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United States: New frames of thinking

United States: New frames of thinking

Published: March 11, 2014
Youth participants in the IHTD film festival

AFSC Baltimore True Livin' project participant Sophia (left) interviews IHTD filmmakers A.J. (center) and Kasiem.

Photo: AFSC / Bryan Vana

In 37 locations across the U.S., AFSC works with young people, communities, policymakers, and partners to promote peace, challenge inequities, transform unjust systems, and build alternatives grounded in the common good.

Waging Peace

When President Obama called on Congress to authorize military strikes on Syria in September, public opposition effectively pressured the U.S. to support diplomatic options instead. More than 10 years of AFSC’s public education on the human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly made a difference. So did our ongoing work to prevent the next war.

From a high-level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on nuclear nonproliferation to events held with faith communities, partners, and youth, AFSC facilitated conversations about just and lasting peace—and what each of us can do to help achieve it.

Young people across the country called for better federal budget priorities, with 250 submitting original videos for our If I Had a Trillion Dollars film festival.

AFSC partnered with 119 diverse national organizations on a sign-on letter asking Congress to “pull the pork” from the Pentagon budget. Campaigns with partners in Kansas City, Mo., Raleigh, N.C., and Massachusetts resulted in calls on Congress to move money from the military to fund human needs.

These efforts and others brought hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals to affirm that reducing military spending is key to funding education, healthcare, green energy, and more.

Youth leadership

Young people are among the most deeply affected by high rates of unemployment, violence, and discrimination. They are also important agents of change.

Youth organizers in Seattle worked tirelessly to bring a message of “education not incarceration” to teachers, school administrators, and others this year, challenging policies that effectively funnel children into prison. Students in St. Louis took steps to free their high school of violence after learning about the extraordinary incarceration and homicide rates affecting African-American youth in Missouri. Students at the Chesapeake Center, an alternative school in Maryland, embraced a peer-to-peer mentoring program designed to reduce violence.

In Los Angeles, young people won approval for a new raised-bed garden at a housing project located in one of the city’s food deserts. Participants in AFSC’s 67 Sueños program in the San Francisco Bay Area advocated for humane immigration policy with a mural depicting the injustices of the nation’s first bracero “guest worker” program. Young people in New Orleans created a mural promoting youth as role models, advocates, and leaders. And 10 young people working with AFSC programs across the country came together for a human rights summit in Washington, D.C., where they honed research and advocacy skills to bring back home.

Humane immigration policy

AFSC campaigned hard for humane immigration policy this year, and not just in Congress. As senators and representatives took up bills, AFSC engaged communities in legislative advocacy and advocated for humane reforms in Washington. At the same time, we worked hand-in-hand with partners to make change from the ground up.

Those efforts had concrete results: California passed the TRUST Act, limiting local collaboration with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Colorado passed laws offering in-state tuition and driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and repealed the state’s “show me your papers law.” The Newark, N.J., Police Department issued a policy to ensure immigrants feel safe contacting the police in an emergency, and Amherst and Northampton, Mass., passed ordinances addressing similar concerns. Homestead, Fla., considered making municipal identification cards available to all residents, regardless of immigration status. And Dayton, Ohio, was recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors for its efforts to welcome immigrants as partners in revitalization and job creation.

At the same time, AFSC assisted thousands of immigrants who couldn’t otherwise afford legal representation, including the mentally ill, unaccompanied minors, survivors of domestic violence, young people applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, those in detention, and those seeking Temporary Protected Status. We also helped victims of wage theft, offered “Know Your Rights” trainings, and provided citizenship classes that helped approximately 200 Haitians attain citizenship.

Justice in the system

When 30,000 California prisoners went on a hunger strike last summer, over three dozen of them refusing food for 60 days, AFSC staff served on the mediation team representing them. Prisoners overcame broad differences to build consensus for the nonviolent action, which succeeded in opening a dialogue with prison officials and policymakers.

That dialogue is sorely needed, as AFSC staff and volunteers in Michigan and New Jersey who responded to more than 1,300 prisoner letters can attest. Across the country, AFSC worked closely with prisoners, faith communities, families, advocates, police, corrections staff, and policymakers to end human rights violations and systemic racial injustices and to promote institutional change.

As Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) celebrated its 30th anniversary and with it, the launch of what has become a multi-billion dollar industry, AFSC’s program in Arizona made clear that pioneering for-profit prisons is nothing to celebrate. In fact, the private prison record in Arizona helped AFSC and partners convince the state of New Hampshire to reject bids for privatization this year, despite intense lobbying by prison operators.

From testimonies that helped persuade the San Joaquin, Calif., County Board to reject a proposed prison expansion to the launch of a new mentoring program for lifers in New York prisons, AFSC promoted alternative approaches to prevent harm and to facilitate healing.

Ending poverty, creating opportunity

A campaign to end child poverty in West Virginia achieved many of its first year objectives, thanks to organizing efforts by AFSC and partners. Results included hard-won Medicaid expansion, funding for child care and family violence prevention programs, an innovative school nutrition law, health coverage for teenage mothers, and prison reform.

In New Mexico, AFSC doubled its training programs for aspiring and beginning farmers. The program helped participants aged 19 to 75 learn traditional growing techniques and expand markets for locally grown food—and in the process, creating jobs. The Seattle Indian Program strengthened economic opportunity as well, promoting standards of authenticity in support of Native artists.

AFSC supported Move to Amend campaigns in 11 Ohio communities calling for a U.S. Constitutional Amendment declaring that corporations are not people and that money is not speech. Our economic and social justice newspaper, Street Spirit, worked with a coalition of homeless advocates in Berkeley, Calif., to defeat a ballot initiative that would have criminalized homeless people for sitting down, sleeping, and resting. And in cities and towns nationwide, AFSC continued to support labor rights, organize with families facing foreclosure, and support safety net services to help people through hard times.