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Building Peace with Justice: AFSC celebrates its 100th year

“I think this is a time when we can be extremely optimistic precisely because of the political chaos of our time; that we can organize and create the communities we want right now. We just do it without asking permission. We just go ahead and do it.” --Erica Chenoweth

From April 20 - 23, approximately 600 Quakers, past and current staff, past and present program participants and many others came together to celebrate AFSC’s hundredth year at our Waging Peace summit. It was a chance for those gathered to consider and reflect on AFSC’s legacy of work for peace and social change and how we can continue to work together for justice and transformed communities in these times.

The summit opened on a Thursday night with storytelling and song. We shared milestones in our struggles for peace and justice, including Peace Works stories from past and present AFSC staff and supporters, and enjoyed some powerful songs of joy and struggle by Tribe One.

Friday featured a full day academic symposium that showcased AFSC’s history with presentations by researchers, archival materials, and panel discussions connecting struggles across time and place.

The day ended with Erica Chenoweth’s powerful keynote (watch it below), followed by an evening gathering where alumni – staff, volunteers, and program participants – could reconnect with one another and meet AFSC’s incoming General Secretary Joyce Ajlouny.

Saturday opened with programmed worship by Quaker Palestinian Sa’ed Atshan. Aura Kanegis, director of AFSC’s Office for Public Policy and Advocacy, offered powerful songs to support Sa’ed’s message, which focused on “Sanctuaries from violence.”

AFSC staff from around the world then presented 20 workshops to help participants build their skills on topics such as ending Islamophobia, Quaker social change ministry, conscientious objection, economic activism, shifting narratives for social change, dismantling the carceral state, and more. Each of the workshop presenters shared five ways to help further the work. Take a look.

We concluded the summit with some words from AFSC’s new General Secretary, Joyce Ajlouny, a keynote by Nobel laureate Oscar Arias, and a powerful Centennial video called Love in Action.

In addition, the AFSC Corporation met on Friday and Saturday mornings, appointed new Board and Corporation members, heard reports on the finances of the organization and the work of Friends Relations, and considered the relationship between AFSC’s work and the witness of the Religious Society of Friends.

From Erica Chenoweth’s keynote:

“Thomas Kuhn has this book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” where he talks about how paradigm shifts like from the Copernican universe to the Galilean universe happened not just because Copernicus “failed,” but because Galileo brought out a new alternative that worked. We are in a space now where these problems of economic injustice, racial injustice, patriarchy and the lack of fair and functional political systems, we need alternatives to these things. The stuff we have been doing hasn’t been working; that’s why we are where we are. And we can’t have the kind of sustained nonviolent future until we find and express alternatives that actually meet the critiques that have been put forward in a way that suits as many people as possible.”

AFSC’s work rises from the strategic use of nonviolence – whether by resisting deportations through congregational sanctuary in Denver, struggling against private prisons in Arizona, supporting trauma healing in Burundi, or engaging in economic activism for a just peace in Palestine.  The present time offers us plentiful opportunity for creating the nonviolent alternatives Erica Chenoweth was talking about. It’s up to each of us to bring our skills and energy to the next era of work and witness to create a transformed future.

A Quaker on a Commune

Friends Journal - Mon, 2017-05-15 09:00

By Rashaun via Wikipedia

I am living the good life. I am well rested, nourished by tasty food, and content to have found the sweet spot of living in right relationship. I am warm and cozy by the woodstove after a few hours of outdoor work in the crisp sunshine of a Virginia winter. My housemates and I talk of possible plans for the evening: playing a board game, building a bonfire, working a few more hours, or attending a practice session on communications skills.

We are enjoying the many resources of 450 acres of wooded and farmed land in central Virginia with 100 other people who call this place, Twin Oaks Community, their home. They are all living comfortably, but also very differently from almost everyone else in the United States. Together they have created one of the most egalitarian, communal, and stable intentional communities in this country.

I am at Twin Oaks as part of the community’s three-week visitor program. As a Quaker, I yearned to be surrounded by people who were living and breathing the testimonies of simplicity, nonviolence, community, and equality. Though not a religious community, Twin Oaks has been a leader in alternative living and values in action since 1967. I had to see for myself.

