Quaker Ben Pink Dandelion joined Friends because they were working for peace and shared values with anarchists. Then he had a spiritual awakening.
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- Ben Pink Dandelion says that he came to Quakerism because it was a social change group working “from within the system” that shares some values with anarchism, including non-hierarchy and peace. What attracts you to the Quaker approach?
- Ben says that once he started having spiritual experiences, meeting for worship made more sense to him, and he realized that what Quakers don’t share in common with anarchists is that we’re being “spoken through.” What do you suppose he means by this? Do you agree?
I’m Ben Pink Dandelion. I’m a Quaker writer and teacher.
Well, I first went to college to study hotel management, but I was also very involved with a series of left-wing groups and ended up dropping out of college and going to live at an anarchist peace camp. Now, anarchism is an ideology which is very much in favor of individual power, that nobody should have power over anybody else. And we were a group of great individualists, in a sense, living at this peace camp. We had different colored hair, different hair styles. Eventually we would all change our names to something rather ridiculous, like “Pink Dandelion” as a protest of the way that the father’s name is always passed down.
So I like to be called Ben but my legal name is Pink Dandelion and this was a deliberate ploy to come up with something that was, again, pushing against other people defining who you will be.
This was in the early ’80s and it was a year of great revolutionary hope in Britain. We had a miner’s strike on. We thought we had Margaret Thatcher on the back foot. Life was about protest.
But after about eight or ten arrests, you know, and really not feeling like we were moving forward at all, I began to think that there probably wouldn’t be a revolution in England. And so at that point, you give up a revolutionary strategy. The anarchist strategy had been to hope that everyone would withdraw their labor from the labor market and the system would collapse. So I looked for groups that were working from within the system.
Similarities Between Quakers and Anarchists
I had known the Quakers because I had been to a Quaker school, and I found them again, as it were. And I saw there a group that was committed to peace, a group that didn’t take votes (just as was true of the anarchists) and who didn’t have any fixed leadership, just like the anarchists. And I thought, “Here’s a group that looks just a little bit like the anarchists but working within the system.” So I originally came along to Quakerism in terms of it being a peace group.
Understanding the Spiritual Dimension of Quakerism
And it was only later, when I had a powerful spiritual experience on a Greyhound bus, that I really understood Quakerism, that I could begin to see the spiritual dimension, that meeting for worship made sense for me, that meeting for business made absolute sense. So it was a different kind of process from the anarchist consensus. We were being “talked through” in Quaker meeting in a way that just wasn’t true in the anarchist campfire meetings.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.