This year, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has launched a new program for young adults who are looking to deepen their social justice and leadership skills: Emerging Leaders for Liberation. This February, AFSC received the first applicants, which must be 18-25 and associated with an AFSC program, a Quaker college or organization, or a Quaker meeting. The first cohort will gather in person this spring. An AFSC-commissioned public opinion poll found that the majority of the U.S. public (56 percent) supports cutting Pentagon spending and reinvesting those funds in programs that benefit everyone. Using the news of public support, the AFSC team is working with partners and congressional offices to introduce legislation to reduce military spending. Friends and partners joined AFSC in the “Free Them All Days of Action” this February. In addition to attending online events and writing hundreds of letters to governors, people gathered in Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois to advocate for alternatives to detention and incarceration.
AFSC recognizes that far too many people in communities around the world are still unprotected from the global pandemic. In addition, humans are plagued by the social diseases of economic inequality, racism, climate change, forced migration, and violent conflict. AFSC is working with communities to provide resources and solutions and galvanize movements for social change, vaccine access, and peacebuilding.
Recently, AFSC has been advocating for inclusive communities and policy change that welcomes immigrants and treats all people respectfully. AFSC has provided health supplies in Gaza to elders and family members who have been left behind in global vaccination efforts. It accompanied Indigenous land protectors in Guatemala, and helped communities recover from climate-change-enhanced hurricanes and flooding. AFSC helped pass new laws in Oakland, Calif., to demilitarize the police, and revealed abuses in a N.J. women’s prison that led the governor to investigate and close the facility. It helped vaccinate hundreds of farmworkers in Florida who were left behind by the state’s priorities.
AFSC is also redoubling its efforts at Quaker outreach, launching a new email digest for Quakers. Friends meetings can connect with AFSC to nominate their own church/meeting liaison.
Following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., Shanene Herbert and Sharon Goens-Bradley, AFSC staff working in the Twin Cities, saw that White people of faith needed support in deepening their skills for working to end White supremacy. They proposed and co-designed an e-course, Radical Acting in Faith for White People, facilitated by AFSC’s Friends relations director Lucy Duncan and Friends Lisa Graustein and Mila Hamilton. More than 500 Quakers and people of faith participated. The sessions focused on core skills, including following the leadership of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC); speaking effectively to interrupt racist speech; and engaging in actions that result in tangible, positive outcomes for BIPOC. The recordings are available on AFSC’s website as a self-study e-course: afsc.org/radicalaif.
In January AFSC launched an initiative called Under the Mask. This effort documents ways that governments around the world are using the COVID-19 crisis to restrict civil liberties. AFSC produced a three-episode podcast with case studies on Central America, Israel, and Kenya. New events will coordinate people worldwide to counter oppressive state measures. More information is at underthemask.afsc.org.
In November 2020, thousands of people in Guatemala lost their houses and crops to catastrophic flooding when hurricanes devastated the area. AFSC raised more than $35,000 to help provide food, clean water, clothing, and safety kits for people living in temporary shelters.
In solidarity with the upswing of Black Lives Matter activism following the murder of George Floyd, AFSC has responded locally in Minneapolis, Minn., and across the country to support the call to defund the police and promote healing justice. Quakers and community members from around the world have joined AFSC’s call. Resources for starting and extending the conversation in local Quaker communities are available at the website.
In addition, responding to the request of Black program staff in Minneapolis to invite White people of faith deeper into the work of racial justice, AFSC and volunteers have hosted a four-session e-course, “Radical Acting in Faith for White People,” which has engaged more than 500 people in learning about antiracist practices. Most of the participants are Friends. Recordings and resources from the e-course can be accessed on AFSC’s website along with a self-study version of the course.
AFSC has supported communities globally during the COVID-19 pandemic. AFSC staff and partnerships have helped Georgians keep their homes; connect organic farmers and empty food banks in New Mexico; deliver hygienic supplies in Gaza, Zimbabwe, and Guatemala; and monitor and resist governments worldwide who are using the pandemic to restrict civic space.