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Optimism in the face of fear

Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

A farewell by Shan Cretin, AFSC general secretary

As we celebrated AFSC’s 100th anniversary this April, scholars, staff, Friends, activists, supporters, and partners from around the world gathered in Philadelphia to hold a summit for peace and justice. In this issue of Quaker Action, we offer a few of the many lessons on peace building and social justice that came out of our centennial summit. Here and through social media, we are sharing these insights as widely as possible, so people can learn from our experience.

In the pages that follow, you can learn from AFSC’s efforts to bring peace and justice to border communities in the U.S. and Mexico. Or learn effective ways to counter Islamophobia and to change the pernicious, fear-based narratives that justify discrimination and militarism.

After reading the stories highlighted here please visit our website for more about overcoming mass incarceration, working for peace in violent Central American communities, or how business investments can drive conflict—or contribute to peace.

A particularly inspiring part of the weekend was Erica Chenoweth’s keynote address, “Nonviolent Action Today: Why Now is Not the Time to Despair.” Erica provides a thoughtful, accessible analysis of the worldwide state of peace and liberal democracy, drawing on her groundbreaking research on the effectiveness of nonviolent civil resistance and on the insights of others. Even more important—and why I’ve been sharing the AFSC website link to her presentation with everyone I know—she offers a hopeful prescription for action.

In her talk, Erica noted that today, we are at a high-water mark for civic engagement, reversing a decades-long trend toward disengagement. The rhetoric and executive orders from the Trump administration have offered little that supports our vision for peace, justice, or a beloved community. Yet new resistance is emerging that highlights the interconnections among human rights, economic and social justice, and peace movements.

More and more first-time supporters and re-energized longtime activists—including women, immigrants, scientists, and a broad spectrum of faith communities—are awakening to the power of love and mutual respect to transform the climate of fear and reclaim our democracy. This is a true reason for hope and optimism.

As I prepare to retire after seven years as general secretary, I’m also hopeful about the future of AFSC. In September, Joyce Ajlouny will take up this role, bringing new perspectives and opportunities to AFSC community that reflect her rich background with the United Nations, Oxfam, and Ramallah Friends School. You can get a small preview of Joyce’s talents and passions in this interview.

AFSC is a vibrant community of people from diverse backgrounds, united in their stubbornly optimistic commitment to peace and social justice. I have been privileged to be part of this community for decades, as a committee member, donor, regional director, and general secretary.

And I look forward to staying connected after I retire, knowing that peace is not a destination but a lifelong journey.

Thanks to all of you who have been such loyal traveling companions. Thanks for your refusal to give in to apathy, cynicism, or violence, even in the face of war, tyranny, and oppression.

For 100 years AFSC has been a nurturing home for those willing to work for a more just and peaceful world. Please join me in welcoming and supporting Joyce as she guides the Service Committee into its second century of inspired—and still much needed—Quaker service.