it. We know, in the dark of a mine, or as a mariner on the wet parts of the world, what we need and deserve in the way of sound safety equipment, of fair pay, respect and care when we can no longer serve our trade.

At sea, there is a code. If someone's gear is in the way, unless it is the most pressing necessity, thee brings it to the attention of thy shipmate. Thee never touches a mate's gear -- respect. A woman's right to choose how she hears God's voice on the most intimate level is not my business to touch. My union's support of her right to that responsibility is not only part of her right as a worker but her right as a child of God. If I expect to keep my hat on in court, and not swear to tell the truth, but rather state that I will speak honestly with the greatest care -- these rights I hold dear, are only possible if I respect the right of others to follow God's leading -- not to dictate how others should follow.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook said, the pure righteous, do not complain of evil but increase justice, do not complain of heresy but increase faith, do not complain of ignorance but increase wisdom...

Should thee worry that abortion is not in God's plan, be a light thyself, don't block another in their following what thee sees as heresy. Sauce for the goose is that for the gander, and thy right to follow a Christian path cannot be protected if the denies another the right to go to where they hear God's voice the loudest. Thank God the Union sees that. Thy comment, "prtecting the right to abort" cuts right to it. The union does not endorce abortion, but protects the right to decide, to follow one's light, to be free.

Like any other human institution, Trade Unions sometimes have, in the struggle against governments such as our own ... failed to protect nonunionized workers. This is not right, but the fault is not solely their own.

Some might be content to work and pray and live on hay, waiting for pie in the sky when they die ... but I don't think that is God's intention for those who have fed us all for a thousand years. (Thanks to Joe Hill and all ... for the quotes... )

10:04 AM, August 16, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I'm happy to have Lorcan, John and others continue to comment on this topic here, but I'd also like to suggest that joining Jeanne's google group is a good way to get much deeper into this discussion.

10:05 AM, August 19, 2007  
Blogger Jeanne said...


Thanks again so much for posting my comment. Out of all this, I've started a blog on class myself. But I wanted to hold up to you a comment on Tentative Quaker's blog, and wondered if you would take a look at it and perhaps comment on it. I'm a little more than angry about it and I know my anger frightens middle/owning class Friends sometimes. I'm hoping for some allies in this. Check out Tentative Quaker's post on class and scroll down to Alan Paxton's comment.



2:48 PM, August 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Rich and Lorcan. I don't think that I have that much more to say, though, besides the fact that I didn't mean to imply by my previous post about sensitivity to conscience that there aren't absolute moral standards. And, if someone objects to a group supporting the Pro-Life position because the position is absolute, the Pro-Choice position is just as much absolute--it argues that the freedom to abort must be preserved, and that to disagree is unacceptable. As you could guess, though, I disagree with the Pro-Choice position and the fact that labor unions support this position. As far as saying that God gives us the freedom of choice in this matter, and that this freedom is virtuous, this puts freedom of choice in a moral category where it doesn't belong, and could be used to justify any atrocity. I support future workers in their mothers' wombs.

6:04 PM, August 29, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home