Quantcast

Forum January 2015

Rethinking business

I think there is a huge difference between a small business and a multinational conglomerate (“The Quaker Points Game,” FJ Nov. 2014). From what I understand, we are psychologically capable of treating a group of around 200 people as practically family or good friends, but beyond that number, relationships get fuzzy. When you run a company with tens of thousands of employees, you can’t avoid becoming distanced from the people on the factory floor. The company I work for recently went from a few hundred to tens of thousands (bought out), and the change is pretty obvious to everyone here. And I think that’s a point that maybe gets lost in talk of evil capitalists.

Generally, when my socialist side comes out, I’m referring to Walmart and other megacorps that pay their CEOs millions while paying employees minimum wage. The potter I get mugs and plates from is an artisan, not an evil capitalist. The shepherds I buy yarn from? They are farmers getting by, not evil capitalists. There needs to be some evil (hoarding money at the top and underpaying workers, for example) to qualify as an evil capitalist. So, I, at least, probably don’t mean you.

As someone who has attempted to start a business before (turns out, people won’t pay a decent wage for hand‐knit goods when sweatshop goods have distorted their idea of a fair price), I have thought about the ethics involved. I’m trying again with a different niche, though it is still not a high profit area (handmade items rarely are). But I am pretty firmly in disagreement with the idea that, if my products were in high demand, I should charge “as much as the market will bear.” If charging X per hour will allow me to achieve median income, then I should charge X. Charging more would just make it yet another class marker for those able to afford the product, and I think we need to be breaking down those class lines.

Mackenzie
Silver Spring, Md.

 

I have worked in nonprofits most of my working life. I am clerk of my meeting. I will say I think Big business is usually wrong. Small business is usually right.

I had a small business for six years. It took an incredible amount of time. I felt it robbed me of my time with God. It did this only because I let it. I then merged my business with a nonprofit. I am at peace with God again.

Valerie Walker Peery
Paradise, Pa.

 

There is definitely a difference between highly capitalized multinational corporations and small local businesses, just as there is between highly centralized imperialistic governments and local towns and counties. One key reason so much of business and government is not human scale is because fossil fuel energy is so cheap.

I’m reminded of my experience when I took the permaculture design course at the Regenerative Design Institute just north of San Francisco. Penny Livingston‐Stark got all several dozen of us in a big circle and had us make signs for the craft or trade we chose for our livelihood in an ecovillage practice game. I chose to be a banker.

It was a lot of fun. Some participants looked at me sideways, but there were enough people who were older and had actually been in business, perhaps self‐employed, to understand the uses of operating credit. I understand how banking is supposed to work, so I was able to explain to the younger radicals how good banking can be a good thing, as well as the importance of investing in the right things.

That brings to mind the topic of divestment from fossil fuels. While fossil fuel investments don’t have a very good long‐term prospect, there is still the issue of what to invest in instead, and how to disinvest in buying gasoline and other such products in one’s daily life.

Muriel Strand
Sacramento, Calif.

 

I’m one of the co‐clerks of the Quakers and Business Group (United Kingdom), Qandb​.org. We have 150 members and a 440‐member LinkedIn group. We’ve been going for nearly 20 years, in one form or another, and we are delighted to hear about the new Quakers and Business Group in the United States.

My message to you is straightforward: keep talking. We have seen the attitude towards business within the UK Quaker community change bit by bit by bit over the years, and it’s because we’ve raised Friends’ awareness of what business really means, in all its forms, good and bad. To use an old phrase, “It’s an education sell!”

We’re regularly mentioned in The Friend, the UK weekly Quaker magazine, as are wider business matters.

Elizabeth Redfern
Towcester, UK

 

Demilitarizing the police

As the current program assistant on Militarism and Civil Liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Amy Clark for her excellent letter on police militarization featured in the October issue (“The war against us,” Viewpoint, FJ Oct. 2014).

As the letter mentioned, the Department of Defense 1033 program allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military equipment for free, and requires them to use it within one year of transfer. This program incentivizes police to use militarized weapons and tactics in routine law enforcement. Further, the program’s lack of transparency and accountability has led to predictable instances of waste, fraud, and abuse.

