This is a copy of an article that we submitted to The Friend about our vigil on the steps of Central Manchester Meeting House to raise awareness of the issue of economic inequality.
The people demonstrating on the steps are Quakers. They say that everyone suffers when we have millionaires on the one hand and homeless have-nots on the other. For the richer countries, what counts is not just how rich you are, but how you share it out. More equal countries have better health, less stress, less violence, more contentment’.
This is the opening of the flyer we handed out on the steps of Central Manchester Meeting House earlier this year. The Social Justice Group of Manchester and Warrington Area Meeting are concerned about inequality in Britain. Progress during the last century towards a fairer society was halted in the late 1970s, and the income gap between rich and poor continues to widen. This poses a threat to our national life, as well as to attempts to move towards sustainable living. Our politicians seem unaware of these dangers.
Earlier this year, we started a campaign to alert Quakers to the issue. We have produced a set of posters on the theme of inequality, and these are now displayed in several Meeting Houses. But we were also keen to reach out to a wider public. We decided to hold an Equality Vigil.
We stood in silence, holding banners and posters which summarised the points made in ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, and in ‘Injustice’ by Danny Dorling. Others of us stood on the pavement, and offered the flyer (with the title ‘An Equal Britain would be a happier Britain’) to passers-by, sometimes engaging in conversation. This outlined our concern about inequality, the Quaker commitment to equality and what we would like politicians to do. We were heartened by the number of people whose interest was immediately engaged by continuing to read the flyer as they walked away. We felt that this was a useful first step towards alerting the public to what is happening in our society and what Quakers are suggesting to address issues of inequality.
The vigil is one of a number of activities that we are undertaking with the help of Friends House staff as part of Supporting Local Initiatives project. We are fortunate in having a Meeting House in a prime city centre location: for those with similarly well-placed venues, we are happy to share our experiences and offer practical advice.