Alongside seven other visitors from around the country, I experienced being a part of this strong intentional community. As visitors, we committed to not spend more than the member’s monthly allowance of about $100 and to embrace simplicity and communality. Twin Oaks members commit to radical sharing. They freeze their assets from their previous endeavors and share housing, meals, and supplies.

The average American consumes five times what our planet can sustain. The average Twin Oaker consumes to support just one healthy planet. They organically grow much of their own food, but not everything. They have solar panels and shared cars. They balance a commitment to values with practicality. And “scarcity” is not a word I have heard since arriving. While members refer to budget restraints and frugality, there are ample resources. The community provides for all basic needs.

The community’s bedrock is a commitment to egalitarianism through a complicated but liberating labor system. Each member works 42 hours a week. This is broadly defined; it includes childcare, cleaning, and cooking, covers most of the needed elements to sustain its population. I joyfully haven’t washed a dish since I arrived. But I have planted in the garden, raked leaves, cooked dinner, bagged tempeh, and helped make a hammock. Twin Oaks has a few successful collectively owned businesses that financially support the community while creating opportunities to support their deepest values. A professor and high school graduate work side by side in the tofu factory. There is an assumption and a culture that everyone is going to do good work and contribute positively in diverse ways. The combination of equal responsibility and simplicity leads to a high quality of life, and one very different from the mainstream.

I am impressed by this and by the seeming ease with which this community provides for itself. So many of us around the country spend our lives “making a living” so we squeeze what we really care about into evenings and weekends, exhausted but determined to make a difference. Our faith is bookended by appointments and errands. We are in the car a lot. We are stressed. Here at Twin Oaks I find myself with ample free time. I linger over conversations and take walks. I read. The long-term members make art, spend time with their friends and children, and participate in “movement-building” by volunteering locally and traveling to relevant protests and demonstrations. They spend time figuring out how Twin Oaks can do better. I went to a lunchtime chat about the implications of having online movie streaming for their community, which has a “no TV” rule. The orientation pamphlet title is “Not Utopia Yet.”

Reminiscent of my experiences in Quaker communities, not everyone likes each other here. People gossip. While there is a growing interest in direct communication and conflict resolution, a culture of conflict-avoidance permeates here too. Also like a community of Friends, most members are invested in and committed to the community, and consider it worthy of their time and energy. And if they don’t, they can try to make changes or leave. In both communities, members share decision making.

Unlike Friends, there is no group worship at Twin Oaks. There is no guiding Spirit. Twin Oakers don’t hold hands before a meal or share a 400-year-old culture of alternative values and struggle. Still, in many ways, I see people here at Twin Oaks living our values more completely than most of us do as a Religious Society.

Friends, let’s find inspiration here!

One long-time member reflected that Twin Oaks, which will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary next year, is “no longer an experiment but a model.” They have figured out a lot. A serious commitment to values is possible when there is a supportive social structure that sits on a foundation of shared economies. I’d like us to learn together how we could do more of this as Friends, to find inspiration together for how to live creative, value-driven lives. Here is a peek into right livelihood—and it is joyous and possible. Not all of us are going to live in an intentional community, but we can take lessons from our peers and move forward as a Society toward lives of better sharing, simplicity and equality.

The post A Quaker on a Commune appeared first on Friends Journal.

Three Things You Should Know About Peacebuilding Funding for 2017

On May 5, Congress passed the FY 2017 spending bill funding the government through September. Despite President Trump’s request to cut funding for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency of International Development by nearly 30%, Congress fully funded peacebuilding accounts. Below are three victories for peacebuilding within the 2017 spending bill.

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NGOs Express Concern Over Weapons Sale to Nigerian Government

A group of NGOs write to the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to convey their concerns regarding reports that the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, with mounted machine guns and related parts and logistical support to the government of Nigeria.

