Kerri Kennedy, associate general secretary of international programs
Q: How do you describe AFSC’s international work?
A: AFSC works to build peace and transform systems of oppression. The goals of peace and justice unify all our work, but the strategy may vary in different countries. Our work is rooted in communities and also strategically addresses conflict and oppressive systems at the national and international levels.
Q: How does AFSC’s peace-building work differ from other organizations’ approaches?
A: The Quaker belief in the light in all people and the AFSC position that we work with all groups distinguish us. We employ a variety of strategies—quiet diplomacy, advocacy, civil resistance, peace building, and humanitarian service—to achieve our goals. Our values lead us at times to take courageous positions, even if it risks our program operations.
We’re also one of a few organizations with offices overseas and across the U.S. doing on-the-ground work, an office in Washington, D.C., and an office in the United Nations. Our ability to convene and mobilize people is uncommon.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in this work?
A: Our biggest challenge is that governments and institutions are adopting much more restrictive policies on the space that civil society organizations, like AFSC, can operate in. It can amount to the criminalization of peace building.
Recently, AFSC was among 20 organizations barred from entering Israel because of our support of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In the U.S., with different anti-terrorism legislation, it’s illegal for any group to engage with anyone the U.S. government chooses to put on a list. But as a peace-building organization, we are called to engage with everybody. If you don’t engage armed groups, you can’t come to a resolution for a conflict.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the innovative tools you use in this work?
A: We are using a great strategic tool called “network weaving.” Where we have been most successful in our history, say the anti-apartheid movement, we’ve consciously linked movements—like the pan-African movement with the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.—to bridge and spark energies. Now we’re using tools to map where we have connections and determine where we can make more connections to create lasting change.
Another innovative approach we’re using is narrative change. That’s using communications research to map out where current public narratives are regarding an important issue and figuring out how to influence people so new alternatives become politically possible.
Q: What are some examples of the impact that AFSC has had in recent years?
A: In every country, AFSC’s programs have changed lives. In Indonesia, we’ve been instrumental in supporting local partners to build interfaith tolerance and harmony through community and youth activism. That promotes pluralism and supports partners working for change on the national level. In places like Guatemala, we’re working with youth in violent communities to reclaim public spaces and show it’s possible to find peace in places where it seems impossible.
Q: How can people in the U.S. support peace-building work in other countries?
A: Americans can help amplify voices of people building peace in their communities. Look for progressive peace builders on social media and share their messages. Support local organizations with funding, especially those led by people most affected by conflict and oppression. Talk to your elected officials about conflicts you’re concerned about to make it a priority for them and organize others.
AFSC’s work promotes shared security, which essentially means “my peace is your peace.” All of us can do better to make the world more tolerant, more loving, more peaceful, more courageous in speaking out against injustice. There are larger systems that need transformation, but these are things we can practice every day.