Building Peace with Justice: AFSC celebrates its 100th year

“I think this is a time when we can be extremely optimistic precisely because of the political chaos of our time; that we can organize and create the communities we want right now. We just do it without asking permission. We just go ahead and do it.” --Erica Chenoweth

From April 20 - 23, approximately 600 Quakers, past and current staff, past and present program participants and many others came together to celebrate AFSC’s hundredth year at our Waging Peace summit. It was a chance for those gathered to consider and reflect on AFSC’s legacy of work for peace and social change and how we can continue to work together for justice and transformed communities in these times.

The summit opened on a Thursday night with storytelling and song. We shared milestones in our struggles for peace and justice, including Peace Works stories from past and present AFSC staff and supporters, and enjoyed some powerful songs of joy and struggle by Tribe One.

Friday featured a full day academic symposium that showcased AFSC’s history with presentations by researchers, archival materials, and panel discussions connecting struggles across time and place.

The day ended with Erica Chenoweth’s powerful keynote (watch it below), followed by an evening gathering where alumni – staff, volunteers, and program participants – could reconnect with one another and meet AFSC’s incoming General Secretary Joyce Ajlouny.

Saturday opened with programmed worship by Quaker Palestinian Sa’ed Atshan. Aura Kanegis, director of AFSC’s Office for Public Policy and Advocacy, offered powerful songs to support Sa’ed’s message, which focused on “Sanctuaries from violence.”

AFSC staff from around the world then presented 20 workshops to help participants build their skills on topics such as ending Islamophobia, Quaker social change ministry, conscientious objection, economic activism, shifting narratives for social change, dismantling the carceral state, and more. Each of the workshop presenters shared five ways to help further the work. Take a look.

We concluded the summit with some words from AFSC’s new General Secretary, Joyce Ajlouny, a keynote by Nobel laureate Oscar Arias, and a powerful Centennial video called Love in Action.

In addition, the AFSC Corporation met on Friday and Saturday mornings, appointed new Board and Corporation members, heard reports on the finances of the organization and the work of Friends Relations, and considered the relationship between AFSC’s work and the witness of the Religious Society of Friends.

From Erica Chenoweth’s keynote:

“Thomas Kuhn has this book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” where he talks about how paradigm shifts like from the Copernican universe to the Galilean universe happened not just because Copernicus “failed,” but because Galileo brought out a new alternative that worked. We are in a space now where these problems of economic injustice, racial injustice, patriarchy and the lack of fair and functional political systems, we need alternatives to these things. The stuff we have been doing hasn’t been working; that’s why we are where we are. And we can’t have the kind of sustained nonviolent future until we find and express alternatives that actually meet the critiques that have been put forward in a way that suits as many people as possible.”

AFSC’s work rises from the strategic use of nonviolence – whether by resisting deportations through congregational sanctuary in Denver, struggling against private prisons in Arizona, supporting trauma healing in Burundi, or engaging in economic activism for a just peace in Palestine.  The present time offers us plentiful opportunity for creating the nonviolent alternatives Erica Chenoweth was talking about. It’s up to each of us to bring our skills and energy to the next era of work and witness to create a transformed future.