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Exploring AFSC's museum exhibit, "Waging Peace: 100 Years of Action"

News & Commentary  |  By Melissa Lee, Apr 14, 2017
Photo: AFSC / Tony Heriza

AFSC's museum exhibit, "Waging Peace: 100 Years of Action," is now in its last week at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia. Melissa Lee, AFSC communications fellow, shares some of her favorite parts the exhibit.

To purchase tickets or to see upcoming dates, visit our exhibit webpage

 

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As you enter the Waging Peace: 100 Years of Action exhibit, one of the first things that greets you is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," published by AFSC in May 1963.

This letter is one of the most important documents from the Civil Rights Movement, and its importance still resonates as we continue to struggle with racial and economic justice. One of the most striking statements in the letter: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."

I think this is such an important reminder in these times, when we're faced with policies and practices under the Trump administration that target people by their ethnicity or religion. 

 

How do you feel safe? 

I studied abroad in London during the fall of 2014. There were a lot of aspects of British culture that I had to get used to. The one thing that stuck out to me and many of my peers was the police in London. We learned our first weekend that British police officers do not carry firearms. We all found that quite strange, asking questions like "how do you feel safe?," "what happens in an emergency?"

After my return to the U.S., I began to question this idea of guns as "safety" versus proper training, especially after seeing the number of cases of police brutality against people of color. I think this is an important discussion to have today about how we can keep the police accountable to the communities they serve.

 

Solitary confinement and torture in U.S. prisons

Stepping into the "Addressing Prisons" portion of the exhibit, you step onto a 5-foot-by-7 mat, the same size as a floor in a solitary confinement cell. Solitary confinement is an isolating form of imprisonment where people are locked in a cell for 22-24 hours a day, for any duration of time. They're subjected to undue physical and mental pain or suffering.

People like Ojure Lutalo, who now works with AFSC in New Jersey, knew this physical and mental strain all too well, as he spent 22 years in solitary confinement. He maintained his sanity by sticking to a set schedule of activity throughout the day.

My first impression is the size of the cell; I can take but two steps along the width of the mat and three steps along the length of the mat. The thought that a space the same size as a closet, where people store away inanimate objects, would be used to imprison people is terrifying. Ending this type of imprisonment is one step that we can take to transform the current criminal justice system. 

 

Seeking refuge 

The author, Melissa Lee.As the child of an immigrant and a refugee, this portion of the exhibit was especially close to my heart. My dad immigrated to the U.S. in 1982 after spending two years in a refugee camp in Thailand.

Prior to that, he lived in Cambodia until the Khmer Rouge came to power. For my dad, a Chinese Buddhist, it was an especially dangerous time in Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge enacted ethnic cleansing campaigns and state atheism.

My father's immigration to the U.S. not only brought about a new start, but an escape from poverty and violence. His experience is not unlike the ones faced by millions of people today, who have been displaced by war and violence. And it shows how important immigration is for people in these situations and also how important it is for us to welcome and listen to their story.

 

Working for economic justice

"People can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs." Cesar Chavez was one of the leaders in campaigning for farmworkers' rights through the formation of labor unions. As a collective, farmworkers went on strike for better and fair contracts.

During this time, AFSC not only raised funds for the workers on strike, but also acted as a mediator between the unions and farm owners. Cesar Chavez's work with farm laborers and AFSC set a precedent for the rights of farmworkers and shows us one example of what can be achieved when people come together to solve issues of injustice.

 

The "path" to citizenship 

One of the interactive components of the exhibit is a floor game outlining the many ways that one can become an American citizen. But just like the real naturalization process, the game outlines a lot of the roadblocks that come with it.

I found the game to be interesting because I could see the same ways my parents became citizens. My dad immigrated to America after spending two years in a refugee camp and could become a citizen within a couple of years. My mom came to America a year before I was born and married my dad, which granted her a green card, but she didn't become a citizen until seven years after. And this is the quickest process of becoming a citizen, marrying an American citizen.

At the museum, I met many people who shared this exact process of becoming a citizen. It identifies the very convoluted process of the American naturalization process and proves we need to streamline and simplify the process.

 

This exhibit not only showcased a lot of the issues that AFSC has worked on throughout the past 100 years but also the current work around the world that is being done by AFSC. I think every issue area that AFSC works on is one that any individual can connect with on a very personal level. Anyone can see this affecting an acquaintance, neighbor, friend, or family member by these issues. And it shows the importance of the work that is being done. I feel especially honored to work for an organization like AFSC and hope to see their work continue for the next 100 years.

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