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Profiting from war: Israel’s arms sales to the Sudan and around the world

Building peace

Last week 53 Israeli Human Rights activists submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding a criminal investigation against Israeli arms dealers who sold arms to the Mathiang Anyoor militia in South Sudan. This sale, like all legal sales of arms from Israel, was authorized by the Israeli ministry of defense. The Israeli assault rifles sold to South Sudan were used by Mathiang Anyoor to kill dozens of people, mostly from the Nuer tribe, in December 2013 in what became the beginning of the bloody civil war in the country.

A few months earlier, in 2013, by-passing the governmental channels, the head of the South Sudanese national security service brokered an arms deal between Israeli manufacturers and the South Sudanese president, for Galil ACE assault rifles to be used by the Mathiang Anyoor militia – a governmental-run militia, that literally trained in the private farm of the president. This sale was done after the EU already declared an arms embargo on the country, and the US stopped selling arms there. It seemed that Israeli officials in the ministry of defense and foreign affairs didn’t agree with the clear statements of their European and American counter-parts and had no issue with authorizing this sale. More arms sales, more funds fueling Israel’s arms industry, more taxes for the government, and more political support from another young African country.

The guns are already there, have already taken lives, and will continue to do so – that is not something that 53 Israeli activists 2,600 miles away can change. But this is ongoing. Just two years ago a UN report revealed Israeli surveillance software was used by the South Sudanese government to fund, jail and at times kill local dissidents. And this is not just in South Sudan, but also true just across the border where Israeli surveillance equipment was reportedly used by the Ugandan government to spy on and arrest LGBTQ activists. It isn’t restricted to Africa either. Israeli arms can be seen used by oppressive regimes from Burma and the Philippines to Colombia. Israeli training of police forces is felt in St. Louis, as well as in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro.

Military export and training has become one of Israel’s main incomes, as well as diplomatic tools, and it is that constantly growing interest and dependency Israel is developing on exporting systems of oppression that these activists are trying to change. And to make that change there is a need for accountability. Accountability for the people executing and partaking in atrocities around the world, but also accountability for those making a profit out of them, and even those pushing papers behind the scenes that make all of this possible.

On June 6th-8th, Israel will hold its biggest arms fair – ISDEF – and will host representatives from over 90 counties buying and selling arms that will fuel conflicts around the globe. AFSC together with our partners at the Coalition of Women for Peace are organizing a shadow conference to this, aiming to show Israeli society what these weapons sold in the exhibit actually do around the world, and at home when they are used on Palestinians.

Comey Firing Raises Concerns

Both Republicans and Democrats are questioning President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey on May 9.

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FCNL's Yasmine Taeb Speaks at Rally Opposing Muslim Ban as Fourth Circuit Hears Arguments

As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the suspension of President Trump's Muslim ban executive order, FCNL lobbyist Yasmine Taeb addressed a crowd in Richmond, VA, gathered in solidarity with Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.

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Natural Gas Waste Rule Upheld

This morning marked a big victory for cutting harmful methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas emission that costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted resources.

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UPDATED: Effects of Health Care Repeal in Indian Country

Until last week, Congress was unable to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the House decided to try again, with a modified version of the defeated proposal, the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628). The House passed the bill with a very slim margin (5 votes) on Friday, May 5.

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Native American Legislative Update - April 2017

Congress is most absorbed these days with budget issues and health care repeal and replacement -- both of which affect Indian Country deeply.

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UPDATED: Following the Money

More than 180 days late, Congress finally passed a spending bill for the current fiscal year – FY2017 – on May 5. Indian programs fared relatively well in this continuing resolution – better than many other domestic programs, but not as well as military programs.

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24 Religious Organizations Urge Trump to Remain in Paris Climate Agreement

Today, a coalition of 24 religious groups sent a letter to the White House and key Administration and Congressional leaders, urging that the United States remain a signatory to the Paris Agreement.

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Opportunities to Cut Pentagon Spending this Year

President Trump wants to increase Pentagon spending, but Congress will make the ultimate decision. While Congress is often only too eager to fund military programs — whether or not the Pentagon requests them — members are open to influence from their constituents.

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Quaker Vision & Collective Action to Rein in Pentagon Spending

Advocacy Teams form a powerful network of advocates across the country. This year, we're working to rein in Pentagon spending.

