A Challenge to Quakers Over Occupying San Diego

Rocky Neptun

Will San Diego Quakers Stand Against Economic Injustice?

On Friday, October 7th, hundreds of San Diego youth will gather in the Gas Lamp District to “Occupy San Diego” in solidarity with the week old similar action in New York City against Wall Street and its criminal gangs of speculators and CEO’s who have plunged this nation into economic disaster for working folks and the poor. How many San Diego Quakers plan to be there?

For me, as I write my book, When Quakers Learn to Dance, this event will be the litmus test, the gauge, as to whether our Religious Society locally is, indeed, morally and spiritually flawed. For a long time now, much to the chagrin, even anger, of some Friends; I have chided, admonished, yelled and finally, pouted, about the lack of engagement of our two Meetings in the economic tragedy which San Diego has become. Fifteen percent of San Diegans now live in poverty, the homeless are becoming desperate – our city streets are littered with human debris – and over a quarter of a million San Diego families now rely on food banks to feed themselves.

As Quakers, how much longer can we live the lie that all our letter writing, lobbying, marching in cultural parades, building a Meeting House so that the few dozen who join will give us added clout, tabling, flyers, teach-ins, e-mails of indignation or even praying, is going to change a damn thing? The thousands of young people being arrested daily in New York City this week, for the most part, are not religiously motivated, but they intuitively, I think, sense what Albert Camus said so many years ago, “If we are not actively in rebellion [against injustice and war] then we are spiritually dead.” And, as journalist Chris Hedges said just this morning, from the front lines in the Occupy New York campaign, “we have a moral imperative as members of the Christian left to struggle for life, not to resist injustice is to succumb to despair.”

The fear, the hysterical reaction of New York authorities, in creating a “Green Zone” around Wall Street to protect its economic cartels and thugs, shows the panic of the system against any “Arab Spring” repeating itself in the streets of the United States. In a nation where the President can order the murder of a U.S. citizen without a trial, due process or even an indictment, where the criminals on Wall Street go free, floating about on their yachts, drinking champagne, while the protestors are pepper sprayed and brutally taken, where an innocent black man named Troy Davis can be publicly executed by a racist, unjust legal system; these are the “burning bushes,” the turning point for many of these young people.

The campaign in New York City is all about the fundamental issue of our day – economic equality. It’s anybody’s guess how many young people will turn away from the beach, happy hour in the Gas Lamp, x-box games, working on that MBA, or just plain fear of involvement to demonstrate, much less “occupy” public space in San Diego, this Friday; but whether it is three or three thousand, these young people deserve, nay, demand, our support in the names of George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Woolman and Rufus Jones, who I know, in my heart, would be downtown San Diego on Friday if they could. . I once had an old homeless advocate in Los Angeles tell me on learning of my religious affiliation, “I never trust a Quaker who hasn’t been to jail at least once for your social testimonies.”


Has the systems of power, who have worked so hard since 9/11 to make us afraid, succeeded?

Has the isolation and hoarding of money so inherent in American society destroyed any communal capabilities of the Society of Friends to systematically and collectively struggle on behalf of young people and their civil disobedience against economic injustice?

Is our new age quest for personalism, individual stashing of “the Light,” made us incapable of personal sacrifice on their behalf? Does fear of discord with our fellow Friends over collective action allow us to take advantage of our increasingly escapist silence?

Are individual Friends, and, by extension, our Meetings, paralyzed and incapable of a unified stand - a confrontational agenda for economic equality, like we were for racial equality and an end to the Vietnam War?

Or are we just too old, worn out physically and spiritually as a Religious Society, collectively, organizationally, to peacefully confront, dynamically challenge and satyagraha-ly engage fundamental economic injustice?

In Peace and Love, Rocky Neptun