Monday, February 23, 2009

Last weekend I went on a work-camp retreat style thing in North Philadelphia with some Quaker teens and a friend. It was relieving that I was there really for moral support for the camp leaders, I had no responsibility and was there to be an extra set of eyes and an example. It was really fun, yet strange. Ostensibly the theme of the workshop was Entrepreneuership and sports yet our outdoor activity for saturday was cleaning up a vacant lot and staking it out in the first step of squatting the place in the interest of a developing land trust hosted at the Guild. This past fall I was involved in setting up a land trust. I never got further than reading through the processes, we had no list of potential members, no mission statement, conflicting visions, and the issue was moot anyway as the land we were hopefully going to use was already designated as a 501c3 with conservation liens on it but this was the first time I had heard of an urban group using it to appropriate vacant and blighted land, much less one that was done with Quaker support and involvement.
If you had to characterize Quaker professions easily the first spot would be occupied by educators, however not much further down the list would be organizers and office types, coordinators, communicators, avid readers if not publishers of information. It's no coincidence that Quakers are involved with organizations like the Friends Guild. If anything, it's a wonder there aren't more of them (I am aware that this sentiment is used quite a bit). It's a concept which is profoundly active and ultimately anarchist leaning but addresses concerns of Quakers who are concerned about community involvement and authority, with its inevitable ties to the integrity testimony.
It seems that quite a few, especially older, Friends I know are very into creating alternative forms of governance and administration, they do, every month in their business meetings, but find forms that directly challenge existing government (doing right ordered, but not entirely legal things) anathema. These Quakers are often more concerned with holding existing government to integrity than subverting it. I'm trying not to judge these Friends, they're probably either more experienced or smarter than me. I'm still feeling out what in my life can be teased out and untangled you know? Anyway, for all the tax evasion, consensus toting, and the best of modern liberalism, there's surprisingly little radical practice that hasn't been pioneered long ago.
Not that squatting is anything new, but the combination of a land trust, the use of easements, and a more aggressive approach to space, making use of the fact that we as people who live and work next to these empty fields have more power over them than the faraway people that legally own them, is a relatively recent phenomena in this country though a few have done it. It somehow makes sense to me that the land trust and easement idea would catch on given our cultural importance placed on pieces of paper and legalism. Hey, whatever helps.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So now I have a shiny new blog that hopefully I'll be posting in soon about Quakers and activism, quakers and politics, quakers and quakers, and quakers and goodness knows what else.