Sometimes it seems as if I have always been involved in the American Friends Service Committee in some way. My serious work with the AFSC started in 1950, when I was asked by the College Secretary for New England (George Select) to form a “Peace Cell.” We introduced the idea of conscientious objection to a new environment, and started some conversations.
As a former AFSC board clerk, I had a lot of wonderful experiences with the organization, but something that stands out in my memory is my work on an international code of conduct on arms transfers.
It all started when Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica, reached out to me. He wanted to get the Nobel Peace Prize laureates together to offer the world a code of conduct for the trade in arms. I supported the idea immediately and got support from the Quake UN staff in New York and Geneva that joined us in working on the program until we were ultimately successful.
The Peace Prize laureates joined together and voiced our concerns about the unregulated global arms trade and its impact on human security. Quakers are committed to working towards a world without weapons – but I knew that the goal had to be achieved incrementally.
That work that we started in the early 90s recently resulted in the Arms Trade Treaty – a multilateral treaty that regulates the international trade in conventional weapons. My work with the Service Committee was focused on taking steps that would get us closer to world peace.
During my time with the Service Committee, Pope John Paul II and Michael Gorbachav led a meeting in Rome to celebrate the millennium in 2000 focused on equal distribution of funds for actions with significant starvation among the poor. A group of Nobel Peace Laureates and their representatives got together and I had the opportunity to meet John Paul. When I did not bow and kiss his ring I offered the explanation that I was Quaker. He told me, “You people do the most wonderful work. Promise to keep doing it.” And he repeated his comment again as we parted.
Sometimes it is hard to see the progress but then I think about the things that we have achieved, and the people who have encouraged us, and I know that I want to continue to support the American Friends Service Committee.