AFSC and Ending Discrimination
Ending discrimination is a key concern for the American Friends Service Committee. The AFSC believes that all forms of discrimination are racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism (discrimination in favour of able-bodied people), ageism, religious discrimination, and colonialism are all barriers to building a just and peaceful world. AFSC works with communities in the U.S. and across the globe to foster diversity, inclusion, and equality.
Some notable campaigns in the history of the AFSC, aimed at ending discrimination, include:
1925: Responding to the racism of the 1924 Immigration Act, which explicitly excluded further Japanese immigration, the AFSC brought representatives from Japan to the US to promote understanding between the people of both countries. Japanese Quaker Nitobe Inazo, then based in the US, also protested against this.
1920s & 30s – During the Depression Era, workers who went on strike to protest appalling conditions were often subject to extreme deprivations. The AFSC provided relief for striking workers, for example, miners in West Virginia in 1921 and textile workers in North Carolina in 1934.
1941: When, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US interned some 110k people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, the AFSC were one of the few groups who advocated for them. They also helped interned students to find places in East Coast colleges, and found homes and jobs for older adults.
1955: During the McCarthy era, when many individuals and organisations, including the AFSC themselves, were accused of having ‘communist sympathies’, the AFSC published “Speak Truth to Power,” challenging the idea that lasting security would only be achieved through military might.
1963: The AFSC actively supported the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. When civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on scraps of paper, the AFSC helped to ensure its publication in the Quaker-edited journal, Liberation, one of whose editors was Quaker Bayard Rustin. The letter defended the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism.
1979: Following a Freedom of Information request, the AFSC published information on the illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of peaceful dissidents, minorities, and groups including the AFSC themselves, by government organisations such as the FBI and the CIA.
1986: During the 1960s and 1970s, the AFSC supported the growing LGBT movements against violence and discrimination. In 1986, the first programmes designed explicitly to support LGBT people in the community were established in Seattle and Portland. In 1988, they published Bridges of Respect: Creating Support for Lesbian & Gay Youth.
2010: When the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists under the pretext of investigating terrorism, the AFSC joined other faith groups in denouncing the violation of the activists’ constitutional rights and the criminalization of dissent.
Today, the AFSC continues to work on ending discrimination, both at home and abroad.
In cities around the US, AFSC workers fostering dialogue that helps to build communities which welcome immigrants and understand what they can contribute, respecting their rights and aiming to treat all people kindly, fairly, and humanely.
To help foster religious tolerance, AFSC develops materials such as videos designed to support dialogue, bridge-building, and cultural exchange in US communities with immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries.
The AFSC helps support the rights of LGBT people at home and abroad. In Indonesia in 2011, the AFSC organised youth conference on diversity and inclusion, which led to the development of a Peace Torch which has been carried at events around Indonesia.
Following a spate of killings of unarmed black men in the US in 2014, AFSC staff have been assessing what more can be done to eliminate systematic racism in the justice system.
The AFSC recognises that racism also creates a system of ‘white privilege.’ Projects like the Freedom School in Seattle bring young adults together to discuss issues of institutional racism and systemic poverty to learn ways to tackle these issues.