Throughout our history, AFSC has worked to build peace and challenge injustice. Our work is rooted in and guided by those who are most harmed by the conditions we seek to change. Our approaches vary based on the circumstances.
Over the decades—and continuing today—we have created innovative ways to address problems facing our society. For more than a century, AFSC has built a large toolbox of methods in working for social change. It includes community organizing, building bridges, advocacy, and research and analysis.
Here are some examples of those tools in action. Each pairs a story from our history with our current work for a more just, peaceful future.
Even amid the most daunting circumstances, change is possible when people come together to overcome violence and oppression.
Since our founding, AFSC has supported grassroots community organizing in the U.S. and around the world to resist injustice.
Ending school segregation in Virginia
Students in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Photo: AFSC Archives
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an end to school segregation. Refusing to comply, Prince Edward County in Virginia shut down its public school system in 1959. White students got vouchers to attend a private, all-white academy. Some Black families sent their children to live with relatives in other counties or states to get an education. But hundreds more were left with no options for school.
AFSC supported Black families and a coalition of organizations working to reopen the schools. We opened an office in Farmville, Virginia, launching an emergency program that placed dozens of Black students with host families in other states to attend school.
The Farmville office also served as a hub for networking and community organizing. With support from AFSC, Black families and community groups organized training schools and recreational activities for students and created reading rooms in churches. Over the next five years, AFSC supported community members to pressure county, state, and federal government officials to get the schools reopened. That finally happened in 1964—a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Calling for racial justice in Minnesota
Young leaders with AFSC’s YUIR program speak out at a press conference this year. Photo: Adrian Mack
Young people have always been at the forefront of movements for social change. But far too often, they’re left out of decision making on issues affecting their everyday lives.
In the Twin Cities, Minnesota, AFSC works with Black and Brown youth through our Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) program. YUIR participants share their experiences with racism and analyze systems that perpetuate it. They learn how to organize, building campaigns to create the change they want to see.
“Youth have experienced unprecedented trauma with COVID as well as increased racial, mental, and physical violence,” says Shanene Herbert, Healing Justice Program director. “As staff, we are intentional about providing space for youth to just ‘be’ and adapting to their needs.” After the police murder of George Floyd, YUIR provided a safe space for young people to discuss their experiences amid protests, militarized forces, and media crews in their communities. Earlier this year, YUIR members held a press conference to respond to the city’s plans to address a rise in gun violence. Youth spoke out against proposed increases to police funding—and instead called for investments in schools, restorative justice programs, and other initiatives to promote healing over punishment.
“As the youth who are being most directly impacted by violence in our communities, we need to be at every decision-making table,” YUIR members proclaimed.
Dialogue is a critical first step to resolve conflict. Through peaceful communication, we can see openings for solutions that respect the needs and rights of all.
AFSC promotes dialogue by bringing together people who would not normally meet, including government officials, civil society groups, and community and movement leaders.
We bridge efforts among diverse groups, sometimes reaching across deep divides, to find common ground.
Connecting people and movements to end apartheid
Protesters in Chicago, Illinois demonstrate against apartheid, July 1, 1980. Photo: AFSC Archives
For much of the 20th century, South Africa’s system of apartheid upheld white minority rule through racial segregation and violent oppression. AFSC played a key role in the decades-long struggle to end it.
Early on, we helped build bridges between the Pan-African movements and Black Americans struggling for civil rights and equality. Africa activist Bill Sutherland, who served as AFSC’s South African representative, was instrumental in bringing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Ghana upon its independence. Bill also encouraged organizations in the African liberation movement to support the March on Washington.
In the 1980s—as South African activists captured the world’s attention with strikes, marches, and acts of civil disobedience—AFSC was a leading voice in the
U.S. calling for divestment and sanctions. We focused on the U.S. South, where other anti-apartheid groups were less represented. There, the cause resonated with Civil Rights activists who saw connections with the struggle to end Jim Crow. Our 1981 Africa Peace Tour visited cities including Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia. In 1985, AFSC hosted a U.S. speaking tour with South Africa activist Leah Tutu.
Our organizing efforts amplified calls for the U.S. government and corporations to stop financially supporting South Africa’s apartheid state. We also provided tools for college students, people of faith, and others to pressure their institutions to divest. The movement ultimately proved successful. South Africa announced an end to apartheid in 1994.
Working to prevent election violence
At a 2018 gathering, Africa Regional Director Kennedy Akolo introduces AFSC’s report on preventing election violence. Photo: Carl Roose/AFSC
Election-related violence is an ongoing threat to democracy around the world. In countries where AFSC works—including Kenya, Burundi, and Zimbabwe—we have seen how election violence has claimed numerous lives, displaced communities, and intensified existing conflicts.
Over the past decade, AFSC has worked closely with partners to prevent election violence. In 2018, we published a report on its causes and best practices for prevention. And we brought together dozens of members of civil society, government officials, and others from 38 countries who work to ensure peaceful elections.
The gathering was a rare opportunity for this global group of practitioners to share knowledge and learn from each other. They found commonality in their experiences, whether coming from Sri Lanka, Tunisia, or Guatemala. They also distilled principles to prevent election violence—including ongoing investment in peacebuilding efforts (not just in the lead-up to elections) and engaging a broad coalition that includes a range of political parties.
