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Change the Story, Change the world: A Report from the 2016 AFSC Corporation Meeting

The following is a report from the 2016 AFSC Corporation Meeting, prepared by Ted Klyce and approved by the Friends Relations Committee of AFSC.

From across the country, Friends gathered at Friends Center in Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the American Friends Service Committee Corporation.  The theme for our time together was “Change the story, change the world: Telling the truth about militarism in US communities and around the world.”

Many Friends arrived early and attended pre-meeting workshops with Reverend William Barber II on the Moral Mondays movement and AFSC's Friends Relations staff on the pilot program, Quaker Social Change Ministry. The first formal session, after dinner, began with music and hip hop by City Love; the entire assembly joined in to sing "I believe in you." 

Many of us were challenged by the message that there is as much work to be done for racial justice and equality as there has ever been. Whether in Ferguson or in Gaza we are still faced with racism, imperialism, and a militarized system of oppression that profits from inequity and runs counter to our vision of shared security based on peace and nonviolence. Throughout the programs, workshops, and sessions we were challenged to “change the narrative.”

In our Thursday evening program, Reverend William Barber II described the work of the "Moral Mondays” movement in bringing morality to bear on immoral politics. Rev Barber described the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement as a sign of a “third Reconstruction” taking place in the United States. But along with hopeful signs of progress, we are faced with a reactionary response to expanding civil rights and a recycling of George Wallace's racially coded language of "states' rights," "cutting taxes," "reclaiming America.” Rev Barber challenged us to reclaim moral and religious language and continue the work of the Quaker Abolitionists and all those who struggled during the Civil Rights movement.

In the business of the Corporation, Clerk Phil Lord opened the Friday session with silent meeting for worship. Our roll call revealed us to be a widely geographically represented group, from most US yearly meetings and many more monthly meetings. New bylaws were approved by the Corporation that would allow the date of the next Corporation Meeting to be combined with the centennial celebration of AFSC and all its work towards peace and justice over the last 100 years. The hard work of Nominating Committee was noted, particularly the work of Jane Kroesen, the outgoing clerk. We also heard from Friends Relations Committee who thanked outgoing members for their work on building up the work of the committee over the last few years.

In the General Secretary's report, Shan Cretin spoke to us about two "overarching strategies" of the AFSC. One is a focus on transformative youth leadership,  a process that starts with youth trainings, moves into youth development and youth leadership, and ends up with civic engagement and youth organizing.

The other strategy for AFSC is based on the need to change the narrative around war and militarism. In the past, AFSC has focused on relief efforts after war and conflict through feeding programs and rebuilding efforts. Shan called us to go beyond relief work and change the narrative around war to prevent future wars and build a culture and understanding of shared security.  In the DPRK (North Korea) for example, AFSC has engaged with farmers to find simple solutions to increase crop yields in the face of the destabilizing effects of famine. Because of AFSC’s work in the DPRK, we are uniquely situated to counter the call for a military response to North Korea and elevate the voices of its people. 

Our workshop sessions carried forward this theme with a sobering look at the challenging work in our midst. Staff from regional and international programs showcased a variety of projects. We were invited to witness the psychological trauma of Palestinian children being arrested and taken alone, in the dead of night, and subjected to brutal interrogations and imprisonment. We were invited to ‘humanize, not militarize,’ working toward a truly just, and shared sense of security in policing across race and cultures.

In our Friday evening program, a panel discussion titled, "When I See Them, I See Us: Policing In a community under occupation,” we saw how similar struggles for justice can mutually support each other. The panel featured Ahmad Abuznaid of Dream Defenders, Joshua Saleem from AFSC's St. Louis office, and Tabitha Mustafa with AFSC's New Orleans office. The panelists explored the intersectionality of Black liberation movements in the US and the movement to end the occupation of Palestine. In places like Ferguson and Palestine, where policing has become a tool of racialized violence, the same weapons and tactics are used, including teargas canisters stamped with “made in USA.” Israeli and US police also receive the same militaristic training. As allies in a shared struggle, they are seeing that theirs is a movement “to defend and advance humanity through our very existence.”

Clerk Phil Lord noted this as the final meeting prior to the 100th anniversary of AFSC in 2017. As we near our 100th anniversary, American Friends Service Committee invites your voice and partnership in our peace and justice work for the next 100 years.

About the Author

Lucy was the Director of Friends Relations from 2011-2021. 

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