In George Lakey's workshop on Quakers & Social Class we play a game that very roughly estimates the social class structure in the United States. There, the rules and goals are set out before the participants at the beginning. I've participated in this game once, led it twice, and observed it once, and I've noticed this one thing about it the game:
Lots of Quakers do things that break the rules, but no one (save me) wanted to change the rules.
Yes, my sample size is small. But I was surprised that starting a coop or creating a collective, or trying individually to play by different rules didn't change anything at all about the game or its rules.
When I played, at the point at which the power rested in the hands of a few, I blocked the door to keep them from going out to make the decisions on how the game ends. I didn't understand why their Quaker value of equality wasn't kicking in, didn't understand why they just accepted the rules as they'd been given to us.
At the time, I was immersed in the experience and couldn't be this articulate about it. I just had strong feelings of anger and hurt and confusion because I couldn't square what we say we believe in as a people of faith, and our obedience to a random set of rules.
I still can't square my experience of the game with our stated testimony of equality.
It's a poker chip trading game called Star Power with three simple rules.
1. The goal is to get as many points as possible.
2. You must be shaking hands until you've agreed on a trade.
3. All trades must be unequal.
At the end of three rounds, the sub-group with the most points gets to go outside the room to decide what happens next, how the game should end. When I played the game, I tried to convince people to change the rules, but few if any seemed to want the same.
My observations about how I've seen Quakers engage with this game matters to me because the game is an approximation of the social class structure in the U.S. If our instincts don't lead us to try to change the rules in this game, we won't be led to change the rules in our society that support and perpetuate an oppressive classist system.
I still want to change social class rules because as Quakers, if we believe in equality, we not only should break the rules in our own lives, we should be trying to change the rules. We like to think of ourselves as rule changers. Unfortunately, we're only upsetting the power structure sometimes. I can't honestly think of any rule changing behavior right now (though I can think of social class rule breaking folks).
I'm not changing the rules either. But I thought I could start here, in this little blog, by making social class rules explicit, especially among Friends. I'll start with this rule, which I am breaking among Friends:
Do not try to inhabit a role outside of your social class
I went to college in 2004, at 37 years old, at a four-year school that is primarily for working class people. There, both instructors and other students saw my leadership capacity; they and I nurtured my gifts. In the years I spent among Friends though, this capacity of me was never seen, acknowledged or nurtured. This is because people like me, who grew up working class, and people who grew up poor, are not supposed to act like managers, to be leaders.
The acts of writing this blog and giving workshops on social class is breaking this rule.
Being an expert, a teacher, is hard to do at times. I hear in my head, "Who do you think you are? What do you know? They're the ones with the fancy degrees. They're the ones whose parents read to them. They're the ones who were groomed to be standing up here, telling you some truth about the world. You're supposed to be sitting, learning from them."
Early in the week at Gathering, our suite-mate who also grew up working class described reaching for something more than she was expected to do feels like reaching through a heavy, wet blanket. This feels true to me.
Every time a person living in poverty (not situational poverty, or chosen poverty) strives for a union job, every time a working class person reaches for the middle class by going to college, we're breaking this rule.
So how are you breaking social class rules? How are you trying to change the rules of the game? What is your meeting doing to change the rules as well as break them? Does God want Quakers to support this classist system?