Alastair Cameron (South East Scotland Area Quaker Meeting):
Friends, as clerk of south-east Scotland Quakers, it falls to me to notify our national body of arrests of our members. This year, there have been eight arrests, involving six individuals. Those are some of the Quakers who have been arrested this year throughout the United Kingdom, mostly as part of extinction rebellion, or demonstrating against fracking. There were around 40 more arrests last month at a series of demonstrations against Defence & Security Equipment International’s arms fair in London.
The practice of recording arrests in our “Great Book of Suffering” dates back to Quakers’ earliest days in the 17th century. In those days, Quakers could be fined just for holding unauthorised worship in their homes.
Quakers are no longer persecuted, but some of us feel driven to do things that lead to arrest. Our book of guidance has something to say about this. We are told:
“Respect the laws of the state but let your first loyalty be to God’s purposes.”
We hear plenty of voices saying, “If you’re so worried about the climate, why not focus on China or the US, where most pollution is happening? Why block traffic on North Bridge when Scotland already has some of the most progressive climate legislation in the world?”
Quakers will continue to do what we have always done: work in the place where we are and in the ways that we can, speaking truth to power. Quakers addressed Charles II directly in 1660, declaring:
“our principle is to seek peace … seeking the good and welfare and doing that which tends to the peace of all”.
Today, that means living out our convictions about the climate crisis, as well as about the causes of war. We feel driven to act. For some, that will mean a change in our diet or our decisions about how we travel. Others will go further, sometimes getting arrested, and they will do that with the support of the Quaker community.
We commend the work of this Parliament to address the issues, but we are worried. We worry that change is neither going far enough nor coming fast enough, and that good efforts will come under constant pressure from backsliding interests.
In a world turned upside down, the clearest messages are now coming from those who have done least to create this emergency, and who have the greatest stake in seeing it resolved: our children and grandchildren, as they lead the school strikes. We are amazed and heartened as we hear them speak truth to the powerful and, hard though their messages may be, we know that we must listen.