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“We Can’t Kill Our Way to Victory”

The Trump administration may believe that violence and its threat is enough to advance U.S. interests, but few policy experts or military leaders agree. Instead, they argue that an “America first” approach will be more expensive, feed cycles of crisis that allow extremism to thrive, and put U.S. troops in needless danger.

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More Bombs Won't Bring More Peace

President Donald Trump is proposing massive increases in Pentagon spending. Lamenting that “we never win wars anymore,” the president sought a $30 billion increase in the Pentagon’s budget this year, to be followed by $54 billion more next year. In Congress, leaders on the Armed Services committees have proposed a $100 billion increase for next year.

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23 Religious Organizations Urge Trump to Remain in Paris Climate Agreement

Today, a coalition of 23 religious groups sent a letter to the White House and key Administration and Congressional leaders, urging that the United States remain a signatory to the Paris Agreement.

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Sweet Ol’ Camp Tunes

Friends Journal - Mon, 2017-05-08 09:00

Every time “Wagon Wheel” is played, my mind wanders back to memories of camp: the green grass, the wildlife, and especially the people. One day a couple of my camp friends and I were just hanging out and chatting around the kitchen table at a camp reunion. It was the fall right after a very fun and eventful summer at camp. The light above the table gave a warm, comforting yellow glow. My friends faces were hazily illuminated, creating an almost dream-like atmosphere. A familiar smell filled the air. Pizza was being baked with a variety of spices, meats, and cheeses. We had been talking for some time and reminiscing fond memories, so I got up and began to roam around the house. I wandered into a dark room filled with dusty guitars and a large variety of acoustic instruments. In the corner sat an old piano covered in some cobwebs. It reminded me of one of those old-time western pianos, just sitting in a bar waiting to be played. The wooden floors creaked under my weight as I approached and picked up a guitar and blew the dust off of it. I plucked each string, surprisingly in tune. I began to play a few chords, when I felt the urge to play a song. I started playing the four magical chords of “Wagon Wheel.”

As I was playing the intro, each of my friends came and joined me in singing the song:

Heading down south to the land of the pines,
I’m thumbing my way into North Carolina.
Staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights.

One of my friends, Alex, picks up a stand-up bass and lays down a nice mellow beat. His brown hair bounces up-and-down with the bass line: bum, bum, bum, bum. Everyone begins mumbling the rest of the phrase but then crescendos into the chorus: “So rock me momma like a wagon wheel. / Rock me momma any way you feel. / Heyyyyyyyy momma rock me.” The words of the chorus attract the rest of my friends who soon join the ensemble. Their eyes look at me like, why didn’t you tell us sooner? I just shake my head with a grin and continue on with the song. Sean, Joshua, and Elliott are swinging their heads to the beat, drunk on the good memories of camp. The singing was drowning out the sound of the guitar and bass, so everyone picked up an instrument and contributed to the rich sound. My friend Daniel sat down at a piano and played in harmony with the guitar. The piano completed the old-timey antique, rustic sound with the plunking of the old keys.

Running from the cold up in New England.
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time stringband.
My baby plays the guitar; I pick a banjo now.

The whole house is now rocking, shaking, and humming to our collective, robust music. Everyone’s favorite part is coming up, and the emotions are erupting! Everyone suddenly stops playing the instruments. I look around at all of my friends who are smiling with big grins on their faces. Our voices stand alone: “Walkin’ to the south out of Roanoke.” Everybody crescendos and then shouts, “I caught a trucker out of Philly; HAD A NICE LONG TOKE!” The instruments kick back in and carry our voices to the end of the song like an ocean wave. “So rock me momma like a wagon wheel. / Rock me momma any way you feel. / Heyyyyyyy momma rock me!”

With a final strum of the guitar, everything comes to a halt. Silence fills the air. The only sounds that are present are the walls, which are still vibrating from the rhythmic tunes. The silence is bland without the strumming of guitars or the beating of the bass, but it is the most prominent aspect in the moment. The room suddenly erupts with emotion as we all began laughing and hugging each other, with tears in our eyes, in a state of ecstasy. Never had I felt more happy and secure with a group of people in my entire life. The only thing we could manage to say was “One more song!” And like that we were off again: singing and reminiscing about the sandy shores and the olive green ocean bay of Echo Hill.