As an organization driven by faith, both FCNL’s policy positions and our approach to lobbying have roots in Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, compassion, and equality. Militarizing our nation’s law enforcement agencies will not effectively help us achieve the peaceful and just world that we seek. The events in Ferguson, Mo., are an unfortunate example of how easily the excessive display and use of militarized equipment can lead to an escalation in violence.

FCNL is encouraged by the enthusiasm of Friends across the country to address the militarization of police, and has responded by incorporating the issue into our lobbying work. We hosted a congressional briefing on the issue in July; worked with print, television, and radio media to advance our narrative; and are currently seeking support for the bipartisan Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

Part of FCNL’s policy statement reads, “Citizens have the responsibility to participate vigorously in making government more responsive, open, and accountable” in the hopes of eventually creating a more equal and peaceful world. We invite all Friends who wish to join FCNL in our advocacy to demilitarize U.S. police to visit fcnl​.org/​m​i​l​i​t​a​r​ism.

Maggie O’Donnell
Washington, D.C.

 

Starting conversations on race

Thank you for the October 2014 issue focusing on the concerns and experience of Friends of color. Friends are reminded that several yearly meetings have working groups on racism, and these groups are often available for workshops and to provide resources for monthly meetings. If your yearly meeting does not have such a group, call an initial meeting and get started! You can contact me about Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s group at pat.​[email protected]​verizon.​net.

Pat Schenck
Annapolis, Md.

 

The members of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Working Group on Racism were delighted with the October 2014 issue of Friends Journal: Experiences of Friends of Color. The writers described the richness of experience among Friends that drew them to Quakers despite the other unpleasant experiences they have endured among Friends because of their color.

To me, these articles suggest that the comparatively low number of Friends of color in Quaker meetings in the United States is not, as is often suggested, because Quaker spirituality rarely speaks to the condition of people of color. Instead, it is the unpleasant experiences people of color routinely experience in our meetings that cause many of them to decide to seek a spiritual home elsewhere.

Helping Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends learn how to avoid creating those unpleasant experiences and how to remove other barriers that discourage people of color who are drawn to Quakerism is a major goal of our working group. We think this issue of Friends Journal will be a valuable resource for us in that effort. Many other resources are available on our BYM website, bym​-rsf​.org/​w​h​a​t​_​w​e​_​d​o​/​c​o​m​m​i​t​t​e​e​s​/​r​a​c​i​s​m​wg/, including our most recent brochure, “A Quaker Response to Events in Ferguson, MO.”

David Etheridge
Bethesda, Md.

 

Waking up with Margaret Fell

I thought Maggie O’Neill’s “Sleeping with Margaret Fell” (FJ Dec. 2014) was an excellent article. I admit, however, that I’m still mighty thirsty to really—really—understand how the early Quakers were able to be so far ahead of the times. I’ve striven, most of my life, to live beyond the cultural expectations that surround me, so I think I understand something of the trial that can be. Thanks for raising up the power of women in the very roots of Quakers, and trying to light the way for further such power and transformation.

Mark Judkins Helpsmeet
Eau Claire, Wis.

 

The area discussed in O’Neill’s article is very firmly in the northwest of England. Nordic influences are strong in that area. George Fox was originally from the English Midlands, but only when he travelled to the north did he find the many people, already seeking a new way, who truly heard him and made the Quaker movement. This area of northwestern England is known as the Cradle of Quakerism for that reason (not the birthplace, but the place where it was nurtured and grew into strength). For the past three years, I had the privilege of working as pilgrimage coordinator for Quaker groups visiting the area. That work is now carried out more directly from Swarthmoor Hall.

Lisa Whistlecroft
Lancaster, UK

 

Correction

In the December 2014 Forum, we inadvertently combined two pieces of reader feedback. The first paragraph of the piece attributed to Dan and Jane O’Keefe (p. 44) comes from Tracy Ford of Victoria, B.C. The O’Keefes’ contribution starts with “We support.” We apologize for the confusion.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for Friends Journal's weekly e-newsletter. Quaker stories, inspiration, and news emailed every Monday. Web comments may be used in the Forum column of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.