I've always admired the Quakers. I admire the Quakers because they have always been among the first advocates of the various civil rights movements that have weaved its way through our American history: they were in the forefront of the abolitionist movement, the right of women to vote, and the antiwar movement. Around three years ago, I attended two Quaker services in San Jose, California, and found it to be a really meditative service. Though I eventually became an Episcopalian, my admiration for the Friends remains. The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker group that was founded in 1917 during World War I. Since its founding, the AFSC has continued to put Quaker values into action in our country and around the world.
In their Mission Statement that was adopted by their Board of Directors in June 19, 1994 states:
This AFSC community works to transform conditions and relationships both in the world and in ourselves, which threaten to overwhelm what is precious in human beings. We nurture the faith that conflicts can be resolved nonviolently, that enmity can be transformed into friendship, strife into cooperation, poverty into well-being, and injustice into dignity and participation. We believe that ultimately goodness can prevail over evil, and oppression in all its many forms can give way.Today, the AFSC is working to bring the troops home from Afganistan and Iraq through advocacy and education work to teach the public and our politicians of the human and economic costs of the war.
We cherish the belief that there is that of God in each person, leading us to respect the worth and dignity of all. We are guided and empowered by the Spirit in following the radical thrust of the early Christian witness. From these beliefs flow the core understandings that form the spiritual framework of our organization and guide its work.
We regard no person as our enemy. While we often oppose specific actions and abuses of power, we seek to address the goodness and truth in each individual.
We assert the transforming power of love and nonviolence as a challenge to injustice and violence and as a force for reconciliation.
We seek and trust the power of the Spirit to guide the individual and collective search for truth and practical action.
We accept our understandings of truth as incomplete and have faith that new perceptions of truth will continue to be revealed both to us and to others.
We seek to understand and address the root causes of poverty, injustice, and war. We hope to act with courage and vision in taking initiatives that may not be popular.
We are called to confront, nonviolently, powerful institutions of violence, evil, oppression, and injustice. Such actions may engage us in creative tumult and tension in the process of basic change. We seek opportunities to help reconcile enemies and to facilitate a peaceful and just resolution of conflict.
They've worked for the abolition of nuclear weapons through their advocacy of such things as the recent START treaty that was passed last December.
The AFSC is fighting for a humane immigration policy must include a fair path for undocumented workers to gain permanent residence status. Coupled with this, the AFSC is fighting for working people to earn a living wage in their native countries.
The American Friends Service Committee is also fighting for the right of incarcerated people to have proper medical care, appropriate mental health services, and interaction with others. This work includes fighting against the death penalty.
The American Friends Service Committee has influenced many activists, from Grace Paley to Bayard Rustin. Grace Paley wrote in her book Just As I Thought:
Another fact, I came out of a socialist background as a kid and my meeting with pacifists was an extraordinary experience. I met people in the American Friends and the War Resistors League, people like that, totally unfamiliar to me...They continue to do commendable work that is an inspiration for all progressive activists to follow.
...So my meeting in the early sixties, very early, maybe even '59, with what I later discovered were Friends, was a real breakthrough. The whole idea, the simple sentence "Speak truth to power" really shook me. I was writing more and more stories and thinking about the truth of art and the truth of politics and going further- Act truth to power.