The post Sweet Ol’ Camp Tunes appeared first on Friends Journal.

Quaker Peacebuilding Efforts Before Kenya's Elections

According to David Bucura, coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative, "Kenya is in tension and is hot in some places now. There is big tension before the elections.” AGLI is a project of the Friends Peace Teams which supports peace activities in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

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White People aren't stupid: Note to my white self

Ending discrimination

White people are not stupid.

I know you’ve been frustrated lately. You’ve encountered white people who can’t seem to understand the difference between racial prejudice and racism. You’ve had several white people call you racist for challenging their racism, as if that were possible. You spent a whole day going back and forth with a white woman who insisted she had been the victim of racism from people of color. Don’t be confused. These people are not stupid.

Stupidity is a lack of intelligence. Systemic racism is not the product of stupid people. The white businessmen who created slavery in America were cunning, smart. The white politicians who justified slavery did so intentionally. Voter suppression, redlining, segregation, the war on drugs and anti-immigrant policies are all creations of intelligent white people. Most white people are not stupid. They are ignorant.

Ignorance is the decision to ignore certain facts and realities. Slave traders and slave owners had to ignore the humanity of people of color in order to justify slavery. White politicians had to ignore injustices and inequities in order to justify inhumane laws. Those who argue with you about systemic racism will not be swayed by your facts, statistics and studies. It is not that they are too stupid to understand them. They have intentionally chosen to ignore them.

For someone who explains systemic racism to others, you still don’t seem to fully appreciate its origins. Systemic racism is a cleverly constructed system to perpetuate and justify the mistreatment and abuse of people of color. It took hundreds of years to create. The arguments and rationalizations you’re encountering are not the utterances of stupid people. They are the carefully crafted, time tested and well-honed defenses of racism.

This is so important for you to understand. You have been under the false impression that you can quickly and easily persuade ignorant white people of the reality of systemic racism and white privilege. They aren’t stupid. They know what you’re trying to do. They aren’t impressed by your arguments. They couldn't care less about your facts. It is these arguments and facts they have chosen to ignore.

I know you don’t want to accept this, but education alone will not end systemic racism. If the defenders of systemic racism were stupid, it would have collapsed long ago. Thinking of and labeling racist white people as unintelligent is a big mistake. In so doing, you seriously underestimate their capability to sustain the system. When they confuse the meaning of racism, they aren’t being stupid. 

So you need to stop arguing with them. You know within a few minutes whether someone is stupid, ignorant or uninformed. If they are stupid, they can’t understand the complexities of systemic racism. If they are ignorant, they have decided to ignore them. The only conversations worth having are with those who express a lack of understanding and a real curiosity about racism. Since you were once such a person, be patient with those people.

The stupid and the ignorant require a different approach. As with any societal behavior, systemic racism will only end when the costs outweigh the benefits. One of those costs must be shame. The decrease in smoking in America involved changing laws and educating people about its dangers, but its decline was primarily driven by a shift in public opinion. When smoking began to be seen as a nasty habit, people began to abandon it.

This is equally true in confronting systemic racism. The facts about systemic racism are no more disputable than those around the ills of smoking. The problem is not with the facts, but with the unwillingness of many white people to abandon this nasty habit. Until white people become ashamed of systemic racism, societal change will not come.

So stop debating the reality of racism with the ignorant.

Instead, challenge the cruelty behind their rhetoric. When white people justify police brutality, ask how they can be so heartless when fathers and sons are murdered. When they support anti-immigrant or refugee laws, ask how they can be so cruel when families are torn apart or left in squalor. When they defend laws and policies that discriminate, ask how they can be so unfair. When they express racist sentiments, ask how they can be so ugly.

When systemic racism is seen as heartless, cruel, unfair and ugly by our society, most white people will abandon its defense.

After all, they aren’t stupid.

This piece was oriignally published at James' blog, Note to my White Self.

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