As a result of the gathering, participants established a first-of-its-kind Global Network on Preventing Election Violence to share resources to promote free and peaceful elections worldwide.
AFSC brings our experience working with communities worldwide to policymakers, ensuring they hear the voices of those impacted by their decisions.
Throughout our history, we have spoken out on controversial issues when other organizations wouldn’t. We have taken bold positions knowing it may take years to transform public opinion, reaching across deep divides, to find common ground.
Standing with refugees
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1965 Immigration Act as others look on at Liberty Island, NYC. Photo: Yoichi Okamoto
Amid rising xenophobia, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Immigration Act of 1924, slashing immigration to the U.S. The law made permanent strict quotas on immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and barred immigrants from Japan.
AFSC denounced the racist act. We published “Exclusion: Its Cause and Cure,” outlining the roots of racism as well as the contributions made by Japanese-Americans to the U.S. economy. We also invited Japanese representatives to visit the U.S. to help build understanding between the two countries.
“Anti-Japanese propaganda rests on race prejudice, and on economic conditions which prevailed twenty years ago,” the report stated. “The Oriental Exclusion Act, which brings resentment to the boiling point, should be repealed.”
AFSC kept up its call to abolish immigration quotas and end the ban on Asian immigrants. After decades of advocacy, Congress passed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.
Transforming Colorado into one of the country’s most pro-immigrant states
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs a bill creating an agricultural workers’ bill of rights. Behind him (holding a plant) is Juana Armijo, a Not1More Deportation Table leader who gave moving testimony on the inhumane conditions faced by farmworkers. Photo: Courtesy of Colorado Senate Democrats
In 2006, Colorado passed some of the most oppressive anti-immigrant laws in the country—including denying undocumented immigrants some public benefits and requiring local law enforcement to report them to immigration authorities.
Today, Colorado is considered a model for pro-immigrant legislation, thanks to organizing and advocacy by immigrant leaders and allies with the support of AFSC. In 2012, AFSC helped immigrant community members create the Not1More Deportation Table—a group where people facing deportation offer each other
support and work to end unjust immigration policies. AFSC provides members with opportunities to develop their leadership skills, including talking with the media and advocating with legislators.
Ensuring immigrants are at the forefront of advocacy efforts makes it possible to effect meaningful policy change. During Colorado’s 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed a dozen progressive bills to protect and expand the rights of immigrants. AFSC’s three top priorities passed: providing funding for universal
legal representation for immigrants, preventing state agencies from sharing information with immigration authorities, and creating an agricultural workers’ bill of rights.
“I see the positive impact that telling our stories can have on elected officials,” says Not1More member Liceth Bañuelos. “When we share our lived experiences in front of them, some of them change their opinion. They stop seeing us as statistics and start seeing us as active members of our community with needs like theirs.”
Research and analysis
Facts, evidence, and analysis are crucial in exposing injustices in our world.
But often that information is unavailable, inaccessible, or distorted by those who benefit from hiding the truth.
For decades, AFSC has conducted research and analysis on threats to our rights and civil liberties. These insights are a valuable resource for activists making change around the world.
Exposing surveillance abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies
In the early 1970s, the U.S. public got its first look at decades of records of surveillance by local, state, and federal government agencies like the FBI and CIA. In 1979, AFSC published a report further exposing widespread police surveillance for political reasons.
AFSC’s report, “The Police Threat to Political Liberty,” drew from more than 13,000 pages of records. It took many requests and even lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain them. This research detailed an interconnected network of intelligence agencies whose illegal and unconstitutional actions targeted peaceful dissidents, including AFSC.
These documented incidents of illegal surveillance presented “a grave threat to constitutional rights of freedom of expression, due process and privacy,” the report stated. Agencies particularly targeted Black, Latinx, and other people of color, in effect “stifling dissent and thwarting lawful attempts to seek redress of grievances or to effect social change.”
In publishing this information, AFSC garnered media attention, and the research has been used by activists and researchers to this day when analyzing police surveillance and government abuse of power.
Helping people align their investments with their values
Protest against General Mills, which manufactures Pillsbury products in an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory. Photo: Emma Leigh Sron
For two decades starting in 1969, a group of AFSC researchers staffed a program known as NARMIC (National Action/Research on the Military Industrial Complex). They researched military industries and civilian companies complicit in the Vietnam War and in South African apartheid—and created fliers, slide shows, books, and presentations for activist campaigns.
Today AFSC builds on that legacy by conducting and publishing independent research on corporate complicity in state violence and human rights violations. Our research focuses on companies involved in criminal punishment, incarceration, and immigrant detention; Israeli occupation and apartheid; and mass surveillance and border militarization. We also promote economic activism strategies to hold companies accountable and help responsible investors align their investments with their values.
In June, AFSC expanded our own socially responsible investment policy. Our updated policy makes AFSC the first institution with a comprehensive immigrant justice and mass incarceration divestment policy—which goes well beyond private prison companies—and with a commitment to divest from Israeli apartheid. “We want to invest in companies that, in turn, invest in people’s well-being, our communities’ prosperity, and our planet’s future,” says Dr. Dov Baum, director of AFSC’s Economic Activism Program.
Are your investments funding human rights violations?
Visit afsc.org/investigate to screen your investments for companies involved in mass incarceration, immigrant detention, and surveillance, military occupation, or the border industry.