American Friends Service Committee to close, but leaders vow to continue agitating

  • Peace activist Frances Crowe poses for a portrait Dec. 2, 2016 in her Northampton home. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/1/2017 3:10:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After almost 50 years of activism in the region, the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts will close down on Sept. 30, though the organization’s leadership hopes to continue its work under a different name.

Legendary local activist Frances Crowe founded the chapter in 1968 to provide draft and military counseling in resistance to the Vietnam War, consistent with the pacifist values of the Quaker faith. Since those early days, the AFSC of Western Massachusetts has broadened its focus to include other social justice and peace education initiatives.

“Our office’s closure is part of a wave of cuts to AFSC staff and programs across the country,” the organization’s Program Support Committee said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the circumstances in the national organization are beyond our control. Contributions of money to the AFSC at this point will not keep our office open, and we were not allowed to fundraise to prevent the closure of our office.”

Director and program coordinator Jeff Napolitano said that he and others hope to continue the organization’s work, but under the auspices of a different entity.

“I’m obviously disappointed that the work isn’t going to continue through AFSC,” Napolitano said, nevertheless striking an optimistic tone about the future. “Now more than any time, I have had the most interest, I’ve been the busiest that I’ve ever been before, I’ve had more volunteers than the capacity that I have to handle.”

Reached by phone on Thursday, 98-year-old Crowe praised Napolitano’s work.

“It’s really very sad, but these national organizations, you know, many of them are dying out,” she said. “I think the people will come together and figure out how to resolve these problems, but can’t wait for a national organization to figure it out for them.”

Crowe said the group began in the basement of her home, counseling young men being drafted into the Vietnam War. In the following years, the group expanded its attention to efforts like opposing U.S.-backed wars in Central America and pushing institutions to divest from apartheid South Africa.

In part because of that work, the University of Massachusetts became one of the first universities to divest from the apartheid regime, Crowe said.

“The work goes on. Maybe not on the national level as much as in the past, but certainly locally,” Crowe said. “All over the United States there are groups organizing around issues like climate and militarism and resources.”

That future work, Napolitano said, may even benefit from eliminating the administrative tasks inherent in belonging to a national organization.

“The largest challenge is trying to identify the local financial support to continue the work that we have been doing, and not just continue but to expand the work we have been doing,” he said.

In the meantime, however, the organization will continue its initiatives with community partners, like military counter-recruitment, establishing local sanctuary cities and supporting local social justice organizing.

Crowe said she’s optimistic about the work of the organization continuing in the future, and about the activist energy in the Pioneer Valley.

“A lot more people are involved in what’s going on than ever before,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.




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