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None of us is safe until all of us are safe

None of us is safe until all of us are safe

Published: September 25, 2013

Young filmmakers at the 2013 If I Had a Trillion Dollars national film festival in Washington. Watch 2014’s official selections at

Photo: AFSC/Bryan Vana



On the July morning after the announcement of the George Zimmerman verdict, I went with a friend to worship at an African-American Baptist church in Philadelphia. Disbelief, grief, holy outrage were all evident in response to the verdict, along with a passionate commitment to realize—finally!—the dream Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about so eloquently 50 years ago.

I watched the adult members of the church comforting their young people and making ample room for them to share their gifts during the service. For this community, the racism and injustice that led to Trayvon Martin’s killing and the verdict that condoned it are not abstractions. Racism is a brutal assault that every day threatens the lives of their precious children.

My experience that Sunday led me to reflect on my own Quaker community—predominantly white, as are many mainline churches in the U.S. What will it take for white faith communities to recognize that, by our inaction, we allow the epidemic of violence and poverty in communities of color to continue? 

Here is the challenging truth: The same systems that disadvantage and marginalize African-Americans confer privileges on the white middle class—privileges that are hard for those who benefit to see or acknowledge. “Liberty and justice for all” may be our national aspiration, but it is not our national reality. We must understand—and act on that understanding—that our lives and destinies are bound up together, that “we” cannot be safe unless “they” and their children are safe too. 

The “we-they” dynamic within the U.S. also plays out in our foreign policy.

We view ourselves as exceptional and other countries as “less than.” How else could we wage war so often? How else could we so easily dismiss innocent lives lost in a misguided drone strike as “collateral damage”?

In Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, our government entered into conflicts it did not fully understand, arming one side while labeling another as “terrorists.” And once a person, organization, or country is designated as “terrorist,” even peace and humanitarian contacts are forbidden. 

Overseas, as at home, our fate is connected with the fate of others; war-making and drone strikes create new enemies, making our country less safe, not safer. 

Even Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel acknowledges that “most of the pressing security challenges today have important political, economic and cultural components, and do not necessarily lend themselves to being resolved by conventional military strength.”

The time is ripe for a renewed understanding about a source of strength that has the power to make all of us secure. 

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) partnered to develop this new narrative for transforming the role of the U.S. in the world

A dynamic group of Quakers with diverse foreign policy experience further honed the initial working paper, which has now been published as a document called “Shared Security: Reimagining U.S. Foreign Policy.” 

What is shared security? Below is a succinct summary based on a blog post I wrote with Diane Randall, the Executive Secretary of FCNL: 

Global problems of conflict, poverty and climate change require cooperative solutions. Shared security offers a new vision for how the world community can live more peacefully and justly, acknowledging and building upon the interconnections of our human family, with greater care for our planet, and respecting the dignity of all. 

Shared security envisions a new role for the United States in the world—an informed U.S. foreign policy responsive to the complex challenges faced by our interdependent global community. Shared security requires that governments (including our own), nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations cooperate in a shared search for solutions to the common threats we face. Security for any one country, including the United States, depends on advancing global security for all.

In this issue of Quaker Action, we explore what it means to advance the common good and global security for all, and tell stories of how AFSC is working on such a vision in our international work.

Please visit the Shared Security website, take a look at the document, post your own response or reflection there, and join us in creating a more peaceful planet for all.

In peace,
Shan Cretin, General Secretary