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American Friends Service Committee To Close Western Mass. Chapter

Peace activist Frances Crowe poses for a portrait in December 2016.
File photo
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Peace activist Frances Crowe poses for a portrait Dec. 2, 2016, in her Northampton home.

A venerable peace and social justice group responsible for many anti-war protests in the Pioneer Valley is shutting down. The western Massachusetts chapter of the American Friends Service Committee said it will close its doors at the end of September after nearly 50 years of activism.

As these things tend to, the decision to close came down to money, said Jeff Napolitano, the director of AFSC's western Massachusetts chapter.

“For about nine months now, we've been aware that there's a bit of a financial crisis at the international headquarters, and although we knew that there were going to be cuts to the organization coming, we only found out that that was going to happen here in western Massachusetts," Napolitano said.

The American Friends’ international headquarters in Philadelphia could not be reached for comment. But Napolitano said he believes another 20 chapters are also slated to close. And despite being located in a progressive, politically active region, he said the local chapter's hands were tied.

“We actually weren't allowed to try to fund raise out of the problem because that function is done at the headquarters in Philadelphia. When they have a financial problem, we have a financial problem,” said Napolitano.

“There's just not the money in our society and culture now. And the people who have it are hanging on to it,” said Frances Crowe, who founded the local chapter of American Friends in the basement of her Northampton home in 1968.

“I was a volunteer for 24 years and it didn't really cost AFSC very much except our printing and mailing," she said. "But things have changed a lot since, and I think the national office isn’t able to raise the money. It takes big money now for all of these small offices to operate."

Now 98 years old and describing herself as somewhat retired, Crowe continues to participate in a weekly peace vigil in Northampton, as well as running a free film series at the local library.

Both she and Napolitano are trying to make sure peace activism continues in western Massachusetts, albeit in a different form and under a different name. Last week, a fundraising campaign was launched for a new organization called the Pioneer Valley Peace Center. Napolitano said 13 percent of the $75,000 goal was raised in the first four days.

“National organizations, particularly national organizations that are older, are sort of struggling to continue the work," Napolitano said. "But I think that the solution is really to look for the support directly in the communities where people are doing the work. And so that's what we're trying to do here."

Meanwhile, Napolitano said the work of the western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee will continue through the summer. The group heads to the statehouse on Friday to testify before lawmakers on the Safe Communities Act, which would prohibit the use of state funds and resources for federal immigration enforcement.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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