Marcie Winstanley, a young Quaker and political activist from the UK, shares her experience of attending an international Quaker gathering on the theme of equality. The Border Meeting was founded more than sixty years ago to bridge the divides of national boundaries. It is organised between Quakers in four countries.
When I attended the Quakers and European Politics course in February, led by QCEA and Woodbrooke, I felt refreshed and uplifted by discussion of maintaining international cooperation in the face of Brexit and other divisive world events. I was delighted to hear at this event, for the first time, of the Border Meeting, an opportunity to meet with Friends (Quakers) mainly from Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and northern France, and discuss the challenges that we face in our collective work.
This year the theme of the Border Meeting was the Testimony to Equality, and the event was held in Walberberg, near Bonn, Germany between 7-9 September. Before the event began, the theme had already prompted some interesting thoughts for me; following some QCEA research that I played a small part in, comparing the development and military budgets of EU member states, I was particularly interested in the connection between our Testimony to Peace and Equality, and our responses as Quakers to inequalities caused by conflict. I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful Quaker House in Ambiorix Square, Brussels, on the nights before and after the event and so, in the peaceful Margaret Fell room I read through some recent QCEA publications on race, equality and anti-migrant hate speech in preparation for the weekend.
Over the course of the weekend, I met so many interesting people and heard diverse perspectives that I had not considered before from the speakers on Saturday and Sunday. Beginning all together, we heard a talk from Stefan Mann on equality and hierarchy, before breaking off into three smaller groups, each of which heard two different talks. In my group, the first talk, by Tony Weekes, and the second, by QCEA’s Kate McNally and Andrew Lane, complemented each other in offering very different ideas about seeking to promote equality. Tony spoke about rethinking economics, including its accessibility to the general public, fairer trade regulations, and how feminist economics could reshape development policy. Kate and Andrew’s talk encouraged us, through a process of active listening, to consider assumptions made both by ourselves and others about race. Through speaking and listening to someone from a different ethnic background from me led to discussion of our very different encounters with racism, sexism and cases where the two overlap. Active listening requires hearing one another’s responses to a series of questions without interruption. This was very successful in encouraging reflection between contributions.
Drawing links between both talks, and my experience of an African Development module that I recently undertook as part of my university studies, this led me to consider my own family history, including the influence of colonialism on my grandmother’s childhood growing up in South Africa. In finding new ways to counteract imperialistic legacies in foreign policy, or outdated and intolerant views in our own communities, I increasingly find it is important both to understand my personal history, and, equally, to bring about change in whatever way I can.
Sunday brought a very moving talk from Kurt Strauss, who shared with us his personal experiences of fleeing Germany with his family as Jewish refugees in the 1930s. This was followed by a period of worship sharing, and reflections on past and present responses to antisemitism and other forms of discrimination. After a year of activism and campaigning, I had felt before coming to the event that although I am hugely grateful for opportunities to make change, it is also important to leave time to reflect, and to consider in silence the possible answers to difficult questions of inequality. The border meeting helped me to learn in an environment of stillness and reflection, and reminded me that we cannot expect to find solutions to the world’s greatest problems alone. Our silence, perspectives and action are shared together. Finding common ground is just as much about celebrating diversity as recognising that which is the same in all of our experiences; to me both are necessary in defining and discussing equality.
Travelling back to Brussels with the residents of Quaker House for my final night before heading back to the UK allowed time to share our highlights of the weekend. I would like to end by thanking QCEA for telling me about the Border Meeting’s existence, and to the event’s planning committee for creating a weekend that has given me so much hope and so many ideas for the future.